The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
COMANCHE MAXIMUM OVERKILL
Nova Logic's first product is Comanche Maximum Overkill (Comanche is the name of a real-life Boeing-Sikorsky light recon/attack helo; the rest of the title sounds like maximum overhype). This game has, hands down, the best scenery I've ever seen in any PC-based simulation. It's as good as—actually better than— most of the $50 million cockpit simulators that are used to train military pilots.
In Comanche Maximum Overkill, the world outside your RAH-66 helo looks as good as a movie: photorealistic views of rocky outcroppings, rushing streams, seared brown hills, lush green valleys, frozen tundra, windswept mesas, triple-canopy rain forests, and eerie dry riverbeds at night glowing in a "Starlight" sniper scope. The sky can change from a brisk, cloudless fall day to the ominous thunderheads of a summer squall.
In vivid contrast to most flight sims, where often the only indication you have as to your altitude is how close your aircraft is to its own shadow, in Comanche Maximum Overkill the terrain is so three-dimensional you feel as if you could reach out and touch it. Instinctively, you can judge exactly how far you are from the ground or any solid object, such as the walls of a canyon.
Sound too good to be true? There are only three—relatively minor—problems with Voxel Space. The first is pixelation, which means that when you get very close to scenery objects—like a boulder, say—you can see the individual squares that it's made of, like a magazine photograph that's been blown up until you can see the separate dots of color that make up the whole, or getting so close to a computer screen that you can make out each individual pixel.
Two, the man-made objects (vehicles, buildings) outside the cockpit are not Voxel Space images (which are soft-edged), but bit-mapped, and the contrast between the fuzzy natural objects and the pencil-thin delineations of the man-made things is glaringly obvious. This isn't a Voxel Space problem, but it is a petty annoyance that inhibits the suspension of disbelief.
Three—this is really bizarre—the Voxel Space "world" you fly around in is tiny, only a couple of square miles, and it wraps around like a Mobius strip. You can't fly high enough to see the "edge" of this world, but once, when I was out of ammo, I dived into a gully and tried to make a run for it. Then I noticed I was overhauling the wolfpack that had been chasing me. In other words, I had flown all the way around Comanche Maximum Overkill's world. One reviewer noted that you can fire a missile over the eastern horizon, say, then spin around and watch it streak in from the west!
Great Graphics, But…
But the real problem with Comanche has nothing to do with the way the scenery is rendered. It is as if, after creating Voxel Space, the game itself was an afterthought. To be charitable, it's a witless boot-‘n’-shoot with no redeeming thought processes whatsoever. Even the sound effects are like something wafting out of a video arcade in a bad neighborhood. When they advertise a "one-hour" learning curve, they aren't kidding—well within the sixty minutes, you've mastered the game, knocked off dozens of stationary and moving targets, completed most of the missions, and are bored stiff.
The original program comes with twenty missions. A pair of mission disks adds several dozen more, but they all seem endlessly repetitive—except for the breathtaking scenery changes. In the original release, they're all milk runs (enemy AI seems to be nonexistent), although they get tougher in the add-on disks. There's little consistency: in the original release, the Kamov Ka-50 Hokum is depicted as the mother of all threats (hint: it is), but in the next release, the lumbering Mil-24 Hind is touted as the airborne Godzilla (hint: it isn't).
There is no meaningful campaign mode, no global strategy, no career opportunities, and unlike Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (see Chapter Nine), no cumulative damage in the "Campaign" mode per se (that is, destroying your enemy's assets in one mission has no effect whatsoever on subsequent missions). There is no multiplayer mode, no multiposition role for the CP/G (Copilot/Gunner), no mission builder, and no mission recorder. Unlike Gunship 2000, your wingperson takes no independent action—you have to command him or her to engage the enemy. (In fact, mainly what your wingie does is get in the way.)
Worst of all, the zoomiest feature of the real Comanche is only sketchily implemented here. The RAH-66 doesn't have a HUD (Head-Up Display) like a fighter plane, it has a HID (Helmet-Integrated Display), where the kind of information projected on a stationary HUD is projected instead on the inside of the pilot's visor. Without VR (Virtual Reality) goggles for this game, the best Nova Logic could do is project the display on the Comanche's front window, no differently than it would be on a garden-variety HUD. (The display isn't even projected on the side windows, as it would be if the pilot turned his head.)
So far…ho-hum, right?
But get this: in the real Comanche, a motion detector keeps track of where the pilot's helmet is pointing. The nose-mounted 20-mm cannon (the 1,500-round-per-minute Vulcan chain gun) is mounted on a gimbal. When the pilot turns his head, the gun aims at whatever he or she is looking at, as in the movie Blue Thunder. It would be sensational if Comanche Maximum Overkill had this terrifying feature, but nooooooo.…