In the years before the release of Jane's fabulous Longbow II, if you asked a flight sim enthusiast what their favorite helicopter sim was, you'd probably get "Gunship 2000" as the most common response. Why? Well, great flight modeling, fantastic mission, and multiple helicopters to fly were only a few of the reasons. Unfortunately, as time went on and as computers got faster, Gunship 2000 got more dated...so it's quite fortunate that Longbow II was eventually released.
Longbow II, being the sequel to Longbow I, had a lot to live up to. Longbow I was the crowning achievement of its day, with it and its designer, Andy Hollis, receiving many accolades for his work. Longbow I, however, was not without its criticisms. It had only one helicopter to fly, canned missions (although there were many of them), no 3D accelerated graphics, and no multiplayer support to speak of. Longbow II solves all of these problems and does so much more.
Installation of Longbow II was easy, and the whole game takes up about 500 megs of HD space. You can choose the type of installation, expert or casual, and this will effect how the game plays. Don't worry, this can be changed later.
Once installed, you'll have to wait for the terrain to uncompress itself, but this was only done when playing for the first time. Upon loading Longbow II, you'll be greeted by one of the best intro's ever made for a Combat Simulation. This movie, which is made entirely with CGI, really gets the player in the mood to bust some chops, as it were.
Once the movie is over, the player is taken to the main menu screen, which just happens to be an Army base. This "menu" gives you all the options you'll need, from creating your in-game persona, to training and campaigns. Let's start with Training. Longbow I had one of the best training modules ever seen in a combat simulator. A fully voiced instructor (who sounded like Tommy Lee Jones in "Firebirds") guided you through every aspect of Longbow training, from flying to advanced combat techniques. Well, this gentleman (who apparently is a real life instructor on the Apache) makes a return appearance in this game, as well as a couple of others for the new helicopters (more on this later). The training for Longbow II puts it head and shoulders above any competition. Rather than reading a small briefing before hand, having to remember everything in flight, or having the training in the manual, Longbow II again has fully voiced interactive instruction. One might notice that, however, that the frame rate might seem low. I don't know why, but the frame rate really suffers in the training missions, but they don't in actual missions, so this isn't a hassle. The training missions are accompanied by a true behemoth of a manual, weighing in at over 300 pages. This manual goes into detail about every aspect of the game, and is required reading for maximum enjoyment.
There are options for single missions as well. These missions can be randomly generated or created by the player, and the computer usually knows what its doing in this respect. The real meat of the game, however, are the two campaigns, which are both dynamic. If you don't know, a dynamic campaign, rather than relying on canned missions, tries to simulate the ebb and flow of a real war and/or battlefield. This means that the campaigns never play out the same way twice. The two campaigns are a training campaign with two US Army forces having at it. The second campaign, and the one that's harder, is the Crescent Moon campaign. This takes place in Azerbaijan, and has you fighting Russians (again, I know, we're always fighting Russians).
These two campaigns, and single missions, are presented by one of the best planning screens in the business. You don't like the computer's flight plan? Fine, make your own. You want a group of Kiowa scouts instead of Longbows scouting ahead? Go right ahead. The options are limitless, and the layout and functionality of the planner are excellent, and ot since DI's Tornado has there been such a great planner.
I mentioned new helicopters above. Longbow II now features three flyable helicopters. They are the Apache Longbow (of course), the Kiowa scout helicopter, and the venerable Blackhawk transport. The inclusion of these two choppers really to enhance the gameplay, as now the variety of the missions you can undertake is greatly increased. Don't feel like busting tanks? Fly some troops in behind enemy lines...or scout out for enemy positions. Let's look at each chopper in detail.
The Apache Longbow, star of the game, is the venerable tank killer. This chopper, while not only being heavily armored, is also armed to the teeth with a moving chin cannon, missiles, and rockets. This chopper is your main attack vehicle, and while the Kiowa has some limited offensive and defensive capability, this is the chopper you send when something needs to be destroyed. The main feature of the Longbow is the Mast Mounted Radar. This gives the Longbow the advantage of only having to uncover the radar module rather than the whole helicopter in order to get a radar picture of the battlefield. Longbow II models this feature rather faithfully, and successful bobbing and masking techniquies are vital to your success.
