For a flight sim reviewer, Longbow 2 would seem to be a no-brainer. As the sequel to one of the most complete sims ever done for the PC, all it has to do is play just as well as the first and look better - and, boom, there it is. But a sequel needs to be more than a mere enhancement to an already good game: It has to significantly add to the quality and features of the original.
Longbow II does this primarily in five new ways: incredible hardware-accelerated graphics, dynamic campaigns, two new helicopters, an expanded mission planner, and strong multiplayer support. Each of these elements is so well done that they lift a sim that was already one of the most perfect on the market into a whole new realm.
As with its predecessors, Longbow 2 is primarily a simulation of the Apache attack helicopter but also adds the Kiowa scout and Blackhawk transport chopper to mix up the missions a bit. On its most realistic settings, Longbow offers one of the most accurate simulations of aircraft characteristics, weapons, and avionics ever released. Sophisticated sensors are modeled in admirable detail, and the choppers fly as they would in the real world. This also means that on full realism, Longbow 2 is a bear and a half to control. Fortunately, numerous realism and difficulty settings allow you to tweak every aspect of flight and performance to make Longbow 2 accessible, even to sim newbies. I won't dwell on the features that are the same as the original - just check out the review. As for the new features, let's take them one at a time. The most prominent enhancement is graphical, with smoothly textured landscapes and vehicles courtesy of 3Dfx and other graphics cards. They are, in a word, awesome. On the highest detail levels, there is still some chop in the frame rate, even on a P200 with 32MB of RAM, but overall the graphics are fluid and beautiful. Trees are still absent, but Jane's working on them. The smallest detail is visible, right down to the way the rotors warp during rotation.
Multiplayer support was the most demanded feature in the original, and it stands as one of the strongest new features in Longbow 2. Support for four-person LAN or two-person TCP/IP, direct-connect or modem, allows for pilot/gunner, two-chopper teams, and one-on-one multiplay. There is no CD spawning, so each player needs a copy of the game. Campaigns can be started as single player and brought to multiplayer, or done as complete multiplayer battles. Support for more Internet players would be welcome, but this is a good start.
Missions take the form of single flights, instant action, and campaigns. A training campaign is set in California, and the full-blown campaign is set around an Iranian conflict. The system generates new campaigns on the fly based on mission success or failure, making the battlefield truly dynamic. If you blow up a building in one mission, it stays blown up in the next. This is the kind of "live" battlefield gamers have been clamoring for, where it actually feels like you're in the middle of a war and can have some effect. The zone is always hot, with assets in transit and new primary objectives coming in.
This power over the course of the war is emphasized by a deep mission planner. Each new mission comes with logical default settings for pathing, targets, and loadout. But the planner gives you full control over all these settings in one easy-to-use editor. An option to generate combat results without actually flying a sim mission would have been nice but isn't essential. As it is, the combination of a true dynamic campaign and a full-blown mission planner helps give the feeling of fighting a battle in the real world. Solid AI, smart wingmen, and numerous wingman controls add to its sophistication.
Longbow 2 is a feature-rich, detailed, and truly impressive piece of work. Few sims can claim this kind of across-the-board success, placing Longbow 2 clearly at the pinnacle of combat simulation. It is a tough game to play and demands a lot from the user - but the rewards are extraordinary.