Hands-on: Fire Blade

We try out a playable demo of this upcoming chopper combat game from Midway.

Midway announced Fire Blade at its last event by including it in its teaser trailer detailing its 2002 lineup. The demo we received today consists of a single scenario that seems to have a sort of invisible timer worked into it--that is, after a few minutes, regardless of where you are in the mission, the demo ends abruptly. Fire Blade is an arcade chopper combat game, one in which you'll pilot an aircraft equipped with a whole bunch of fantastical combat and defense systems. You'll have a full complement of weapons ready for deployment, but on top of that, you'll have things like a cloaking device and a hyper thruster, as well as some thermal visualization equipment.

The game, at this point, seems to be pretty straightforward in terms of how it's laid out. Piloting the chopper, you'll go through a series of environments, attacking enemies, transporting troops, and doing whatever else your missions call for. There will be two flyable choppers in the final game: a transport helicopter for moving troops about and a Vendetta-class attack chopper. The demo we played had just the attack chopper available, so that's what we got to play around with. All told, it's a pretty impressive craft--it has a turbocharger, a cloaking device, and a thermal view, as well as a powerful minigun, air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles, and even an EMP bomb that you can unleash on enemies.

The game's controls are pretty arcadelike when compared with the controls of something like Eidos' recent Thunderstrike. The left stick controls your forward movement and your turns, while the right stick controls your altitude and allows you to strafe. The controls are much less simlike than those of most other console flight combat games, which should make it a bit more easy to get into. It loses a bit of the control depth of such games at the same time, though, so it's safe to say that it's a bit of a trade-off. All your weapon controls are mapped to the shoulder buttons, including both types of missiles, your machine gun, and, when in stealth mode, your EMP bomb. All the auxiliary abilities, on the other hand, are activated using the face buttons. The turbocharger--which grants you a quick, intense speed boost--is activated using the triangle button, while the cloaking device and the thermal view are activated using the square and circle buttons, respectively. The cloaking device is perhaps the most interesting piece of equipment at your disposal. It allows you to vanish entirely from your enemies' sights, while simultaneously allowing you to attack them. Your offensive capabilities are pretty compromised while cloaked. The minigun will fire short, almost ineffective bursts when you're cloaked, and if you fire an air-to-air missile, you'll come back into view for a couple of seconds. Also, your air-to-ground missiles--which are probably your most effective--will be replaced by the EMP bomb, which paralyzes enemies for several long seconds after contact.

The demo mission we played involved flying through a narrow valley in an effort to dispatch a communications array located at the top of a tall hill. All sorts of enemy ground units attacked us on the way--tanks, SAM launchers, infantrymen, and the like. We had a group of friendly tanks and humvees following us that provided a bit of backup. For the most part, the combat was pretty straightforward, though by going into and out of stealth mode, we were able to mix things up decently. All we fought were ground troops; no airborne opponents were evident in the demo stage we played. As far as looks are concerned, the game seemed pretty basic, though some of the explosion animations for the enemies and structures were elaborate and very nicely done. Some of the particle effects are well done too. The actual vehicle and structure models were also basic, as were most of the ground textures. Hopefully, these things will receive a boost in detail before the game ships.

We'll have more on Fire Blade for you as soon as we receive an updated build.

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