"Gunship" is a legendary name in the flight-sim community. The original game was designed by Sid Meier and Andy Hollis and was released by MicroProse way back in 1986. Five years later, MicroProse released Gunship 2000. Both sims were quite advanced for their time and took flight simulation to new levels. The new Gunship! was originally entitled Gunship III, but despite its name, the game preserves little of the spirit of its predecessors. For a game that's supposed to be the final installment of a venerable series, it's about as anticlimactic as possible.
While Gunship! is nominally a flight simulator, it's really a flight action game. The box boasts of "selectable play modes for the pure Sim fanatics and Action addicts," but this is only true in the most technical sense. Yes, there are different play modes. However, nothing about Gunship! will appeal to hard-core flight-simulation fans. In fact, if you're into hard-core simulations, you'll find that Gunship! has absolutely nothing to offer you except a big headache, and there are less expensive ways of getting one of those.
Gunship! gives you the chance to fly the AH-64 Apache, the Eurocopter Tiger, and the Mi-28 Havoc in a variety of single-mission or campaign modes. You can play as the pilot or as the gunner, although when playing as the gunner it's necessary to use the autopilot, which has a tendency to crash the aircraft. The autopilot also doesn't consistently respond to some commands, and that goes for other keystrokes as well. In short, keyboard function in Gunship! is intermittent rather than reliable.
Everything about Gunship! is clearly designed to give inexperienced flight-simulation players the least possible fuss, although the absence of takeoffs in the campaign (all missions start with you already airborne) seems excessive. Unfortunately, in the case of the flight model, the simplifications will cause serious frustration among those who know how helicopters should fly. There are three flight modes: easy, enhanced, and realistic. The easiest mode barely resembles a rotary-wing aircraft, and even realistic mode leaves a great deal of leeway for mistakes. Helicopters in Gunship! are extremely sensitive to control input, which makes it far too easy to oversteer. The game is also extremely tolerant of rough landings, which is further evidence that it is aimed at accommodating more-casual pilots. The manual spends very little time on avionics and a lot of time on flying instructions, which seems appropriate given that the avionics are clearly watered down. Fortunately, the training missions are very good, and novice pilots should have no trouble getting into the game quickly.
The game's weapons modeling is even more lightweight. Even on the most realistic settings, the weapons are incredibly effective. The 30mm cannon on the Apache can shred enemy tanks on even the toughest setting, and in general all the weapons seem too deadly. This is apparently in keeping with the game's focus, which seems squarely aimed at producing a fun fly-around, shoot-'em-up experience.
There are a million things about Gunship! that will annoy veteran helo-sim pilots. Besides the unrealistic weapons and flight model, there is the awkward view panning, which through either fault or design is so slow as to be virtually useless. The collective (akin to the throttle in a jet) cannot be reversed, so the helicopter must be flown like an airplane. This will cause crash after crash for experienced helicopter-sim pilots because collective control is so instinctive.
While Gunship! has serious realism problems, it has absolutely gorgeous graphics. The terrain is particularly impressive, and it conveys a great sense of being airborne. In fact, the major reason that Gunship! should be considered a flight action game is that its strengths parallel those of a good first-person shooter: It looks pretty, and it's easy to blow things up. Therein lies the game's appeal: While hard-core pilots will groan at the oversimplified avionics, casual sim pilots will enjoy the "point-and-shoot" simplicity of the game, as well as the ability to make just about everything on the map explode. Even trees seem to be filled with some kind of combustible material; they vanish with an explosion when hit by cannon fire.
Despite its intermittent bugs, Gunship! isn't a bad game if you just want to fly (to use the term loosely) around and cause explosions. The game looks great, so if you're looking to pretend you're flying a helicopter without having to cope with a realistic helicopter flight model, Gunship! performs decently. Otherwise, in a genre where Longbow proved that selectable realism works, Gunship! offers only selectable exaggeration. If you're not too fussy about what it is you're flying, and you can put up with some inoperative keystrokes and a goofy waypoint control system, then Gunship! can be a hoot.