Flying combat helicopters is, by all accounts, a terrifying experience. Their relatively slow cruising speed makes them perfect targets, and their clumsy maneuvering makes evasion difficult. The one trump card of a helicopter -- the ability to maneuver vertically superbly -- allows the vehicle to escape destruction, but only by hugging the ground. Comanche 4 effectively communicates the disorientation and terror of piloting a combat chopper, and punishes pilots whenever they stray too high. Still, this is less of a simulation than it is a straightforward helicopter shooter. Every mission requires a single chopper -- with minimal help -- to eliminate dozens of dangerous targets during pell-mell bursts of activity. It's fun, but it's not realistic.
Most assignments revolve around attacking terrorists and military juntas, or supporting a vital covert operations mission. Comanche 4's faceless enemies might be a problem if the story were important, but it's not. Every mission, regardless of whether you're recapturing a stolen stealth boat or helping a spy escape, is an obvious excuse to include explosions, firestorms, and missile attacks. Fortunately, Comanche 4 has superb graphics, and the gunfights and missile attacks impress. For every successful hit with a "hydra" missile, pilots are rewarded with a spectacular fireball. Terrain, water effects, and smoke are similarly well done.
Succeeding with the increasingly difficult missions typically requires memorizing the general location of all enemies, then eliminating them in a helter-skelter fashion. A system of waypoints allows pilots to follow a planned path for each mission, but, in one of Comanche 4's rare moments of realism, assignments frequently change mid-mission. Players must be prepared for some seat-of-the-pants maneuvering. With the tougher assignments, learning the location of each enemy group allows pilots to leave the prescribed path, eliminate enemy units, then return to the waypoint system. For the missions requiring the protection of weak units, success often depends on effective forward scouting and raiding.
Comanche 4 players will quickly discover annoying aspects. Most irritants stem from the game's attempt to be both simulation and shooter. The controls, for example, are fairly complicated, which is appropriate (and even desirable) in a simulation. However, since Comanche 4 requires players to maneuver and destroy clustered targets, shooter-style, the complicated controls are a nuisance. Similarly, the targeting weapons systems are simplistic -- appropriate for a shooter, but disappointing for players in search of realism. Since Comanche 4 is, essentially, a shooter, simplifying the chopper controls (or making certain features optional) would be a welcome modification.
As is, Comanche 4 offers plenty of challenge, explosions, enemies, and missions. Evading Surface to Air Missiles is a harrowing experience. When the SAMs start whizzing past your chopper you'll start sweating. Taking out all of the anti-aircraft defenses, enemy choppers and tanks, and then proceeding to "liquidate" an enemy encampment is great fun. Most missions will require multiple attempts, which makes every successful sortie feel hard-fought and earned. However, since the gameplay from mission to mission doesn't offer much variety, Comanche 4 is best played in short explosion-filled bursts.
Graphics: Superb explosions, smoke, and water effects define the game. NovaLogic's new 3D engine is impressive.
Sound: The "dispatcher" updates each mission as it progresses with timely comments and commands. Explosions, gunfights, and radar lock-on beeps are similarly well handled.
Enjoyment: Don't expect a simulation; however, Comanche 4 offers plenty of firefights, explosions, enemies, and missions and a reasonably friendly control scheme.
Replay Value: Since the missions are difficult, players in search of a challenge can always return to selected missions and attempt to improve their results. However, they probably won't want the frustration. Multiplayer head-to-head matches offer additional options, however.
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