There are a number of great combat helicopter sims on the market today, but Pixel Multimedia's AHx-1 isn't one of them. In a genre that's already given us Hind, Longbow, and the Comanche series, AHx-1 simply doesn't measure up.
The game isn't all bad. In fact, it has some impressive qualities, including a cool manual guidance feature for TOW missiles and TV-guided ordnance. But the overall package is rather flat and the gameplay is less than enthralling.
You play a pilot with an elite and super-secret CIA team that uses the AHx-1 Viper attack helicopter to enforce the government's will in three hot spots around the world. In Colombia, you take to the skies to stamp out cocaine production and trafficking efforts. In Libya, you must thwart Uncle Mu'ammar's attempts to manufacture and export chemical weapons. In Russia, your goal is to aid the current president's efforts to fend off a military coup.
You can fly 15 missions in each theater. The missions are presented in a linear fashion, though you do not always have to accomplish 100 percent of your mission goals to move on - a nice touch. Each hop is prefaced by a thorough briefing, which comes complete with decent mission-objective data and tons of fictional information to help frame the story.
Before each mission, the AHx-1 is set with a default weapons load, but you can customize this if you wish. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this has no apparent effect on your craft's weight or performance, so you might as well load up all the Hellfire missiles you can fit. The game lets you use Hellfires, TOWs, HYDRA rockets, Sidewinders, and a 30mm chain gun, as well as a television-guided missile cleverly named the "TV Missile." Hellfires are the guaranteed cure-all, though, and will take out anything: tanks, howitzers, runway towers, Learjets, buildings, bridges - you name it. With your weapons load set, you can begin your sortie against the forces of evil. You are either dropped from the belly of a B-2 bomber or vomited out of the sea by a submarine brandishing CIA logos - either way, your craft pops out of a neat little pod and leaves you in a convenient starting position for the mission.
The gameplay is somewhat reminiscent of the original Comanche: a little confusion and a lot of firepower. The game supports MMX but does not support any 3D acceleration, which makes the game look a little like the original Comanche, also. Finding targets is often a matter of pinpointing the most malevolent-looking blob of pixels (which I guess makes it look more like the original Armored Fist). Each mission has a well-structured set of waypoints, which you never end up following. The best way to complete a mission, apparently, is to take out everything and anything that looks suspicious. Take objectives out in the wrong order, though, and you have to start over (huh?). Unlike other copter sims that really drive home the feeling of skimming along just off the ground, AHx-1 provides very little sense of immersion or depth. Most of the time, I couldn't even tell what my altitude was, thanks to the nonadjustable bright-green HUD that virtually disappears against the sky textures. It didn't seem to matter very much, however, so long as I kept firing those Hellfires.
I did enjoy the manual control feature for the TOWs and the TV Missiles. It was a lot of fun to sit safely away from the bad guys and pop them with a carefully placed high explosive. The game's animated menus and briefing screens are also quite impressive, but the problem with them is that they seem to have soaked up all of this project's development resources. When the window dressing is this much better than the gameplay, you can expect some very disappointed customers down the road.
Simply put, if you are looking for a good combat helicopter game, AHx-1 should not even be in the running. If you're a realism fan, go with Longbow Gold or (better yet) Longbow 2. If you're an action fan, you can fire up Comanche 3 for some frenetic flying thrills.