Jane's Combat Simulations: Longbow 2
Windows - 1997
Description of Jane's Combat Simulations: Longbow 2 Windows
Worth the Wait?
There can rarely have been a sim so anticipated as this one. Ever since Andy Hollis announced that his team were working on an update to Longbow which would include most the things the fans of the original game had clamoured for such as 3d accelerated graphics, a proper dynamic campaign and multiplayer capability, the flight sim newsgroups have been awash with the drool of thousands of flight sim fans. For once their salivary glands have not worked overtime in vain. Longbow2 is everything they hoped it would be. Think I'm going over the top? Lets take a look at exactly what you get in Longbow 2.
The first thing to realise about longbow 2 is that it is not an all new product. People familiar with the first Longbow game will be instantly at home in the cockpit of the Apache since practically nothing has changed in it (There is one new MFD display, mostly to aid in multiplay). The keys are the same, the handling is the same and the use of all the Longbow's complicated sensor are the same. In fact, when I first started playing Longbow 2, I had my doubts about it. Did it offer enough improvements over the first game to justify its purchase? I have since come to the conclusion that the answer is an undoubted yes.
In the new game, the A model Apache with its host of mechanical instruments has gone but to replace it, we have two versions of the Longbow, one with the microwave radar, one without. Also available is the Bell Kiowa Warrior, a military version of the Jetranger used mostly for recon and fitted with a mast mounted sight for peeping from behind the scenery and the Sikorsky Blackhawk, a utility helicopter used for supply and inserting troops. These fine craft lack a few of the comforts the Longbow pilot has come to expect. For instance the Kiowa features a rudimentary HUD to replace the IHADDS display of the Longbow and the Black hawk has no HUD at all meaning that the pilot has to depend on the analogue gauges. Fortunately these are crisp and clear. The different helicopters have subtly different flight models. The Blackhawk as befits a flying Transit van has a stolid flight model and is a breeze to fly. The Kiowa by contrast is skittish and needs a firm hand to point it in the direction you want to go. It may just be the long hours I spent playing the original Longbow coming into play but I still find the Apache the most satisfying to fly. There's a couple of slight funnies about flying the choppers. The Blackhawk for instance features three indicator lights designed to show when you have overstressed the engine. If you want to keep your crew chief happy, don't engage autohover because invariably when you do, the autopilot whacks the collective right up and sets these lights glowing like Christmas trees.
When flying the Blackhawk, you can if you wish opt to take over the role of one of the door gunners and blast away at the passing scenery while the autopilot gets on with the task of flying the chopper. While this is a good laugh, it doesn't seem to really fit in with the rest of the game somehow. It's like a morsel of meat tossed to the arcade crowd.
Perhaps the thing that got most Longbow fans excited when news of Longbow 2 first emerged was the fact that Andy Hollis and Co. had finally become 3d Accelerated . Well the 3d support is here in all its glory, always assuming you have a 3DFX card but it's concerning the graphics that I have what might, in the right light, be considered to be almost a gripe with Longbow 2. The models of the helicopter and other vehicles in the game are superb, using some of the external views, you'd swear that you were watching a cut scene rather than the game in progress, but the terrain is rather disappointing especially the training area. It's all rather featureless and although the land goes up and down nicely, there's no trees, rocks or even pebbles to break the monotony. In addition, what features there are such as buildings appear to be on the landscape rather than in it. They appear to be floating slightly above the ground. That said, what the landscape does do well is to convey an impression of height and it's perfectly feasible to fly nap of earth by eye alone after only a short time getting used to the countryside's appearance. The mountains of Azerbaijan are fantastic fun to fly through even when your mission is taking place at night and you are having to rely on the night vision system which turns everything green and somewhat restricts your vision. Other effects such as smoke, sunglare, the light produced by weapons fired at night and even the dust kicked up by vehicles are well done. Overall, the graphics are satisfying though it's a pity about the lack of little details such as trees.
The reason for this omission of greenstuff was undoubtedly to keep the frame rate up. Even so, I guarantee that when you get Longbow 2 home and leap into one of the training missions, you will be cursing me from heaven to hell. "What's he thinking about?" you will rage. "This thing's slower than a tortoise on Mogadon". Have faith. When you move onto the campaigns and single missions, you will find that things speed up considerable, always assuming of course that you're not trying to run the game on a 486DX33. The training missions run much more slowly than the rest of the game, due I believe to the need to highlight various bits of the cockpit during the tutorials.
This calls for a cunning plan
The final additions to Longbow 2 are the all new dynamic campaigns and the mission planner which helps you find your way through them. There are three campaigns, though two of them are based in the US training area against US and foreign equipment respectively, and in each of them, the player is given control of four FARPS (fuelling and rearming points) located along a part of the front-line. Each FARP has certain aircraft, stores and personnel allocated to it and can launch a flight of two aircraft at any one time The player has missions allocated by the brass and can use the limited resources available as they like to complete these missions. By and large, this works pretty well. The missions come preplanned so if they prefer, the players can opt to skip the mission planning and strategy stage completely and concentrate on the flying. Conversely, control freaks can go completely to town and jiggle the personnel, aircraft and waypoints of each flight.
