Apache: Air Assault


posted 12/8/2010 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: 360
There is also an autohover capability available. I found this to be very useful. In fact, it was the only way that I could both fly and fight as a single player. While the computer operated gunner would automatically shoot at targets with the 30 mm chain gun while I flew the helicopter, it fell to me as the pilot to use any of the other more potent weapons. And being of the “if you want it done right, do it yourself” school of thought, I usually wanted to fire the machine gun too. The best tactic I came up with was to get in range of the targets and enter autohover mode, then take over for the gunner. Doing so allowed me to use the targeting optics, my favorite being the infrared system. The infrared made it much easier to pick targets out of urban or forest clutter, and the stronger zoom mode it offered helped me identify the type of target. If I ran up against an armored vehicle, it was a simple matter to pop back into the pilot’s seat and launch a Hellfire. Anything else was dispatched with a hail of lead.

It should come as no surprise that there was one glaring weakness to this tactic: a hovering helicopter is a sitting duck. The helicopter will autonomously launch flares as countermeasures to defensive missiles heading our way, but flares will not dissuade unguided projectiles such as RPGs. I found that I needed to hover, launch a bevy of missiles at hardened targets, then scoot off to a new location to clean up any remaining troops. Even that didn’t always work, but absent a real life co-pilot/gunner it was the best I could do.

Fortunately, the designers thought of that. In addition to an online co-op mode where two to four players can join up in a squadron, Apache Air Assault has a local co-op multiplayer mode whereby one player can act as the pilot while the other acts as the gunner. As you might expect, coordination between the two can be somewhat difficult since the two players may not necessarily be interested in looking at the same things and the same time. It becomes even more difficult for the pilot when he chooses to put the gunner in the Infrared mode - it is hard to fly the helicopter when the view is focused on an individual target off to one side or the other. That too was a great time to rely on autohover.

This mode presented an interesting shift in the area of tactical command. To some degree, the relationship of the pilot to the gunner became more a function of the pilot’s responsibility being limited to positioning the gun platform to a suitable location, then temporarily relinquishing decision-making authority to the gunner. Every now and then the pilot would have to re-assume command as the gunner became fixated on a target and a new threat emerged of to the side. The pilot would have to interrupt the gunner’s work to either evade or attack the new threat. The gunner has control over the selection and usage of the various weapons, but the pilot retains control of the targeting optics. A kind of tug-of-war can occur when the gunner wants the improved targeting capabilities offered by the sensors but the pilot needs the outside view to safely operate the aircraft. This co-op mode, while being somewhat limited by the sharing of a single screen view, offers a unique vision into how the pilot and gunner of an Apache helicopter act as a team.

The visual elements of the game are merely adequate, but the most compelling views are those of the targeting optics. Both the black & white camera and the infrared views are nearly identical to the types of real world captured views that can be seen on the nightly news or on YouTube. By far my favorite activity was using the zoomed infrared view to attack ground targets with the chain gun. While it seems like it might be quite easy, it is anything but. At greater distances, it gets difficult to correctly “lead” a moving target. The recoil of the gun also shakes the helicopter and knocks the aim off target. Finally, it is not uncommon for the target to get lost in a cloud of dust or smoke, only to emerge unscathed and firing a rocket or missile right back at you.

While the three theatres of operation in Apache Air Assault’s campaign mode don’t use real names for people or places, the themes will resonate with modern events. You will find yourself in heated battles with insurgents, pirates, and powerful drug cartels. In realty, the actual names used don’t matter much; all of the situations will ring true to life anyway. The missions were often difficult for two reasons: I was usually pitted against an overwhelming number of enemies, and many of the missions were based on escorting or destroying a moving target. I often failed a mission because I was pinned down by having to deal with a strong defensive force while the target (or escorted party) disappeared into the distance or a cloud of black smoke, as the case may be. Sometimes I found it useful to simply race past the defensive force in order to follow the actual target. That presented a risk, of course, because ignoring an enemy force provides no guarantee that an enemy force will ignore you.

As the scope of battles has compressed from continent-wide, multi-year battles to localized pockets of violence, both tactics and weapons have followed suit. To some degree, battles have become more personalized as fewer numbers of troops fight more flexible and harder-to-find enemies. The air war has also followed this trend to the point where the predominant airborne weapon offers scalpel-like precision combined with immense force to attack the enemy, but does so at a high cost in complexity and danger. Apache Air Assault does a very good job in presenting those aspects of this new type of war fighting to the gamer who is ready to move beyond the wars of yesteryear.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

With a surprisingly realistic flight model and an interesting local co-op mode, Activision's Apache Air Assault offers a unique insight into modern air warfare.

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