Apache: Air Assault – Game Analysis & Review
By Patrick Newman
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Genres: Action, Simulation
Russian independent developer Gaijin Entertainment has been known over time for bringing to life strategy and combat sims such as Wings of Luftwaffe and Modern Conflict. Now, with Apache: Air Assault, the men behind the curtain claim to be putting gamers into their most exciting pair of shoes yet by immersing them an attack helicopter simulation based on the Apache AH-64D Longbow. The game, which features 16 missions off the coast of Africa, above the mountains of the Middle East and within the jungles of Central America, tries to straddle the line between its responsibility to accuracy and its intent to thrill and entertain novices. Ultimately, I think the game fails the larger audience in its bland graphical details and extremely challenging gameplay, but as a realistic portrayal of how its titular war chopper looks and feels, it is unrivaled.
The game’s campaign, which can be played through solo or with a partner locally, encompasses three Apache crews, each in charge of a different member of the Apache helicopter family, whose paths gradually begin to converge. For those partaking in the local multiplayer mode, each player is assigned a different position within the same chopper: One flies the vehicle while the other mans the weapons. There are a varied group of missions to enjoy, with objectives ranging from protecting convoys to taking out marauding aircraft in the skies. The three main locations in which skirmishes with terrorist opposition take place are fictional Southwest Tarzistan, the African Republic of Lualia, and the jungles of Central American Salcedo.
Unfortunately, the closer the Apache gets to the ground in these environments, the more unavoidable the game’s lack of landscape detail and general graphical elegance becomes. Though the weather effects are nice when experienced from high altitudes, there is an almost laughable lack of finesse to Apache’s world that becomes distracting. Simply put, though the attention to detail paid the chopper is commendable (especially when seen from a cockpit view with the requisite countless meters and switches), the game’s ability to impress on a visual level pretty much ends there. Apache’s lack of cutscenes or dialogue to imbue story or character into the proceeding robs the concept of much of its potential flavor, but that may be taking a cheap shot. This is a simulator, after all.
The same can be said for the challenging, short-but-deep gameplay mechanics, which remain enjoyable for about as long as the player finds piloting the helicopter fascinating. This could mean an enormously short shelf life for all but the most die-hard of flight sim fans. The Apache is a complex machine to wield, giving the right control stick command of altitude and rotation, and the left command of tilt (the tutorial mission is highly recommended for newcomers under the mistaken impression that Gaijin’s game is arcade-style). Each difficulty level offers an enormous hike in challenge – indeed one of the elements of the game that lends itself most to replayability – that requires players to be utterly focused and precise with their movements. This is a game about technique and process, more about the journey than the destination, which may be a tough sell for the majority of gamers that are results-and-destination-oriented.
Though multiplayer games were often difficult to get off the ground due to the challenge of finding other online players, for combat alone this was a welcome alternative to the NPC partners and lack of split-screen available for offline missions. A thirteen-mission Squad Operations mode enables two to four other players to join in the action when additional players can be found, and though the online community isn’t trumpeting its support of this title yet, forums can make matchmaking easier for the determined gamer.
The stars of Apache: Air Assault, when all said and done, come well-advertised out of the box. The helicopters of the game’s title are beautifully-rendered behemoths, highly detailed in exteriors and interiors, and full of the kinds of technical nuances that are sure to be appreciated by fans of flight sims or aviation in general. The cooperative modes are a blast, since the game was really conceived with the cooperative experience in mind, and Free Flight mode can be a welcome break from the narrative of the campaign to mete out punishment in whatever way you choose. The real setbacks are the game’s moderate-to-poor graphics when it comes to the environments, as well as the frustrating difficulty level and adherence to realism that will likely make the gameplay a godsend for a niche few, and a tedious exercise for larger audiences. However, the game manages to do one thing exceedingly well, and it should be appreciated for that.