Apache: Air Assault Preview

Get to the choppa!

Being the first all-helicopter combat sim on a home console can’t possibly be easy. First of all, you’re going into a potentially untested market for home consoles, and doing it during the blockbuster holiday season too. With this in mind, I was initially hesitant about Apache: Air Assault. After all, I haven’t had many good previous experiences with realistic simulator games, or many experiences. I find that those kind of games always deliver a difficult learning curve with a heavy emphasis on the simulation part over the part where it’s supposed to be a god-damn game that I’m meant to have fun playing. To that end, the makers of the game consulted heavily with a decorated previous Apache pilot in order to make sure the experience was authentic and guaranteed that it’d a realistic simulation. I worried that it was on track to becoming one of those games that I could never see the fun in and never enjoy because they were too serious and unforgiving in their pursuit of making sure you got the most realistic experience possible.

At the risk of spoiling the rest of this article, it turns out that if my hesitant words were able to physically manifest themselves, I’d be forced to guzzle them down with a side order of humble pie.

Waiting for the presentation we were treated to what were later revealed to be parts of the symphony-created soundtrack for the game. The selection that was played kept very much in line with other action and war games around, helping to set the mood in tandem with the camouflage, ammo crates and gas masks placed around the room. We were soon led into the room where the Activision representatives began their presentation of the game and various sections of what seemed to be a final build of the game were shown off to us. While they were setting up the first mission, we were told of the game being the all-important first “all helicopter combat simulation”, featuring three different versions of Apache combat helicopter, and the story present in the game would be told through pre-rendered and in-game cut scenes and voice-overs. Picking a mission towards the middle of the sixteen mission strong campaign, the objective was to destroy the power plant owned by the game’s World Terrorist Front. Flying to the objective was a great point to show us the different viewpoints possible when flying your Apache.

The first view is your typical third person view, allowing you to see the helicopter and the immediate environment around you as well as an alternate viewpoint which will put the camera at the very front of the Apache and give the player an unencumbered view. However, the other viewpoints were the most interesting by a long shot, as they provide the player with visually authentic cockpit views, showing all the different machinery and technology on display from two different pilots in the Apache. We were also assured that the battlefields in each mission would be “live” and that you’d be able to fly unrestricted as far as you wanted. The left stick controls the main rotor as well as your direction while the right stick moves the tail rotor allowing you to rotate the Apache as well as your aiming reticule. This mission primarily focused on the eradication of ground targets and having to get up close and personal with the terrain, something new for Gaijin Entertainment, as their previous title IL-2 Sturmovik – Birds of Prey primarily concerned itself with aerial combat. Nevertheless, the terrain looked great filled with little details (like the trees falling over if caught in explosions) and trailed off into the horizon as the Apache flew towards the power plant and began to lay waste on the building and terrorists below.

After completing the objective another revealed itself as it was explained each mission would have multiple objectives, with this one requiring a more subtle touch than rockets. Flying towards the ground units, the Apache then switched views to the Mini-gunner at the side of the Apache, complete with a 9mm Mini-gun. If anyone has played either Modern Warfare game, then the best way I can describe this is by saying it’s like the missions where you have to provide aerial support, only with a mini-gun, and somehow way cooler. After dispatching the enemies below, the view returned to the outside of the Apache where the right engine was smoking and had been destroyed by enemy fire while he’d been stationary. Throughout each mission, you’ll receive persistent damage, rather than regenerating health, and individual parts of the Apache will become damaged or broken depending on where you receive damage, with the motors, weapons and even your radar potentially becoming useless if you’re not careful. The destroyed engine then made the helicopter a lot harder to fly for the remainder of his mission, and in fact he soon botched his landing onto terrain because of this and lost a life. On the difficulty he had selected he was given five lives, but the harder difficulties provide you with less (and the hardest only one), thus the difficulty of keeping the one Apache running throughout the entire mission becomes crucial. On the prospect of destroying a distant target, the demonstrator instead resorts to using heat-seeking hellfires and, upon firing, the camera follows the last hellfire (done by holding in the missile fire button) to its destination as it explodes.

Upon completing the objective, a Mission Summary presents itself with all of the various statistics of targets destroyed, lives lost, and the usual. Also presented are your efficiency, your mission cost, your score and final ranking. The mission cost keeps a tally of every missile and bullet you fire during the mission as well as the Apaches you waste and then gives you a final summary of how much the mission cost the military, with you ideally spending as little as you can to improve your efficiency and your ranking, with the relatively short mission time of ten minutes and scoring system providing the re-playability incentive that’ll keep you hooked when the campaign is finished.

