There's some pretty stiff competition among the many helicopter sims that surfaced over the past year, but most have been silenced by the recent release of EA/Jane's Longbow Gold collection. Just when it looked there was a clear-cut rotary wing winner, NovaLogic is back with a sequel worthy of giving Longbow a spin.
Comanche 3 is a based on America's most technologically advanced helicopter - the RAH-66 Comanche - developed by Boeing Sikorsky for the US Army. The first prototype became airborne only two months ago, and implementation of this 21st century combat chopper won't be until the year 2006. Fortunately, air combat enthusiasts can test-drive the next best thing to this 12 million-dollar aircraft, but don't expect this game to be just the original Comanche with new missions - both graphics and gameplay are leaps and bounds ahead of the simple shooter released almost three years ago.
The first NovaLogic game built around its patented Voxel Space 2 rendering technology, Comanche 3 features photo-realistic terrain and sky effects, creating some of the most stunning graphics and light-sourcing ever seen in a simulation. Flying over snow-capped mountains, moving trains, jungles, deserts, lakes, and crop fields over the Ukraine, Jordan, Siberia, Cuba, and Iraq, reveals unparalleled detail - even at close range. All of the 100-plus objects in the game are composed of texture-mapped polygons and are unbelievably lifelike, from trees and buildings to tanks and support vehicles. With the right camera angle, you can even witness the Comache's weapon bay doors open and the landing gear retract.
The original Comanche also played more as an arcade game than an authentic helicopter simulation. This time around, however, NovaLogic has worked with military consultants and Army test pilots to incorporate accurate helicopter physics, and you have the option of an easy or advanced flight model. The advanced model faithfully recreates the Comanche's high-tech features and forces you to consider the stresses put on the engine, and the option to use a vertical stabilizer, HoverHold feature, or altitude lock. . Take note, even the advanced model is not as difficult to master as the steep learning curve in Jane's AH-64D Longbow. Comanche 3 is perfect for the beginner to intermediate player. Although both Comanche and Longbow games come equipped with a handy keyboard reference card, the controls are much easier to learn and use than they are in Longbow, plus the digital HMD (head mounted display) is laid out more effectively and is less obtrusive. You and your wingmen are armed with ample stingers, cannons, hellfires, and rockets, as you set out on recon missions, hard-hitting strike attacks, vehicle escorts, and defensive objectives. Other features in Comanche 3 include 20 different camera angle views (great during recorded playback!), support for a wide variety of peripherals, and 16-bit stereo 3-D Dolby Surround sound. Gamers will be treated to actual pilot chatter and digitized sounds of a real Comanche in flight.
Comanche 3 is not without fault. Gamers with a Pentium-100 or under should hold off on picking up Comanche 3 until your next inevitable upgrade. Even on a P-133, with 32 MB RAM, the frame rate is slow and motion proves choppy, even with most of the detail turned down. Game manufacturers usually attempt to balance speed vs. graphic detail, and NovaLogic has obviously opted for the latter. In its defense, NovaLogic has allowed for multiple resolution settings (six options ranging from 320 x 200 VGA up to 640 x 480 SVGA), but choosing any of the lower resolutions is simply cheating yourself of the game's best asset.
NovaLogic may have also overlooked two of the most important trends in PC gaming - custom-built scenarios and Web-based playing. Comanche 3 only comes equipped with four operations containing 32 levels, plus optional training exercises. Compare this to the 400-plus missions in Longbow Gold (which also contains the Flash Point Korea expansion CD) and the lack of a map generator to customize the game. This unfortunately takes away from the replayability of Comanche 3.
Multiplayer gaming seemed more of an afterthought as well. Although the game is playable over a modem (two players) and LAN (up to eight players), there is no Internet play besides using the Kali service (the CD does contain the Kali starter kit).
While these imperfections cannot be ignored, Comanche 3 is still one of the most fun and addictive games of the year. After playing Comanche 3 for hours on end (you know, that "one more mission" phenomena), you'll see that NovaLogic's latest is far more than just eye-candy, and the striking scenery and excellent helicopter detail make this futuristic helicopter combat sim a must-have for budding pilots.