The 2000 release of MicroProse Software's Gunship! represents a total rebuild of the company's original games from 1986, 1991, and 1996, upgraded for Windows gameplay. While totally revamped, the core of gameplay remains focused on piloting attack helicopters in both simulation and action modes, as well as head-to-head or cooperative multiplayer action. Flight modes include easy (simplified for novices), enhanced, and realistic (experts).
Players can pilot the AH-64D Apache (U.S.), Westland Apache (U.K.), Eurocopter Tiger (Germany), and Mil-28 Havoc (Russia) depending on selected gameplay mode and missions. Features include a Fly Now mode (instant action), Single Battle options (standalone pre-generated missions), a large, multi-mission Campaign mode, a Battle Builder option to create customized missions, 114 vehicles, and 85 types of weapons. Players can take control from either the pilot or gunner's cockpit perspective and scale the action to personal preference by adjusting enemy AI, conditions, complexity, and much more.
In order to generate a reason to fly overseas and blow up a lot of things, Microprose created an intriguing back story for Gunship!. Apparently, some ultra-nationals have taken over the weak Russian government, placing militaristic pressure on the surrounding nations. This serves as a stepping stool to re-infuse the ties of the old Soviet states, thus forcing NATO to take action. Under orders, you will take up the position of either the pilot or the gunner in one of four attack helicopters. Using intelligence reports, map overlays, consistent communication, and a mess of really slick weapons, it will be your job to quell the beginnings of what could ultimately stem into the third world war.
That being said, it's time to jump into the cockpit. At the game's onset, players can choose from a variety of different ways to get themselves into the action. The impatient (or daring) can click 'Fly Now' to get cracking right away. Though this could be suicidal in some other simulations, the designers saw it fit to appeal to the gamer that just wants to get things done... now. To that end, included in the box is a Quick Start manual (completely separated from the main manual) as well as a keyboard and joystick reference card. Using these documents, players should be well on their way to flight and destruction within minutes of booting up. A copter is chosen for you, and you're off to the battlefield. For those with a more conservative approach however, the in-game tutorial coupled with the more extensive main instruction manual may be more suitable. Following this 'getting to know you' period, most any player should feel at least partially comfortable with the controls of the game...as long as you have a Microsoft Sidewinder joystick. We had a real bitch of a time getting the game to work with anything but the Sidewinder and, although it ran beautifully with the Microsoft joystick, Unfortunately, we had a problem getting the game to work on anything but a Microsoft SideWinder joystick, this was rather ridiculous considering how finicky most sim gamers are about the joysticks they use with their games.
At about this point, it may be a good idea to make a decision in regards to which seat you are more comfortable manning. While the lower difficulty settings of the game enable a player to both fly the helicopter from the pilot chair as well as obliterate targets from the gunner's perspective, the higher levels are not quite so forgiving. Players will eventually have to choose between flying their bird or sending others to the pavement. Don't worry though, there are enough cross commands between whichever position you choose and the AI that controls the other to make certain you feel in touch with everything. Pilots communicate with the gunner and vice versa to make sure that the team still functions, even though you won't be playing both roles.
After getting the feel of things in the training or single mission modes, the adventurous may wish to try out a full-blown campaign. The plot of the game kicks in here, with full mission briefings, defined parameters, and set targets. Also, virtually every conceivable level of detail can be set to your liking before battle begins. Everything from the types and amount of ammunition your helicopter can stock to realism levels of flight control and damage can be adjusted to mold the game to match your skills. Newbies will most likely want to keep ammo levels high while tapering off a bit on the flight and damage levels. Though Veterans may wish to throw caution to the wind, going into battle practically naked with the difficulty maxed. On whatever level you personally operate, there is enough game here to accommodate you.
Also in the realm of realism, this title's graphics are simply top notch. Landscapes are extremely well drawn, animations are fluid, and there is just no slowdown whatsoever, even in a firefight. Occasionally there can be seen a few glitches where the ground areas seem to have been pieced together, but this is forgivable when laid next to the raw coolness of the environment. The looks of your aircraft's cockpit and weaponry are equally picturesque, as are the explosions caused by your onslaught. For kicks, try switching the game into Chase mode (press F9) to view your chopper from varying angles in a movie-style fashion. Even when up close, you'll be hard pressed to pick out the pixels. The only elements of the game more entertaining to watch than the engine itself are the beautifully done cutscenes that depict the actions of you and your comrades.
After coming in from the glorious field of battle, the debriefing allows for the acquisition of award points. Players then have the opportunity to take these points and use them to either promote or award medals to the crew for that mission. This is also a time to move members of certain crews to other assignments while also serving as a rest period for the weary. Since you'll have multiple crews in your unit, swapping out members that are better rested and more suited for different missions is a good idea.
Now, if there ever comes a time when you've blown away the campaign missions in every way that you can think of, there is thankfully still more to challenge you here. The game's battle builder allows players to construct their own missions, configuring every last detail to the designs in their heads. Using this user-friendly utility, pilots can effectively manufacture missions that are vastly more difficult than the ones offered in the game missions. Grabbing an enthusiastic friend to swap missions with is also a good idea, as not knowing what's coming offers even more of a challenge. Between this and the included multiplayer aspect on MSN Gaming Zone, you shouldn't want to eject from this one for a good deal of time.
On a final note, Gunship! is pretty much everything we hoped it would be. There's enough action in this box to make it more than worth the buy for any sim enthusiast who's been looking for the right copter to fly. With the exception of the joystick selection problem we mentioned earlier, Gunship ran well on all of the systems we played it on, and it's certainly one of the best looking simulations we've ever laid our eyes on. Even if simulations aren't the bread and butter of your gaming collection, you may still want to give this one a shot. It offers up a lot of action to the arcade gamer looking for something a little different. Chances are you may very well be playing this thing well into World War III.
People who downloaded Gunship! have also downloaded:
Flanker 2.5, Falcon 4.0: Allied Force, Gunship 2000 (CD-ROM Edition), F-15 Strike Eagle III, Jane's AH-64D Longbow Gold, Longbow 2, F/A-18 Operation Desert Storm, F-22 Lightning 3
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