Of all the gaming genres that we PC-loving peeps have had to watch jump the fence into the colourful candy land otherwise known as Console-ville, the simulator makes the least sense. When they adopted the first-person shooter, we didn’t think much of it; and then they went and revolutionised our beloved genre with locational damage in GoldenEye 007. They applied for shared custody of the real-time strategy genre and we laughed; but they have had some minor victories in the form of voice control (EndWar) and the mouse-like motion control of Move (R.U.S.E.).
Driving games aside, the simulator—specifically the flight simulator—doesn’t translate well to a console on paper for a massive practical reason: the lack of buttons on a controller. And yet, despite this obstacle, Gaijin Entertainment took the heralded IL-2 Sturmovik franchise to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with the critically praised Birds of Prey game in 2009. Now Gaijin has wound the clock forward and shifted that front-facing prop to the top of their aircraft, using the AH-64 Apache as their titular gunship in this contemporary flight simulator.
Sure, it may be a simulator with all of the real-world flight physics that this genre of game entails, but you can start out in the aptly named ‘Training’ difficulty level to get into the swing of things. Training difficulty is like flying an Apache with the training wheels attached; converting a realistic game into more of an arcade shooter, widening the overall appeal. This is a smart move by Gaijin, as it opens the flight sim up to a wider market of gamers, while simultaneously inviting them to gain confidence in the easier mode before flicking the difficulty switch.
It does feel as though there’s a difficulty level missing—a ‘medium’ equivalent that logically exists between Training and Realistic—but it does also neatly split the game in two in terms of accessibility and the in-depth simulator for the hardcore console gamer. Realistic difficulty is a much trickier affair that requires you to have masterful thumb control as you find those perfect sweet spots between the pitch/roll of your left joystick and the elevation/yaw of your right joystick.
All of your in-flight time is complemented by some genuinely impressive long-range graphics and a realistic physics engine. Things don’t look as pretty up close, but considering the fast pace the combat played out for us, this wasn’t an overly noticeable detraction. There were also some odd hit-detection fails where we were able to fly our helicopter through tree tops, but everything else about the physics engine was top notch; particularly the damage modelling that can quickly affect the handling of your chopper. For instance, taking damage to your main rotor doesn’t make you explode straight away; instead, you may notice some irregular wonkiness in how it’s spinning and will gradually lose altitude over time. Bottom line, damage in this game is taken seriously.
All of this adds to the myriad levels of immersion in Apache: Air Assault. Whether we were following a convoy along a windy road, reigning death and destruction on a rebel encampment or moving from point A to B we were totally engrossed. The pitch-perfect soundtrack adds a cool level of badassery to the military proceedings, while the radio battle chatter drags you further into the game.
The core campaign has 16 missions on offer (not including the obligatory training one) that range from cakewalk easy to hair-pulling difficult (even on Training mode). Thankfully, missions unlock sporadically instead of chronologically when completing earlier levels, which means that you can skip past frustrating stages and return to them later. The included Free Flight mode lets you quickly change particular mission variables from a menu before jumping into your personalised mission. It lacks the depth of a mission editor, but those don’t really work too well on a console, so it makes sense to keep it simple.
You can plug in a second controller and play offline cooperative mode, but it’s a bit odd. One person controls the flying while the second player takes care of the all-important business of dishing out death and destruction. This may make a lot of sense logically in terms of how co-op should go in a two-seater gunship that divides its business roles between pilot and gunner, but it only works half the time on a console when both players have to share the same screen. But, plainly, it works when you want to shoot things straight ahead; but if the gunner wants to use the 30-mm M230E1 chain gun whose main bragging point is that it tracks head movements for targets to the side, you’re shit out of luck.
There’s also multiplayer on offer for up to four players that lets you take the fight to the enemy as a well-organised group. But we can’t really comment on that because we weren’t able to find anyone willing to play. You’d be better off talking your Xbox LIVE/PSN friends into getting this game too so you can play this together if multiplayer appeals to you.
At the end of the day, Gaijin has done another solid job of faithfully translating a PC flight simulator franchise to the console world. With a bit more spit and polish as well as a more robust cooperative system (and some people to play with), this title would have been wholly recommendable.