Skipping towards one of the finishing missions of the campaign, we’re whisked away to another of the game’s fictional locations, this time by an oil rig. Starting off with aerial combat versus enemy Apaches, it’s explained how the AI reacts to you and how you play throughout the game. For example, if you’re overly reliant on missiles, the enemies will be keenly aware of this, demonstrated to us by the fact that firing missiles at the enemy ‘copters were ineffective due to the enemy anticipating it and releasing more flares to avoid destruction. Eventually besting his opponents, the second objective, wherein you were expected to provide covering support for allies storming the oil rig, began. This ended up looking more difficult than said as the enemies began bringing out RPGs in drones to put an end to you, but you’re given sufficient warning of this as RPG, Missile and Terrain warnings will flash up on your HUD to warn you of any approaching danger, meaning you have to get a good balance of carefully eliminating foes, avoiding committing friendly fire and avoiding your imminent destruction too. Teasing us by quitting the mission to avoid spoiling the end, we were then shown the other two modes that will support the Campaign.

Squad Operations are extra missions outside of the campaign that you can play either solo or co-operative online or offline. The difficulty is tweaked towards multiple players though, so while you can play solo, it’ll be much more difficult than when playing with three friends. Upon completing these missions and campaign missions, you can be rewarded with decals for your Apache to customise it and differentiate it amongst your friends, demonstrated by the demonstrator’s Apache sporting angry eyes and teeth to intimidate his enemies. The missions will carry an emphasis on co-operation and strategy with friends to maximise your enjoyment and to help carry the realism of it, as if everyone decides to do their own thing it’ll become much more difficult to play and enjoy.

There are a dozen squad-ops to play through though, meaning there’ll be a lot to play long after you’ve beaten the game’s campaign. Free Flight is a customisable death-match you can also play alone or with friends, with different arenas to fly in, customisable enemies, weather and Apache. Taking an opportunity to quickly show off this part of the game, the Apache was launched off in the rain from the viewpoint of the front pilot, showing off the rain as it splashed against the windshield. This looks to be the mode to enjoy yourself without the constraints of missions or score attacks and could also be a valuable way to get used to the higher difficulty levels before attempting the special operations and campaign and trying to gain the maximum rankings.

Now that all the modes of the game had been demonstrated, the talk then ended with some words by the decorated Apache pilot who had been consulted for the game to make sure that it was realistic and authentic to the experience. He spoke of his experiences being one of the first ever Apache pilots, his work in Afghanistan and that many of his experiences are now covered in his book “Apache” which was critically well received, and that he also creates simulations and builds missions for Boeing, running off their supercomputers to help train their pilots. While he initially turned down the opportunity to support and consult on Apache: Air Assault, he then changed his mind when he saw what the game had achieved and what it was capable of, and began to tell us how realistic the game was and what it was capable of. The helicopters in the game performed, controlled and acted authentically and the graphical capabilities are better than what Boeing is able to achieve on their simulators, and so pledged his full support for the game, ending the talk with a video showing us footage of real Apaches whilst comparing the game favourably to the footage, allowing us to finally get some hands-on with the game ourselves.

I left the talks having changed my preconceptions about the game and ended up being incredibly impressed by what I’d seen of it alone, but I was worried that when it then came to playing the game I’d be let down or find it incredibly difficult to play and not enjoy the experience. As the earlier spoiler hinted, it’s a game I had to leave my preconceptions at the door for, because I ended up really enjoying the game despite my reservations. The first mission is a tutorial that helps instruct you on how to effectively fly the Apache, change views, use the gunner, change missiles and everything, so that when you’re thrown into the deep end straight away in mission two, you’re more than capable of holding your own. Earlier in this preview I mentioned the dual-use of the right stick, and you may have thought that it didn’t seem like that’d work very effectively at all, especially when you’re trying to aim at moving targets, but it actually works incredibly well and without issue. In fact, all the controls work brilliantly and felt very intuitive despite being very complex. The Apache handled well and controlling and using it felt like they had spent a lot of work making it feel realistic without making it overly difficult or boring. Granted, the first mission helps you to learn all you need, there’s still a lot more at play, and will be more difficult on harder difficulties. Indeed, in the second mission attempting it on harder difficulties meant that the amount of missiles, rockets and mini-gun ammo you had was restricted and would run out if you weren’t careful with it. On the training difficulty I had though, you would have to wait a limited amount of time for them to restore themselves. The mini-gunning also feels a lot more fun than I thought it would, and I found myself enjoying it more than the similar missions in Call of Duty, especially as the use of it was optional and you could use whatever methods you wanted to do to complete the mission.

