The year 2000 is definitely the year of the helicopter simulation. There've already been two combat rotary-wing sims, including Ka-52 Team Alligator and Gunship. But the new Enemy Engaged: RAH-66 Comanche vs. Ka-52 Hokum is by far the best. Enemy Engaged is Razorworks' sequel to its popular 1999 sim Apache/Havoc, and while it bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, it also stands on its own.
Enemy Engaged is a helicopter sim that puts you in the pilot's seat of either the RAH-66 Comanche or the Ka-52 Hokum. Both aircraft are the latest in attack helicopter technology, and Razorworks' game reflects this, as it seems to have the style of a classified government simulator. That's because Razorworks has done a remarkable job of detailing and fine-tuning all aspects of the game. From the active radio chatter and the detailed cockpits to the sweeping dynamic campaigns, Enemy Engaged sets a higher standard for how immersive a flight sim can be, while it also avoids getting mired down in the technical minutiae of combat aviation. Enemy Engaged is not a pure hard-core simulation, but this won't make it any less satisfying for hard-core simulation enthusiasts.
Enemy Engaged has actually been out for several months in the United Kingdom, so it's probably not surprising that the US release is relatively free of bugs, given how much time there has been to work out the problems since the game's initial launch. This obscures the fact that the UK release shipped with very few bugs in the first place, and those that did crop up were relatively minor and quickly fixed. However, the US release does fix a few other obscure problems and adds some new command line parameters.
Enemy Engaged's terrain graphics are similar to those in Apache/Havoc, and while the older game's 3D graphics engine was impressive when it was released in 1999, it's no longer as impressive more than a year later. But it's still good, and manages to be both reasonably attractive and quite fast. Razorworks has improved the look of the graphics to some extent, particularly through the skillful use of lighting effects. The graphics engine also runs very smoothly on a modest machine like a Pentium II-450. Also, if you're using a low-end computer, you can turn down the game's details and effects to ease the load on your processor. Nevertheless, terrain graphics are not the game's strong suit.
However, the aircraft and vehicle models are another story. These look outstanding, and they are certainly among the best in any simulation to date. The weapon effects are gorgeous, so much so that it's quite an experience simply to fly around at night and let loose with the chain gun while you watch from an external camera view. The effect of rain beading up on the first-person cockpit view in the darkness is positively eerie, especially when you're creeping up on a ridgeline to pop up on a row of targets. This combination of lighting and sound effects, as well as the detailed unit models, more than makes up for the mediocre terrain. While the graphics in Gunship! were simply flashy, the graphics in Enemy Engaged give you the sense of being in a helicopter in the middle of a war. Which is, presumably, the whole point of a simulation.
The flight model in Enemy Engaged is not just that of a generic helicopter, as the US and Russian helos handle very differently and require different flying styles. The Comanche is a good bit more agile, and the distinctive flight experiences offered by these two choppers greatly adds to the value of the sim. Complex dynamics such as vortex ring, blade stall, ground effect, and cross coupling can be turned on or off individually if you prefer not to contend with some of the challenges of realistic flight.
Both the Comanche and the Hokum cockpits are very detailed, although neither one offers a 2D-cockpit option that lets you click on the various controls, as in other sims. Otherwise, the Enemy Engaged commands are very similar to those used in Apache/Havoc, and as the manual states, the transition from one sim to the other should be straightforward. The game's avionics are comprehensive without being overwhelming, yet the difference between these and those found in Ka-52 Team Alligator make it difficult to believe they're supposed to represent the same helicopter.
One of the best features of Enemy Engaged is how Razorworks extended the life of Apache/Havoc by making those aircraft flyable in the new sim. All you need to do is patch your copy of Apache/Havoc to v1.1E (which is supplied on the Enemy Engaged CD). Once this is done, you can fly all four helicopters in all six campaigns from both Apache/Havoc and Enemy Engaged, and you're restricted only by their availability in a particular mission (and by the fact that only the pilot's seat is modeled in the older helos when you fly them in Enemy Engaged). This is a great option that also represents the best way to make the most of an existing product line when a sequel is produced. Apache/Havoc is cheap to come by these days, and it can greatly extend the life of the newer sim.
But Enemy Engaged's greatest feat is likely the way in which it manages to be accessible, without being intimidating or dumbed down, as well as without cutting any corners. It's true that the avionics in Jane's popular Longbow 2 were more detailed and comprehensive than those in Enemy Engaged. However, Enemy Engaged seems so complete and well designed that the specific level of detail likewise seems appropriate and effective. There is so much to do in Enemy Engaged, especially in the multiplayer mode, that even veteran pilots will find a suitable challenge. At the same time, novice flight sim enthusiasts won't feel overwhelmed by a mass of MFDs and HUD symbology. The balance is just about perfect.
While Enemy Engaged is definitely accessible to the novice, one area where it does fall short is in the training missions - or rather in the lack of training missions, since there aren't any. Instead of narrated training flights, Enemy Engaged has a "free flight" mode in which you can practice flying and weapons handling at varying levels of difficulty, and (if you choose) without fear of crashing. The manual is fairly comprehensive and complete (and it has a nice, large keyboard overview card), although the US version is shorter than its UK counterpart due to the puzzling omission of a print version of the ground school (tutorial), recognition guide, and unit campaign overview sections. These are instead available for download from TalonSoft, presumably to save on printing costs.
The dynamic campaigns - two in the Middle East and one in Taiwan - are everything you can reasonably hope from a flight sim's dynamic campaign. The game's artificial intelligence responds to your incursions and thrusts in what seems like a realistic manner. Enemy unit AI is scalable, and at the highest difficulty setting, it gives a good fight. Wingman AI, which was a particular problem in Apache/Havoc, is also competent in Enemy Engaged. There are also a number of available "skirmishes" for you to fly, which are mini campaigns that use smaller portions of the map.
Of all the helicopter simulations released this year, Razorworks' product is in a class by itself, and it will certainly earn itself a place on the ballot when the best-sim-of-the-year nominations come around. For the past three years, fans of hard-core simulations have wished for a helicopter sim to exceed the impossibly high standard set by Longbow 2, and Enemy Engaged is the worthiest candidate yet.