Take-On-Helicopters-Review Take On Helicopters Review

   05/11/2011 at 20:49       Stuart Walton       2 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Bohemia Interactive, Helicopter, Simulator, Space Needle, Get to da choppa!

The career mode in Take On Helicopters places you as Thomas Larkin, brother to Joseph Larkin. Joe operates the Seattle based civil aviation company that was inherited from your father. However, a flying incident injures Joe, thus grounding him and he drafts you in as the company's new pilot. Things are financially tough, and your first task is to sell one of your helicopters. The prospective buyer first wants a test flight and so begins your first mission. Repeat business from this client leads them to offering to buy a stake in Larkin Aviation, promising benefits for both parties. Investment eases some worries but having a corporation owning a majority stake curbs the company's freedom as you are constantly called into flying operations for your new overlords.

Batteries On

Placing a flight sim in a narartive wrapper is a refreshing idea, but one side of the execution isn't so great. The writing is poor. Naive would be a more apt description. The drama that's meant to be conveyed is held back by 2D characters with boilerplate stereotypes. Delivery is hampered by the limitations of the engine, bad editing and poor direction of the VO artists. It's all heavily intentional and full of faux emotion. Tom also doesn't act like a real pilot to some of the situations. There are times he's ordered to do something that 99% of pilots would flat out refuse on safety grounds. But then if he didn't capitulate we'd be left with the writing for all our excitement. The physical drama arising from the situations you get your aircraft into is probably what you're really after anyway. The simulation is both tight and accesible enough to seal that end of the deal.

The career introduces you to new craft and ways of using them at a fair pace, each new contract you can be sure with feature something new or feature a twist diverting you off the flight plan. There's a handful of recognisable craft, in a variety of configurations. They're never named properly and are referred to by class. Light, Medium, Heavy etc. The Light craft is based on the Littlebird and will be your go to choice where heavy lifting isn't needed.

Holding Starter

Missions typically involve flying A to B, picking people up or hopping out of your helicopter to meet them. Later on conditions become more difficult as the game throws tougher landing spots and harsher weather at you as well as a heavy load or two. Chatting to Joe also brings up the odd flashback, placing you in Joe's shoes during a military tour in South Asia. Most of the missions don't come with a very detailed flight plan and in some cases none at all. So you'll have to be on your toes as your current objective may change. Missions will bring in cash, which you will need to maintain your aircraft. You can also upgrade or trade up if you have enough. There are a number of side contracts you can take to boost the coffers. One stand out mission tasks you with flying in a SWAT team to a rooftop fast rope insertion, but things aren't so clear cut. There's a strong wind blowing and you can't fly right in for fear of being spotted so you have to skulk amongst the skyscrapers until a forward observer gives you the go ahead.

Throttle to Idle

Such a mission highlights the achievements and some of the problems with the much touted flight model. If you were to make a checklist of the kind of things a serious helicopter flight model should simulate then TOH manages to tick a lot of boxes. Things like Effective Translational Lift, stabilizer yaw, Retreating Blade Stall, Autorotation, Ground Effect, mechanical and physical damage to name a few, are all present and are generally, in most cases realistic. The game's community, many of whom have a few hours of real helicopter experience, have pointed out a number of problems though. Ground effect isn't modelled correctly during a hover. Instead of dampened cushioning effect, players are being propelled upwards. While ground effect does create additional lift, the vertical dampening effect is much stronger. The issue makes landing, especially rooftop landings very tricky, hot insertions doubly so.

Autorotation has been given a knock too, in some aircraft rolling the throttle off will cause rotor RPM to stall regardless of the wind speed over the aerofoil. This is incorrect, with enough forward speed and given the rotor RPM hasn't dropped below a specific point, the rotor RPM can be maintained by initiating an autorotation. When engine RPM is less then rotor RPM, the transmission should de-clutch, this works in the game for an idle throttle but not, I suspect, when you cut the fuel. Bohemia to their credit are listening to the feedback and have a flight model update planned and are seeking experienced pilots to beta test it. This is something they had the opportunity to do with the Community Beta which had the same idiosyncratic elements.

