IGN Review of Apache Air Assault
I am not a helicopter pilot. While it's always been a dream of mine to ride in a helicopter, I have no illusions that I should ever, ever fly one after playing Apache: Air Assault on the Realistic difficulty. Apache is a little too hardcore for the masses, but is a good pick for flight sim fans, or anyone who wants a taste of the rigors of helicopter flight on its more forgiving Training difficulty.
Every mission in Apache has a briefing that gives you some background story, but all the missions can be broken down pretty easily. Each stage places you in the cockpit of some type of Apache helicopter (all the aircraft are licensed by Boeing), and the player uses this instrument of death to rain down fire on a series of ground and air targets. Sometimes the player will be killing enemies in order to cover friendly targets on the ground, other times the player might have to fly super low to the ground to avoid detection for a portion of the level, but ultimately every level comes down to a series of moments where the Apache has to kick the crap out of a large amount of enemies. You can do custom missions in Free Flight with any array of enemies (or none at all), but it all follows the same formula. I can see why Boeing would be OK with licensing their aircraft in Apache: Air Assault, since according to my experience they're extremely lethal.
The degree to which I imagine most people will enjoy Apache comes down to your patience with the controls. On Training – the default skill level – flight is pretty easy to learn, with physics that allow the helicopter only to pitch and roll to a set level, always making me feel mostly in control. On Realistic difficulty, though, the physics are, well, realistic, and the Apache can easily be manipulated into rolls and absurd spins with the flick of your thumbs. The Realistic difficulty requires a certain level of finesse, and makes flight alone a challenge, even without doing any combat.
Apache: Air Assault's combat is satisfying. While it can certainly be a pain to line up your reticule when you're flying on the Realistic setting, the Training difficulty is significantly easier, and is the ideal for casual players. The machinegun of the Apache is manned automatically by the AI if you're not directly controlling it, leaving you to fire an abundance of rockets and missiles. Apache may not be the best looking game, but it's pretty enthralling to watch a rocket barrage soar across the sky before detonating and scarring the land below. Sure, combat doesn't generally require all that much strategy on the Training difficulty, but it's just challenging enough to maneuver and shoot that I think most anyone can find something to enjoy in it without being frustrated by hard controls and quick deaths.
Not that combat always boils down to launching a barrage of missiles and calling it a day, as Apache does its damndest to stay true to what Boeing's machines can actually do. Much like an AC-130 gunship, Apaches have the ability to use a bottom facing camera to control a turret and zoom in on ground targets (known in the game as Manual Gun Views). Using thermal vision, they can seek out human targets and provide close ground support for troops on the ground. Apache: Air Assault mixes in moments where you have to utilize these Manual Gun Views pretty frequently, but they aren't as cool on the tenth mission as they are on the first, and ultimately do nothing to change the general mission formula of "go to objective point and kill all red things."
Multiplayer in Apache is engaging online, but a drag if you're playing locally. Online multiplayer puts each player in control of an Apache chopper, forcing them to work together to get through a series of objectives. It's fun to coordinate with other players, and works well as a distraction from the single player campaign. Local coop, on the other hand, is boring. Both players share the same screen, and, since an Apache has one seat for a gunner, and one seat for a pilot, it splits up the duties amongst the two players. The result is a single screen where one player is flying, and the other is moving a reticule around and shooting. It has a certain novelty to it for a few moments, but neither the shooting nor flying is engaging enough to have any lasting appeal for either player. It's particularly boring for the pilot when you switch to the Manual Gun Views, as they have to fly based off a camera facing down and that provides no important information such as altitude.
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