Access Granted - Air Missions: HIND26 Mar 2016 5
The Drinking Glass. The Crocodile. The Flying Tank. Whatever you call this iconic Russian gunship, the Mi-24 HIND looms in the imagination as a brutal piece of Cold War engineering. As arresting as it grotesque, Moscow's answer to the Huey went beyond its role as a robust troop carrier in becoming a bristling carnivore, stalking the Mujahideen during the ill-fated Soviet invasion.
I'm happy to say, bellowing from the rotor wash and feeling Bagram grit collect in my gum line, the chopper love seen in Heliborne continues with Air Missions: HIND. Unlike Jetcat Games' multi-era celebration of Cold War rotorcraft, the armoured bully is the sole focus of 3DIVISION's simucade project. On higher difficulty, Air Missions: HIND flies much closer to a Gaijin Entertainment level of control fidelity and feedback, sidling alongside the forgotten Apache Air Assault in laying an acceptable level of realism atop slightly more forgiving flight physics.
Modes include a single player campaign -- which can also allow for up to two other friends in co-op -- as well as instant action, test flight and air-to-air combat in multiplayer. The campaign folds tutorial missions into the mix, allowing players to test out new ordnance before taking it into the fray.
Nothing overstays its welcome in single player, although the current campaign does sport a few bugs that can hamper progress through the short clutch of missions. I found myself unable to equip or fire the MCLOS Fleyta AT missile during its introductory stage. Were it the Falanga, I'd accept operational foibles as standard operating procedure. However, it was only through an odd flail of HUD toggling that the Flutes popped onto the stubby winglets and I was able to continue. These will be ironed out, and perhaps I'm alone in my missile deficiency, but it can be a bit tiresome when weapon unlocks are tied to campaign mission progression.
Beyond minor quibbles, there's a lot to like about 3DIVISION's work. It's a handsome game with admirable draw distance, where the quilted greenery of Eastern Europe and craggy steppes of Central Asia greet the horizon without unsightly pop-in. Each location offers a selectable time of day outside of the main campaign, from clear to nocturnal sortie. It'd be nice to see some dynamic weather, but we'll see how development goes before adding further fancy to flight.
Most importantly, Air Missions: HIND feels good. The aforementioned Apache Air Assault is the closest living relative, particularly in not requiring -- though accommodating -- a HOTAS and peddle outlay to feel like you're holding up your end of the bargain. Air Missions: HIND manages to get away with keyboard and mouse controls, but does support gamepad and flightstick if you're so inclined. I'd highly recommend playing on the highest difficulty with all realism switched flipped, as while the game isn't a DCS-level flight pedant, half the fun is coming to grips with manoeuvring this bug-eyed beast.
Beyond central and left-right panned chase cameras, players can fly from inside the bulbs as both pilot and gunner. You've still got the same level of control from all stations, even when flipping to FLIR to spot bogeys in the terrain. The machine goes into an automatic hover mode when switching to the GUV turret, allowing for gunners to train their cannons and ATGMs on unfortunates downrange. There's something to be said for scudding slightly sideways at speed alongside an enemy convoy, chewing away with a bouncing, barking YaKB.
3DIVISION aren't new to the simucade game, having released titles like the flattop flight fantasy Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers. Not entirely successful, their products are often bested by ambition. However, focusing on a sole aircraft might just be a deft move by the Slovakian developer.
Air Missions: HIND feels exceptionally accomplished at this stage, based on the physics and responsiveness alone. Banking and steering feels good, with heft in the pitch and collective. Nothing cheap, no suggestion of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon's riotous 'suggestion' of gunship gameplay. No point and shoot business.
Bring the dakadak. There's no FIM-92 in the tail here.