Ever look up, see a helicopter, and wish you could fly one? Bohemia Interactive can partly grant your wish with their flight simulator, Take On Helicopters. Let's do a walk around preflight check and get this bird in the air.
Unlike many flight simulator games of the past Take On Helicopters does have a story mode. Set in Seattle, it follows your character, Tom Larkin as he helps his brother, Joseph, rebuild the family helicopter business after the death of their father. Your character takes on various jobs; flying VIPs around, making deliveries, and, eventually, rescuing people. Interspersed throughout are missions that flash back to Tom's military days.
Overall, the story is not complicated, the game plays more as an extended tutorial.
Controls and Gameplay
As stated, Take On Helicopters is a flight simulator game. Like the name states, it is all about helicopters. The controls offer the choice of: mouse and keyboard, joystick and keyboard, or gamepad. It also supports the more advanced flight stick peripherals that are available. In playing the game with both the mouse and keyboard option, as well as the Microsoft Wired Xbox Controller, the control seemed overly touchy, I would find later that it was just me. The mouse and keyboard became my control of choice.
As a flight sim, this is not a jump in and fly around game. Take On Helicopters presents flight as realistically as possible. This means that the player should expect to crash a lot while learning to fly the helicopters. It takes a steady hand and a healthy dose of patience.
In single player there is the option of story mode, as mentioned above, Freeflight mode, where the player can choose any of the helicopters in the game and just fly, and a Mission Editor mode, where the player can make their own missions to play and share.
In multiplayer, there is co-op mode and verses mode. Since my flight skills were not up to standard, I did not venture into either of these modes.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, Take On Helicopters, is a mixed bag. The helicopters are well detailed and realistic. Beyond them, things start a downward turn. The people are somewhat realistic, but are stiff and almost mannequin like. Then there is the landscape. Well known Seattle landmarks and buildings are done well and look as they should. However roads, cars, and ground details fall into a mish-mash of meh.
Sound follows suit. The helicopters, as far as I know, sound dead on. The voice acting, on the other hand, is like local amateur theatre. Lines are delivered in odd tones, but occasionally there are glimpses of promise.
At first play Take On Helicopters is really not that great. Seemingly hard to control, the mixed levels on quality for graphics and sound will turn off most players. It's really only when you step back and look at what the game offers that the true potential of the game comes into focus.
First, there is the fact that Bohemia Interactive is a developer based in the Czech Republic. This can forgive the fact that the Seattle put forth in the game is less than perfect. The Alaska Way Viaduct being a flat highway instead of a stacked highway, or the "Darth Vader" building on 4th and Blanchard St. being a generic building. Things like this are known to locals, but any developer outside of Seattle might make the same errors as Bohemia has. Most likely the developers worked with satellite images and photos. I give them kudos for at least putting a helipad on top of the building I work in. Even though the shape of the KING Broadcasting Building has a more glass waterfall look than the generic look they gave it.
Second, is the fact that the flight sim market is such a niche market, Microsoft got out of it years ago. The draw of a flight sim is the simulation of flying realistically. It's not how realistic you can make John Doe's front yard, but how realistic you've made the simulation.
This is where Bohemia Interactive shines with Take On Helicopters: flight realism. Since the closest I have ever come to flying a helicopter is the two times I've rode in chopters in the Army, I sought out a real pilot to help evaluate this game. I asked KING 5's SkyKING helicopter pilot to give the game a look over while I played it. He was a big help. My review copy was a download, so it had very little in the way of documentation (my understanding is the boxed version has a very detailed manual).
At first he was a bit skeptical, but as I played though it he became more impressed. Various things I would do, such as "pull back on the stick" (mouse) to slow down or "tilt to the side" to bank a turn. he agreed would happen with a real helicopter. He showed me what I should watch for on the gauges to properly fly. At one point, he even compared it to the simulators he used in the Army. He pointed out though, like any simulator, there are limitations. The "cigar tube" vision (his description) and the sensations you have with "butt in seat" reality versus a computer. Overall, he was impressed with the game's realism. He also suggested I invest in more realistic controls beyond the mouse and keyboard. After my mini-class with him, my piloting is better but landings are still a bit of sticking point. I'm a work in progress. I'm enjoying it now that I have a better handle on what I should be doing, what the gauges should be reading and hope that this is information that will be provided in the game manual.
I do have to relate one funny little quirk I stumbled on while playing Take On Helicopters. Bohemia Interactive is well known for their military shooter series, ARMA, and this game is built on the ARMA engine. I discovered as much when using the gamepad. While trying to interact with a radio in the Larkin Aviation HQ, I accidently hit a button and suddenly found Tom Larkin "low crawling" along the floor of the office.
While Take On Helicopters has some faults, it's basic premise as a helicopter flight simulator is solid and fun. As such I give it a solid 4 out of 5.
Take On Helicopters is rated T for Teen for Blood, Language, Violence by the Entertainment Ratings Software Board (ESRB)
Take On Helicopters is available now for Windows PC. For More information see the Take On Helicopters web site.