Releasing Starter

With these flight niggles you may be deterred but breadth of simulated phenomena is matched by the wide range of difficulty settings. Three difficulty defaults are present: Beginner, Trainee and Expert. As you'd expect, the last one has all the training wheels off, meant for the true enthusiast who also has flight equipment peripherals that allows them at the very least analogue stick, collective and pedal control. Trainee makes things a little easier, damage modelling is more forgiving and compensating for rotor torque is handled automatically (although not perfectly). You also get an instrumentation HUD in addition to the the panel on the 3D cockpit. While not a complete read on the aircraft's current state it's enough to let you fly while keeping your eyes looking out of the craft. It also conveys data not on the 3D panel, like horizontal slip and a collective indicator vital for those without an analogue input. Beginner will make things even easier for the player but I can't say by how much, however, mouse and keyboard flight is a possible option even on Trainee. The defaults are fully configurable, so you can tailor the difficulty to your taste, equipment and skill level. If you want Expert difficulty with the Instrument HUD available, then you can.

Initiating Warm Up

I played through the campaign using an Xbox pad on Trainee difficulty with a FreeTrack setup and was able to make it all the way through. I did however have to engage the auto-hover at times where a combination of skill and the limits of the control just wasn't up to scratch. Performing the feats required of you is possible without auto hover but mistakes are difficult to recover from. The Xbox pad is detected by the game and you can apply a default control scheme but you cannot edit the sensitivity in this case. If you want custom sensitivity with an Xbox pad then you'll need to configure it all yourself. Even if you do this the inputs still feel a little twitchy and if you move the stick full circle, the 3D stick in the game doesn't match up, travelling in a diamond. Someone at Bohemia needs basic maths lessons. There also seems to be a lag issue with the binary collective input (analogue input is unaffected). TrackIR or FreeTrack isn't a necessity with the pad as you can enable freelook on the right thumbstick, but will really help with those playing with a full set of controls.

Throttle to Full

Downtown Seattle looks good, there's sufficient detail to the buildings, especially the iconic Space Needle. The ground textures however are generally poor and sub-par compared to other modern sims. It's not too bad where trees and buildings are sited but places like freeways and rail yards are an awful mess. Even the runway at Renton Municipal (KRNT) is a horrible smudge. I noticed also that the runway heading is incorrectly labelled 13 & 31 (in tens of degrees) when my compass tells me its actually closer to 16 and 34 (which is what it is in real life). I could let such an error slide as you don't fly fixed wing aircraft, but the career takes you to this location and this oversight just rubs me the wrong way. This is likely the unavoidable trade-off to a large playing area, 60km by 60km, and how the ArmA engine handles that.

Bohemia's decision to use the ArmA 2 engine, while a salient decision from a development and financial perspective also means that TOH suffers from all the engine's drawbacks. It appears that little to no work has been done to improve and optimise the code and the new helicopter flight model has simply been kludged in. Your machine will be pushed hard to get the best looks out of it. The silver lining however is that the fan community have a head start when it comes to modding and making content for the game. Giving it the content, functionality and fixes that Bohemia couldn't possibly achieve. Hopefully the feature set will continue to grow, there currently is no air traffic control (turning on ATC just plays ambient radio traffic) so you can fly anywhere, even airspace that is tightly controlled such as near airports. There's also the option to turn on collision lights but that doesn't seem to do much, I've had a few near misses with the ambient air traffic which both those omissions are meant to prevent.

Ready for Takeoff?

It's unfinished, incomplete, variably ugly, and has terrible story writing. But even with the flight model issues there's still a great helicopter sim in it. Structuring the missions into a narrative framework freshens up the genre and the ongoing scenario it presents is far better than having it set via a wall of text and a map, even though it's not Golden Globe quality stuff. It was a good direction to take. There are also free flight, extra challenges and time trials outside of the career mode as well as a multiplayer module allowing you and some pals to play through scenarios together. Community support should also provide ongoing content and help fill the cracks.

User Comments:

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Orpheus - on 05/11/2011 at 23:31 wrote:
I keep hoping and praying that someone at BIS will fire all their appalling, brain-dead writers and replace them with something better, like, say, a yoghurt. It just beggars belief that they're still making a hash out of the campaign writing, no matter what project they touch. After this confirmed what I expected, I now fully believe Carrier Command and ARMA3 will both be utter shit in terms of writing. Idiots.

Good review though, nice to know there's at least a functional sim beneath all the bullshit.

HairyArse - on 07/11/2011 at 13:11 wrote:
Anonymous, what's wrong with the Captcha?

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