Comanche 4 Preview

We travel to NovaLogic to test fly the latest game in the company's venerable Comanche series.

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Released in 1992, NovaLogic's original Comanche: Maximum Overkill set standards for technological achievement in PC graphics and was one of the first games to successfully blend hard-core flight simulation elements with gameplay that many casual gamers found to be easily approachable. It was also the first time that voxels were used in a PC game, and at the time, the technology was nothing short of wondrous. Comanche's terrain engine allowed for gorgeous hills, mountains, rivers, and valleys to be drawn onscreen with relatively little performance drain on the computer that was running the game. In short, Comanche made NovaLogic an authority on mainstream military games. And even though the Sikorsky RAH-66 still isn't in full service, NovaLogic has released a number of iterations of its venerable Comanche game in the decade since its original release. Some would argue, however, that none have recaptured the essence of the first Comanche. With the recent announcement of Comanche 4, NovaLogic hopes to changes all that. Last month, we dropped by the company's Southern California offices to take a look at this promising flight-sim-action-game hybrid, and now that the game has been officially announced, we have the green light to talk about our visit.

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Admittedly, there wasn't much to show of the game, as it was still early in its development cycle. NovaLogic had actually been working on the game for some time, but the company recently decided to scrap the project and start anew. That said, what we first noticed about Comanche 4 were its graphics. Even in its current stage, the game looks amazing and will very easily rival the visuals of Razorworks' eye-pleasing Enemy Engaged. While the final minimum system requirements for the game are still a mystery, producer Wes Eckhart pointed out that our build of the game was T&L only--that is, it would only run on a video card that supported transform and lighting. Obviously, by the time the game hits store shelves during this year's holiday season, the developer will have significantly streamlined Comanche 4's code to run on computer specs that are a little more down to earth. Still, the game looks great. Your chopper casts a realistic shadow that articulates along with the helicopter's movements onto the ground and all the objects below it. Lakes, rivers, and oceans are all transparent to a certain depth, and you can easily make out the wavy effects and real-time reflections on their surfaces. Even the jetwash from the Comanche's rotors will cause water and vegetation to scatter outward. Additionally, objects like bunkers and tanks will obviously deform under the might of your air-to-ground arsenal, and the terrain will be marked with black scars every time it's struck with a stray Hellfire rocket. It's a little ironic, perhaps, that NovaLogic has been able to achieve this level of visual splendor only after it has effectively ditched one of its favorite technological aspects: voxels. Comanche 4 will indeed be the first such game from NovaLogic not to feature any kind of voxel technology--the game is rendered using good-ol'-fashioned polygons. This move is certainly a smart one, since polygon-based terrain looks a lot more realistic than the jagged look of voxel terrain, despite the advancements in that particular technology on NovaLogic's part.

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Your Comanche itself looks just as impressive as the surrounding environments. Modeled using a high number of polygons, the RAH-66 chopper that you control is remarkably detailed and has additional graphical touches like sunlight that reflects off of the canopy and a visible pilot's head that tracks the direction of the helicopter. The whirring sound of the Comanche's turbine engines will even startle birds from their treetop perches.

Once you've finished taking in your chopper's view from the outside, you can switch to a first-person virtual cockpit mode. Like in recent flight simulators, this cockpit will be littered with gauges and multifunction displays, and you'll be able to survey their readings and scan the skies for any lurking hostiles. But despite the apparent complexity of the game, Comanche 4 plays little like similar flight simulators. Rather than forcing you to digest a mountain of information before even taking off, the designers at NovaLogic are keeping Comanche 4's gameplay very straightforward. In fact, the game will play much like the original Comanche in that its controls closely mimic that of a typical first-person shooter. In other words, you'll control your chopper using either basic joystick inputs or the standard WASD keyboard configuration. The Comanche's collective, which controls the helicopter's altitude, will initially default to the Ctrl and Shift keys--Ctrl raises the collective, and Shift lowers it. "We're going back to the basics," says Eckhart. "Comanche 4 won't be a sim...we don't want [to force] people to read a 150-page manual to learn how to play this game."

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That doesn't mean that Comanche 4 completely eschews realism. On the contrary, the game features real-life Eastern Bloc enemies like the Ka-50, the Ka-52, and the Mi-24, and to contend with these hostile forces, you'll be able to loadout the Comanche with such weapons as AIM-9s, AGM-114s, Hydra-70s, and of course, the chopper's trusty XM301 20mm cannon, which can be stowed away for lower visibility aspect--another aspect of Comanche 4's realism. Your chopper has some measure of stealth, so you'll have to ensure that you maintain as low a radar cross section as possible by opening your bay doors only when necessary. And while the physics model of the game do take some liberties to accommodate the not-so-experienced flyers, Comanche 4 won't let you get away with careening into other objects or slamming into the ground...you will have to master a minimal amount of flight basics.

Comanche 4 will feature around five or six single-player campaigns, each of which is composed of anywhere between three and five missions. Naturally, these campaigns will take place in existing political hotspots, although Eckhart wasn't willing to elaborate on specifics. Our demonstration consisted of a jungle setting, complete with blue rivers, countless trees, and sharp mountain peaks. According to Eckhart, the game will include several tropical island settings, some desert locales, as well as a mission that takes place over an urban sprawl. In addition to these single-player campaigns, Comanche 4 will boast a robust multiplayer component that will let you duel it out against 31 other players over NovaLogic's own online service, NovaWorld. Comanche 4 won't be landing on store shelves until the end of this year, but you can expect updated coverage of the game from us much sooner than that, however.

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