There are times when trying to play Fair Strike: Anti-Terror Helicopter Corps feels like the gaming equivalent of having bamboo slivers shoved under your fingernails. It's relatively easy to live with the game's silly title, weak background story, and simple combat; it's much harder to accept its control problems, choppy frame rates, bugs, bland graphics, and long load times, among other issues. In theory, Fair Strike is a neat game. After all, it's not often that you see a modern helicopter game that boasts six flyable choppers, sim and arcade modes, co-op play, and more. But with so many major flaws, any of the game's strengths are hard to find and appreciate for any length of time.
Fair Strike plays out in the year 2005, pitting some vague international task force against global terrorist threats. Despite the halfhearted introduction in the manual and the clumsy cutscenes, you don't get any feeling of fighting real enemies in the real world--you just head from one navigation point to the next, blowing stuff up. There's little radio chatter or other elements to draw you into the gameworld or to make you feel like a real pilot on a real mission.
That same generic feel applies to the game's six flyable choppers: the AH-64A Apache, RAH-66 Comanche, PAH-2 Tiger, Ka-50 Black Shark, Ka-52 Alligator, and Ka-58 Black Ghost. The choppers look different and can carry different weapon loadouts, but the controls and handling are roughly the same for all of them. Their cockpit panels are mostly window dressing with no interactivity and limited utility. For instance, many of the gauges are only labeled in Russian.
The game doesn't even bother to give you any background information or stats for each helicopter. In fact, a lack of information is one of Fair Strike's biggest failings. The skimpy manual is inadequate, and you don't get any tutorials. This all makes learning the game a chore instead of a joy. You'll be at an even bigger disadvantage if you're unfamiliar with military acronyms or the names and functions of a real helicopter's controls since there are no glossary or explanations.
Controls prove to be another of Fair Strike's big problems. Despite repeated efforts, we could never get the game to accept our desired control configurations for our joystick--a popular Logitech model, no less. We eventually had to give up and opt for mouse control, which ultimately proved easier but less immersive. We also ended up playing the game mostly in arcade mode instead of the so-called simulation mode since the latter just added a few extra frustrations instead of a palpably greater sense of realism, detail, and immersion.
Once you actually get the controls set up more or less how you want them and then puzzle the game out, Fair Strike proves to be a fairly bland, mediocre experience. You can outfit your choppers with different weapons and select from different paint schemes, but flying the helos is too easy to be interesting, and combat is ultimately a simplified point-and-click affair in sim and arcade mode alike. The novelty of firing off a salvo of rockets at an antiaircraft battery wears thin after the first or second go. Weapons do have a few different modes and options, but the inadequate instruction will leave you to figure those out on your own.
The problems don't end there. You'll be flying with wingmen, but they add little to the game. You can issue a few simple orders, but the radio message menu screen can disappear before you've finished reading the options, and your wingmen sometimes have a hard time following directions well, anyway. It's not even clear what some orders do: When issuing a "patrol" order, exactly how and where will your wingman patrol? On top of that, mission goals can be unclear or misleading, sending you on wild goose chases or telling you to wipe out certain buildings, but not others, without making it clear as to which building should be demolished and which should be left untouched. The missions can last a long time, too, and if you do everything right but get killed near the end, you'll have to start from scratch since there's no way to save a mission in progress.
Even bigger problems arise on the technical side of things. If Fair Strike doesn't freeze up or crash first, it can become so choppy that it is unplayable. Patching the game and lowering the graphics detail settings provided only minor relief. Sleep-inducing loading screens add insult to injury.
The game's presentation doesn't have much going for it, either. The music, done in the style of a Tom Clancy game or movie soundtrack, adds some much-needed ambience, but weapon and rotor sounds are mostly uninspiring and lack real oomph. Voice-overs don't properly synch up with the subtitles and images during the cutscenes, and they suffer from some mispronunciations and hokey accents. The graphics feature some nice cloud cover and helicopter models, but the terrain looks sparse, bland, and dated even when the graphics detail sliders are maxed out. At least you'll see some dramatic little touches like trees catching on fire from nearby explosions.
Fair Strike isn't all bad. Its 30 missions are reasonably diverse, offering a decent bang for the buck. It's a shame that the game buckles under the weight of so many problems, though. At its best, Fair Strike is merely a mediocre, uninspired action game. At its worst, it's more punishment than entertainment.