Heliborne: Technical Review
One of the big attractions for video games is to experience things you could, and often would not, want to in real-life. Flying planes to helicopters is one such experience. We have enjoyed many titles that cover simulation to more arcade action, Heliborne from JetCat games takes the later and creates a vast playground for you to revel in.
The game is designed around real-life Inspired conflicts and mapped terrain over 5 separate maps and many more scenarios. The premise is simple, you can choose from over 40 types across many eras of modeled Helicopters and these can be sampled in a single player mode and online multi-player combat. You can test the vehicle out before you commit to a chopper and this also allows you to get used to the vast terrain and areas of interest. If this was a flat, empty land then it would likely not be that fun, but instead a collection of allied and enemy troops all await you across the ground. From Anti-Aircraft artillery, Tanks and ground troops you have to be aware of below as much as the skies.
Beyond the deployment of troops, the missions consist of attacking enemy bases or other air enemies and these cover previous historical combat periods and locations. The control system is still being improved and refined, but what the game plays like now is a solid mix of simulation and fun factor, taking into account 70 types variables from weight, inertia, momentum and speed. This allows each chopper from the 3 grouped types of reconnaissance, Assault and Attack to feel, control and play in a varied manor with strengths and weakness meaning each is a compromise of choice. You can sample the various types with each equipped with the correct weaponry of that machine and era to keep things on the right side of simulation. Taking off and just taking in the views or head first straight into combat is a great mixture of fun and skills. You have to be careful of the scenery and how you fly, landing can be tricky at times with increased pressure being under by fire.
The entire development team consists of 3 people alone is a testament to them and the Unity engine under its copter blades. Using this engine allowed them to concentrate on making the game, rather than coding a brand-new engine from scratch and the quality of helicopter models is of a decent level. You can ogle the designs and even though I am as far from a helicopter expert as you can get, I can recognize enough of them in here from Movie and news footage over the years. Anyone with a gaming history as long as mine will also be having flashbacks to Desert Strike from EA, which is a decent comparison to make on the SP side of the game. You deploy out across set missions but with a far great range of freedom, choice and vehicles to accomplish that. The team are also working on expanding the game with free patches and as we see a good spread of ocean areas then sea battles along with land may also play a factor.
Does it have the Chops?
From a visual perspective it is serviceable, it has a good level of foliage, view distance and some nice lighting touches from sun bloom and almost a retro style fog layer to reduce the pop in draw. The vehicles are decently modeled and texture quality is of a decent quality. Some of the LOD pop at close range can be a little jarring as can shadow cascades jumping at times. But taking into account this is a small and independent team it is robust package that delivers good enough visual quality to never hamper your enjoyment. Flying across the rivers with a swirl of surface disruption feels like a scene from apocalypse now, you can also customise the heads up to have all, some, or none of the HUD display if you want to admire the view. Controls can also be tweaked from the mix of keyboard and mouse use alongside a few options to tweak the visuals and the game is not hugely demanding for a 1080/60 target, running here on my entry level 8350 750Ti machine at 1080P I get a decent level that can Hover lol around the 60fps target but if you have more power or want a smoother experience you can bump up to 4K or below 1080 to suit your needs, tweaking the visual options you need some MSAA on, medium detail and LOD level is a good target on this machine into max can push you into the 30’s but you can choose what sacrifices you want. Aside the SP and squadron sections you can create online co-op matches to have friends join and play through the campaign as a squad or jump in competitive action with other players in some deathmatch type affairs. I would recommend you practise your skills, control and finesse before doing this as it may be a very one-sided affair though.
The game came from the Steam Greenlight project and has evolved from its early Alpha state into a packed game for its £15 or $20 price tag, you can also play on Mac and Unix if you are not a PC gamer which widens its audience still. It can still be rough around the edges; collision detection needs a great deal of work with rockets not impacting at times and even flying inside mountains with no way out but a fiery end. These are not common and seem to rely on the camera vectors at times that can cause some of these issues, so if you swing the camera around to look at the horizon while flying, you may see more of these types of issues.
I highly doubt anyone not into flight sims and Helicopter action would jump at this title, but I know that the audience for this is very, very large and as such this is a well packed, designed and executed title that will scratch that itch well. Offering a mix of SP, Co-op and online play ensures that all gaming tastes are accounted for and with the team still working on improving, expanding and gaining feedback from its audience you could also help shape the title into areas that you would like to see. It may not be bug free and the most striking helicopter or even Unity game on the market but none of that distracts from a challenging and well-constructed helicopter sim that achieves a healthy balance between simulation and fun factor