Impressions: Apache: Air Assault

It may seem somewhat of a simple budget game on the outside, but Apache Air Assault is anything but simple. It’s almost refreshing to say that it isn’t even difficult because of its overall quality, but from some unforgiving and more realistic controls. As someone who grew up on a steady diet of authentic flight sims and less arcade-oriented games, it’s a blast from the past to see this type of game springing up again, though I do with it were a lot more forgiving. I’d rather not break a controller.

Through a campaign that arches across 17 austere missions, you’ll take control of a formidable Apache attack chopper in your goal of stopping terrorists from terrorizing the populace. Each mission should reasonably take only ten minutes or so to complete, and one would assume the campaign can be finished in a day or so, but because there is such a ridiculously steep difficulty curve, you’ll be relegated to trying missions again, again, and again. Being able to get accustomed to some truly unique controls was definitely my biggest hurdle, even being relegated to the easiest mode.

In regard to the controls, support for flight sticks is available, but I used a standard controller to man my powerful craft. Both analog sticks are utilized. The left stick alone, pressed forward or backward, controls your movement. The right stick alters how high or low your craft is flying. Similarly, pressing both sticks forward gives the Apache a burst of speed. This is a very awkward setup that takes a lot of getting used to, especially the AI gunners accompanying you on your missions. They’ll be responsible for attempting (and usually failing) to eliminate enemy targets in the distance while you’re trying to get the heck out of Dodge. You may take the game up on its offer to pilot and man the gun on your own simultaneously, but this certainly doesn’t make matters any simpler. As usual, sloppy AI mars what could have otherwise been a winning combination of strategy, expert piloting, and teamwork between human player and AI partner.

Even though the campaign missions can be absolutely nerve-wracking, at the very least the objectives that must be completed are simple enough (in theory) to attack several times over after you fail them — and believe me, you will. This is not a game I would recommend for those new to the genre or those devoid of any realistic flight simulation experience.

Aside from the fairly punishing campaign mode, you can check into Free Flight mode, which allows room for plenty of customization if the campaign mode isn’t so much your cup of tea. You can choose to play how you want to, down to the type of terrain and locale you want to fly in, the weather, your altitude, and even the types of units being deployed. As far as enemies go, you can customize them as well – their skill level, what they’re flying, and what they’ll be attempting to take you out with. Since there are no real objectives here, it’s a great way to get used to the controls and the flow of combat. It’s all the fun and frustration of the campaign without committing to the many difficult levels.

But that’s not all – if you feel the need to take your Apache skills (or lack thereof) online, Squad Operations allows you to tackle several different missions while matched up with online opponents. I had difficulty procuring a full team to tackle these outings, which were generally tougher than even those found in the campaign. To effectively approach these missions it’s almost required to find a host of players you can communicate with in order to generate some authentic teamwork. If you’re thinking of nabbing the game and jumping straight online as you would with Call of Duty or something similar, you might want to rethink your strategy. This isn’t a casual mode in any definition of the word.

With a combination of Campaign, Free Flight, and Squad Operations modes, Apache: Air Assault offers plenty of bang for your buck. If you’re patient enough to navigate the punishing difficulty and tough nature of what this detailed flight sim has to offer It’s decent in the graphics and audio department, but really shines as an exemplary departure in a very much under-represented genre. It’s not a casual arcade-styled adventure, and it won’t feel accessible to most typical gamers. But that’s part of what gives the game its much-needed edge, and if that’s your cup of tea, and you’re up for a challenge, you’ll probably enjoy the hard-nosed nature of Apache: Air Assault.

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