Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 11/12/01 | Genre: Simulation
While it has been optimized to squeeze some eye-popping performance out of the GeForce 3, Comanche 4 tried its best to not get along with my Voodoo 5500. After fiddling with every in-game setting I could find for a good hour, I resorted to downloading a third-party driver for my card that supported DirectX 8. At that point, things finally started happening, and the Army's RAH-66 Comanche finally found its way to the launch pad. With the theme to Airwolf dancing through my head, I took to the sky to hunt. I had heard enough about the fourth installment to know that it focused more on action than realism, but that was just fine after my driver debacle; my trigger finger was itching. No, I couldn't break the video card into a thousand little pieces, but there were 500 rounds loaded into my 20mm cannon and landing to reload would be no problem.
One of the first things that leapt out at me was the controls. Kind of hard to get off the ground without noticing them. I was already reaching for my joystick, until I noticed that the game could be controlled first-person style, a la W-A-S-D plus the mouse. Quake controls on a flight sim? Add in the Z-X-C keys for altitude controls, and I was in the air circle-strafing enemy tanks like mad in no time. That was when the second thing I truly noticed came to my attention: rotors and trees don't mix. If the game had striven for more realism, I would have been introduced to the ground at that point, but luckily you can trim the top off of a few trees before becoming a pedestrian. Alternately, planting your rotors into the turf still earns you your walking papers. There is also a damage meter that slowly depletes as you eat enemy ordinance, which is more at home to a first person shooter than any sim that I've ever played, but it fit in perfectly with the rest of the game.
Comanche 4 stands somewhere in the middle of action and realism; you can take multiple hits before having to restart, but you never get the feeling that you are at the arcade. The use of an FPS control scheme should open the door for non-sim fans to a game that feels familiar enough that they don't feel like fish out of water but challenging enough that they won't grow bored too quickly. Gamers who thrive on sims might have some issues with this type of game play. Look at it as a field trip away from the normal grind that places you right in the middle of the action.
After familiarizing myself with the controls for a few minutes in the training missions, it felt like I had been playing the game for a week instead of an hour. The controls were extremely responsive and simplified, so that you can forget about all the intricacies of keeping your gunship flying and worry about avoiding enemy fire. For most targets, a simple right-click of the mouse ?Äì the default key for targeting ?Äì will highlight the nearest target letting the copter's computer worry about aim, as you try to balance out the need to avoid trees, buildings, and other units while dodging incoming missiles. With most situations, you'll find yourself strafing left or right almost constantly; enemies are plentiful and never seem to run out of nasty things to spray your way. Pounding them into a pulp will always solve that problem though.
Even though the game chooses to stress action over realism, don't think for a minute that a full frontal assault on your objective will win the day. In most cases you'll end up parked in a heap waiting to restart the scenario. Strategy still plays a huge role. Depending on the mission, you can change your armament to meet the challenge, and it's even a good idea to stop at a FARP (Someone open a window in here!) for repairs, fresh ammunition, and even to switch what weapons you are carrying. The missions seem to progress in difficulty, and you'll probably end up playing missions over and over until you figure out what type of strategy works on each. Hiding behind the terrain or buildings and then popping up to blast a target seemed to work well for most situations. Sometimes you'll be called on to eliminate a target, escort something important, provide air support for ground troops, paint enemy positions for artillery attacks (some impressive explosions there), and other chores that manage to never becoming boring simply through the number of different roles you and more importantly your copter can play. The RAH-66 is one versatile bird, and the game tries to take advantage of all its uses.
Bottom line: It's a fun game that might not find a home with hard-core flight-sim fans, but it proves to be a fun game that most people shouldn't have any problems jumping into. If you have an older video card, you might run into problems getting the game to run, but it definitely was worth the effort of updating drivers. Sadly enough, it seems to require at least a 2X AGP card and recommends having a 4X AGP card. If you feel the need to dive right into the action, without having to trade in part of your life to learn the controls, give Comanche 4 a try. It will even support up to 16 players in multi-play mode.