That’s what helps make the game seem so fun and unique even though you’re restricted to an Apache the entire game. Despite that, you’re allowed to use whatever the Apache gives you in whatever way you deem fit to complete the mission at hand, and that was further hammered home for me by the other people playing the game. Everyone was attempting the same mission in entirely different ways, trying out different tactics and playing the game in entirely different ways and coming out with different experiences to me, with those differences amplified further on more realistic difficulty levels. The game makes an amazing balance of simulation and fun and, despite only being allowed to play the first two missions of the game, all those doubts and worries I had beforehand melted away and made me feel incredibly foolish to ever doubt it. My only worry is that the campaign may come across as a bit short, but this is quickly quelled when I remember that there’s the more realistic options, the scoring, Special Operations with friends, and that the game will be entirely what you make of it, so there’s ultimately as much fun in it as you’re willing to let yourself have in it.

As one of the representatives explained to me, the game is very important as it’s the first all-helicopter combat simulation on home consoles and is catering to an audience who may not have been around before and, with the help of modern realistic games becoming incredibly popular, Apache: Air Assault is coming out at a good time. While other games may have helicopter combat in theirs, they won’t play anywhere near as well as in this game. It promises to be an incredibly unique experience in a crowded November and something that will hopefully shine out above the rest come release.

As I left, the final words of the veteran pilot and why he’s choosing to support the game echoed in my head. “This game is as close as you’ll ever get to a real Apache”. Apache: Air Assault promises to be an incredible simulation of helicopter combat, and above all else, fun. Don’t miss out, Soldier.

Apache: Air Assault is due out on November 16th and will be available for Xbox360, PS3 and PC.


Last five articles by Edward



  1. Kat says:

    Wow. All those choppers shooting their loads into the sky.


    I love helicopters in games but I tend to crash and burn within minutes :D Quite interested in this game though, looks like it could be fun!

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I sort of fell in love with this game whilst pulling together all the images and the video. I’ve not played a flight sim since the very early days of the Amiga and just found the whole thing quite cumbersome to be honest, but this… well this is helicopters for a start, which immediately means it’s so much more awesome… plus you get to pull yourself in to tactical combat situations. Personally speaking I can’t wait for this, and I’ll be playing it on the PC rather than a console (which sort of defeats the purpose I suppose) because I’m just becoming more and more annoyed with the graphics quality on consoles these days.

    Fantastic write up though Ed, really enjoyed reading it and thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of awe!

  3. Ben Ben says:

    Anything with helicopters in reminds me of Desert Strike, which can only be a good thing!

    Definitely one to keep my eye on, and nice to see something other than generic FPS shooter or bland fantasy world, a break from the norm.

  4. Pete Pete says:

    Nice one Eduardo!!

    Got me thinking I may look out for this one now :D

  5. Kev says:

    Looks a good game, got any cheats for it yet?

  6. Lorna Lorna says:

    You’re incorrigible, Kev ;)

  7. Ben Ben says:

    “Get to the chopper!”

    Had to be said.

  8. Lorna Lorna says:

    I’ll echo Ben’s earlier comments and say that it reminds me of a very up to date Desert Strike which is a great thing. If ever there was a series of games which would make for a good revival it would be the Strike series, however, by the looks of this one, it’ll stand us in good stead. Nice write up Ed, sounds like you had a great time :D

  9. Lex says:


    The game looks amazing, You painted a very good picture as to what to expect from this game. As a vet Flight sim gamer on the PC, and an Army Helicopter Pilot by trade I am very interested to experience the happy medium between simulator and arcade shooter that this game brings to the table, additionally I am very very interested as to what the Apache Pilot “adviser” had to specifically about the systems, display, accuracy etc. of the Apache’s GUI.

    On a professional note of constructive criticism:

    I would strongly urge you to do a little bit of research on the actual AH-64 Apache before you write a review like this, No offense but you sounded like you had very little experience with whilst describing the Apache’s real world functions in comparison to the game. For example the “9mm mini gun” that you mentioned, is quite in accurate, and actually made me chuckle while reading. Just for next time: 1.) a 9mm bullet is about half the size of a pen cap and 2.) The Apache is equipped with a 30mm auto cannon, not a mini-gun, and fires a bullet that looks like the top of a beer bottle

    just for next time ;)

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