Jane’s Longbow 2
|Genres:||Simulator / Flight Simulator|
|Release Date:||Nov 30, 1997|
|Game Modes:||Singleplayer / Multiplayer|
Flight sims never did enjoy the same level of enthusiasm that their more mainstream gaming cousins got, but Longbow 2 really did rile up an impressive amount of buzz, not just from helicopter enthusiasts, but the PC community in general. The prospect of coupling the flight model and avionics of the original Longbow with improvements to almost every other aspect of gameplay appeared to be a sure recipe for success, but it wasn’t an easy undertaking. Despite the already existing engine and accurate flight modelling, Longbow 2 was still one of the most ambitious combat flight sims ever.
Despite its venerable age, Longbow 2 remains the most accurate and defining simulation of the AH-64D attack helicopter. Already working with a winning flight model, the designers have focused their attention on all of the peripheral elements of gameplay, and they have done so with a rigorous attention to even the smallest detail.
The first thing that the player is likely to notice is the option to fly several new helicopters. In addition to the AH-64D Longbow Apache, players can opt to pilot the UH-60A/L Blackhawk or the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Each helicopter incorporates its own avionics (the analog gauges take some getting used to after the luxury of the Longbow’s IHADSS display), and each displays a satisfyingly unique set of flight characteristics. The Blackhawk is fast and powerful, but its massive bulk makes it more difficult to maneuver. The Kiowa is relatively light and better equipped for reconnaissance assignments, but does not enjoy the firepower of the Longbow.
As can be expected, the new helicopters expand the roles that the player can perform in the game’s missions. With the Blackhawk, the player can finally play the other side of the coin in escort missions. More easily detectable by radar and more lightly armored than the Longbow, it can be quite a rush to fly in low over a hostile landing zone to deliver a load of troops to the front lines. The Blackhawk is armed only with a pair of door guns, used primarily for clearing landing zones and providing supporting fire once the troops are on the ground. The player can jump into either of the door gunners’ positions and manually aim the guns, but the difficulty of trying to aim while keeping the helicopter aloft (and alive) makes it more practical to allow the AI gunner to do the aiming for you. While in the cockpit view, your gunner will aim at any target of opportunity (it is still up to the player to pull the trigger to make him fire).
The Kiowa can carry more armaments than the Blackhawk, though still only a fraction of the loadout that the Longbow can bear. Hellfires, rockets, Stingers, and gun pods can be mounted on the Kiowa’s outriggers, but the weapons are hard-mounted and must be manually aimed at any target (by pointing the helicopter in the appropriate direction). It is better than no protection at all, but the Kiowa does not even approach the Longbow in terms of combat ability. That makes sense, since the Kiowa’s primary mission is recon.
To that end, it is equipped with a mast-mounted TADS camera capable of surveying a 170-degree arc to either side of the helicopter. With this setup the Kiowa can identify targets with the TADS while remaining concealed behind a ridgeline (a sensible approach, since the Kiowa’s best defense is to avoid detection). The biggest drawback is the lack of an option to view the Kiowa’s TADS MFD as a full-screen display – identifying targets on the tiny cockpit MFD can be a little tricky, even at maximum zoom levels. Ultimately, the Kiowa and the Blackhawk add a welcome new element to gameplay despite these small drawbacks.
Presenting The New Campaigns
The second thing the player is likely to notice is that the campaign engine has been totally revamped. Replacing the branching scripted missions of the original Longbow are two dynamic campaigns – one a series of combat exercises at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California; the other a face-off with Iran over the oil fields of Azerbaijan. Each campaign consists of a series of missions that are generated based on the player’s performance in past missions and the state of the ground war. When a certain state of readiness is achieved, the player’s ground forces will attempt to advance the front lines. The player works to support these advances by maintaining supply lines and by providing intelligence and direct support to the ground forces.
Supporting this new campaign engine is a revised and vastly more detailed mission planner. Aside from providing more detailed map information, the mission planner allows the player to select the helicopters, loadouts, and routes for four flights of two helicopters each. While the computer generates default tasking for all of the flights, the player will want review things before playing the mission. The AI pilots tend to follow their waypoints religiously, even if their route takes them directly over enemy air defenses (which the default routes often do). Fortunately the player can fine-tune the timing of a given mission by giving AI pilots orders directly.
This planning pays off in the long run, because keeping the AI pilots alive is critical to success. The forward-area refueling points (FARPs) are stocked with limited helicopters and armaments, and running low on supplies can put a major dent in any offensive effort. The player may feel more comfortable flying in the heavily armed Longbow, but every mission a Longbow flies represents an opportunity for that Longbow to be lost.
In addition to the strategic element that the dynamic campaign adds to gameplay is a greater sense of immersion within the missions themselves. Other ground and air units maneuver with more coherence and purpose than they did in the original Longbow, and at times the battle raging on the ground is almost as interesting as the one you are waging in the air. The feeling that there is a war going on around the player – a war in which the player is only a small part of a greater effort – makes for a very believable environment. All of it adds up to yield what is one of the best and most complex rotary-wing simulations ever made, and easily the best sim of 1997.
System Requirements: Pentium 133 MHz, 16 MB, 2 MB Video, 420 MB HDD, Win 95/98