The Kiowa is an enhancement of Bell's Jet Ranger helicopter. The main feature of the Kiowa is the Mast Mounted Sight, which is much different than the Mast Mounted Radar on the Longbow. This sight not only includes radar equipment, but also a variety of cameras so that the helicopter may remain behind cover and visually spot the enemy. Once enemies have been spotted, the Kiowa may lase the target so that Longbows may be called in to take it out.
Finally, we come to the workhorse of the Army, the Blackhawk. The Blackhawk is a large, fast, simple machine that lacks the grace of the other two helicopters. What it lakes in grace it makes up for in stamina and carrying capacity. The Blackhawk is mainly used to either insert troops near or behind enemy lines, or to pick up troops in a variety of situations. The Blackhawk lacks the variety of digital displays used in the Longbow and Kiowa copters. The Blackhawk is much more spartan, but no less important, as an insertion mission can have just as much weight on success as a strike mission.
These helicopters are all modeled in fine detail, and they all have more than one station modeled. The Longbow has both the front and rear seats modeled, and both are fully usable by the player. The Kiowa models both pilot and co-pilot stations, although one won't usually need to switch between the two. Finally, the Blackhawk models the door gunners, letting you personally cover insertion or extraction missions.
The flight models on these choppers are also excellent. The flight model is completely configurable, so that if you want simplistic flight controls with realsitic avionics controls, you can have that. With everything set to realistic, just getting your chopper to the LZ or the hot zone might be a challenge, as the flight model is quite realistic and unforgiving. This makes the game even better for die-hard sim nuts who just crave realism above all else.
The graphics in the game itself are fabulous, with only one glaring flaw. The game has no trees...no foliage of any kind. I know this would really drag down the frame rate, but this is something we all wanted to see. Other than that, the graphics are great. Objects such as your own helicopter or enemy encampments are beautiful, and the terrain is nothing to sneeze at either. Initially, however, the game shipped with only 3dFX Glide support, which at the time wasn't really a problem since 3dFX dominated the 3D acceleration scene. Well times have changed, and luckily, a patch that supports Direct 3D (though not as well as Glide) has been released since the games initial release.
The visual effects are also lovely. One hasn't lived until one has seen a maverick night shot. The graphics, for both day and night, are splendid. This game models the scary pitch-blackness of the night all to well, and even good night vision gear won't help with the ominous dread of the night.
Sound in the game comes way of chatter and sound effects. The chatter that goes on throughout a mission is splendid. Other flights will report their sightings, call for help, report a victory, and whatever else might come up. They're all voiced differently and rather well, so that you really can feel their pain. The sound effects of the game, from explosions to rotors to missile launches, are also quite well done.
Finally, and the one point that everyone was asking for, is multiplayer. Andy Hollis stated in many interviws about this game that anything that could be done in single player could also be done in multiplayer, since he wanted it done right. Well, luckily for us, he and Jane's succeeded. The multiplayer component for this game is incredibly feature rich, from single missions to campaigns, everything CAN be done in a multiplayer environment. This also means in the same helicopter as well! You want to be the Pilot in the Longbow while someone handles the weapons in the front seat? Go ahead. You want to handle a door gun on the Blackhawk while someone flies it? Be my guest. The possibilities for multiplayer action are as limitless as single player, and with added support for Jane's Combatnet through a patch, opponents won't be too hard to find. Combatnet, also, is a great service, with 4 people playing with little lag over 56k modem connections.
In conclusions, I've stated the facts that make Longbow II considered by many (including this reviewer) to be the best Helicopter sim ever made. There have been few challenges made to the throne, but overall, no one can beat Longbow II's feature set and playability. If you like fliyng, helicopters, or just blowing things up, do yourself a favor and get this game. Even better, it comes in the Longbow Anthology, which includes Longbow I Gold and Longbow II, so I'd suggest picking that up if you don't already own it. So stop reading this review and go get Longbow II...you won't be disappointed.
Graphics: Beautiful, but no trees!
Sound: Lively chatter and great aurals make for a sonically great experience.
Enjoyment: If this is your thing, you'll have a blast.
Replay Value: Randomly generated single missions, dynamic campaigns, multiplayer options, and a 3rd party full featured mission editor ensure YEARS of replayability.
People who downloaded Longbow 2 have also downloaded:
Jane's AH-64D Longbow Gold, Jane's Fighters Anthology, Jane's USAF, Jane's F/A-18, Jane's F-15, M1 Tank Platoon 2, Apache Longbow, Jane's WWII Fighters
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