Team Apache is a different kind of sim. It falls into a nether region between Comanche and Longbow for realism and playability, but offers some unique elements that have not been seen before in a sim. The trade-off is downplaying realism of systems and flight modeling in order to focus on realism of command and the battlefield situation. The result is a whoppingly entertaining game.
Team Apache was, along with Flying Nightmares 2, one of the titles jettisoned by Eidos after producer and former Apache pilot Bryan Walker left for Jane's. SSI/Mindscape snapped up Team Apache and saw its UK-based developer, SIMIS, through the final stretch. Knowing they were not going to be able to compete with the rigorous modeling of Longbow 2, they decided to pitch it as an upper-mid-level sim in terms of realism - a game that was more readily playable than Longbow, yet more accurate than Comanche, but with its own twists. Those twists, and the sharp graphics engine, are what make the game.
Visually, Team Apache is a real treat in almost every area. The hardware-accelerated graphics provide some of the most fluid frame rates and interesting textures in any recent sim. Software acceleration is not quite as effective, and the visuals are choppy and uninteresting without their hardware-essential chrome. Compared with Longbow 2, there are some pluses and minuses. The cockpit and object modeling in Longbow 2 is more detailed, but the textures, buildings, trees (yes, trees!), and other terrain elements are more interesting in Team Apache. Plus, even on a midrange system (like a P200) Team Apache simply runs better.
The cockpits, however, are Team Apache's real weak point. The clear cockpit is the most effective, yet it lacks sensor overlays. The rendered cockpit allows the widest range of view and clearest image of the instruments, yet offers limited visibility. The floating cockpit is very difficult to use, but allows the most fluid range of viewing motion. The problem with this virtual cockpit is that instruments are not sharply defined, making them hard to use. Reflections on the canopy provide a nice effect but also make that detailed terrain look drab and blurry. The final flaw is the lack of a padlock view.
Despite claims to the contrary, realism of flight and systems modeling is not Team Apache's strong suit. The cockpit and sensor modes are greatly simplified, and while this will come as a treat to those who puzzled over Longbow 2, it will turn the hard-core crowd right off. Since instruments are not clearly rendered, they would be hard to use if you needed to use them. As it turns out, you usually don't. You can't turn lasers, jammers, or radar on or off, rendering EMCON a moot point. You just select targets, and your gunner does the rest. As for the flight models, they are decent, but not the most accurate. Hovering is too easy, and stupid moves aren't met with the appropriate flaming wreck. You won't spend as much time finessing cyclic/rotor/collective controls, but this will be considered a plus for non-hard-core simmers.
The real strength of Team Apache comes in its excellent sense of command. It is as much a team simulation as an aircraft simulation. You are required to build and manage pilot/WSO teams, matching personalities and skills to create a well-honed force. These men grow and change. Sometimes you need to "have a talk" with them to boost morale, and the game even makes you choose between a "hardass" and "soft touch" approach to talking to a man. You also manage maintenance and the maintenance teams, making sure the right supplies are in stock and the Apaches are kept in working order. To keep things running smoothly, people need sleep and an occasional "ice-cream run" to boost morale. Hard statistical ratings for each man in various skill areas are missing, leaving management decisions up to a proper read of their dossiers. A few more numbers would have made this element of the game easier to deal with.
Missions come in many varieties, and Team Apache does not go wanting for gameplay. There is a custom mission builder, single missions, a tutorial, and a campaign. The campaign is, disappointingly, scripted, but the missions themselves are innovative and always interesting. They take place in either Latvia or Colombia, and their structure and execution lie at the heart of Team Apache's enjoyability. You need to approach each more as a commander than a pilot, building careful team approaches and ordering your men around. The workload is such that the simplified avionics are essential, making that element of the sim more forgivable. There is a wide array of interesting and challenging missions, and this very real sense of command takes Team Apache into new territory.
Team Apache is a sim where the focus has shifted from the mechanics of flight to the mechanics of fighting an air war. For people looking for something more realistic than Comanche and less daunting than Longbow 2, but with a unique spin of its own, it is a worthy and worthwhile addition to the simulation genre.