Because the player only has a limited number of aircraft and weapons available, some agonising decisions are called for. Will a Longbow without radar be able to complete this mission or will one of the precious radar equipped ones have to be used? Radar guided Hellfires are always in demand. Will you be able to get away with using laser guided ones? Should you use one of the experienced crews for this mission or should you blood a rookie and give your personnel pool more depth? Decisions, decisions.
There is a vast amount of information available to you concerning the status of friendly and enemy troops, and when your FARPS can expect to be resupplied. Occasionally you will be allocated missions to make sure that a resupply convoy actually gets through. Knowing that the Hellfires hanging off your pylons are the only ones available to you unless the convoy gets through adds a certain edge to an escort mission.
Sorry I didn't quite catch that
What of the actual fighting though. Does the player still feel like the only player on the pitch or do you feel like part of a team now? Once again the news is good. As your mission progresses, you will receive radio updates from the other helicopters in your command flying missions, ground troops and any other resources that may be in the area. Some of these messages will update you with the progress the rest of your command is making with their missions, others will alert you to new enemy units detected and still others will come from friendly units under attack and desperate for assistance. It is quite possible for you to abandon (or at least postpone) your current mission and go off to help out a friendly unit. Sadly, in on of the few restrictions in the game, you cannot change the orders of the other units under your command in mid-flight.
Should the unthinkable happen and you should find yourself exiting a mission prematurely due to an unplanned encounter with the terrain, you are offered the option of exiting the mission there and then or hanging around and viewing the action from the viewpoint of other units in the field. This can be almost as entertaining as flying the mission yourself and is one of the little touches that makes this sim such a polished product.
Talking of flight planners
I mentioned earlier that one of Longbow2 's improvements is a fully functional mission planner. Whenever the subject of mission planners comes up, one's thoughts naturally turn to Tornado the vintage sim from Digital Integration which contained what came close to being the perfect mission planner. This fine piece of software has never been improved on (even, strangely, by Digital Integration) but with Longbow 2 we have a flight planner which if not improving on Tornado 's at least equals it. All the facilities you could hope for are there including the ability to create a profile of your projected course to warn you about where the especially lumpy bits are and it is just as easy to created flightplans for the other aircraft under your command as it is to create your own flightplans.
Sound is as well done as the other features of this game. The radio messages from the other units are clear and arrive without any of the delays or hesitations you might expect from a lesser title. The sounds of the helicopters and weapons are well done too. One touch I especially liked. In Robert Mason's book Chickenhawk which is concerned with flying helicopters in Vietnam, he talks of flying in formation with another aircraft close enough to be able to hear the buzz of the other aircraft's tail rotor over the noise of his own aircraft's engine. This is a feat you can recreate in Longbow 2 if you have a steady enough hand on the controls.
It hurts me to admit this but I actually liked the tune that played in the original Longbow despite my long lived loathing of the music you usually get in computer games. Well, I don't know how the Longbow 2 team did it but once again, I find myself strangely drawn to the music of Longbow 2. I find myself whistling it as I walk down the street. Curse it.
I haven't had the opportunity to try out the multiplayer aspects of the sim myself but if the documentation is to be believed, all but the most picky of net dwellers should be satisfied with what's on offer. Players can fly against each other or work co-operatively in separate aircraft and can even, should they wish to get chummy, share an aircraft, one occupying the pilots seat and the other the gunners. Up to four players can get together over a network.
The Longbow 2 manual manages the difficult task of being just as good as the original Longbow manual. Actually the task wasn't that difficult because the Longbow 2 manual is the original Longbow manual with a couple of sections inserted to take care of the additions to the program. In addition, some of the Janes reference materiel included in the original manual has been removed though it is still available within the program. In addition to the main manual, there is a second slim volume included to cover the multiplayer aspects of the program and an installation guide to get the player up and running. Finally, there is a nice full colour keyboard guide included and a useful quick reference guide on the back of the main manual. In short, the documentation is everything you would expect from a Janes release.
This has been a bugger of a review to write. I've laboured trying to find some juicy criticisms to make but by and large I have laboured in vain. Sure the landscape can look a little plain at time and the sim runs slower than might be liked during the tutorials. Ok if your steed gets hit by a missile, the only way you know about it is that your co-pilot/gunner tells you about it (occasionally using profane language, strangely, this seems to have upset more people on the net than the fact that you are supposedly char-grilling, dismembering and generally doing unpleasant things to your fellow man in the sim) but by and large, this sim is a winner, no doubt about it. Bear in mind though that its complexity may be overwhelming if you are of the kick the tyres and light the fires persuasion. If you liked the first incarnation of Longbow , you'll love this. Rush out and get it right now. If you have a hankering to fly a helicopter, get it. If you've never bought a flight sim in your life because you think you might not like them, get it. Getting the message?
Review By GamesDomain
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