Bohemia Interactive is probably best known for its ARMA line of military style games and I think for many it was a surprise when they announced Take On Helicopters and that it would be a civilian style game centered on flying helicopters over the Seattle Washington. I remember seeing some of the first screenshots and then the in-game videos that surfaced on YouTube and I thought to myself, how am I ever going to run this?
Will I have to buy a new PC to run what could be helicopter nirvana for me! Everything was answered when I received my copy of Take On Helicopter, or TOH for short, and I installed it on my dual core E8500 dual core pc.
Take On Helicopters
The version of TOH I received was the one distributed by Just Flight. Although TOH is available as a download, I really did prefer receiving the boxed version because the program is quite large and I wanted the printed manual that is included with it.
The boxed version comes on two DVD disks and only requires that you enter a key code that is printed on the back page of the manual during installation. The install process is painless, but does take anywhere from a half hour to an hour to complete depending on the speed of your system. Another nice feature that I found was that the game requires the disk to be in the drive during play, but either disk will work which is great if your office is as messy as mine is.
After installation, you will want to go to TakeOnTheGame.Com and make sure you download the latest updates for the game, as of right now they are up to version 1.03, also known as “Bainbridge.”
Once the product is installed you will at least want to try and run it before you go in and mess with the settings. Initially I thought that because my system was not a super duper i7 Core computer I would not be able to run it with the settings cranked way up, but what I found was that well after turning down most of my settings and playing the game for some time, I went ahead and cranked them all up. Guess what? I could run the game at some of the higher settings.
Take On Helicopters has several different modes of play as there is an option for Single Player and Multiplayer game play from the main menu as well as an options menu to set the in-game settings for optimal performance during play. From the single player menu you can access Free Flight, Career, Challenges, and the Editor.
The Free Flight mode is where I spend most of my time because it allowed me to fly any chopper and lets me explore Seattle and its surrounding areas to my heart’s content. When opening the free flight mode you can select between two maps, one being the Seattle map and another map that features a fictional type Afghanistan style terrain.
Free Flight does have some quirks, while it does allow you to move freely through the game world it doesn’t allow you to start from a cold and dark cockpit, rather it starts you in the air already flying. The other issue I have with free flight is the way the weather is set up. There is no easy way to adjust the weather conditions during flight and you are literally at the mercy of the preset mod’s setup for each chopper. I would like to see a way to setup a free flight mode like the one that is used for setting up your own time trials in the Challenges menu.
The Single Player Campaign in TOH is where the nuts and bolts of this game exists, while most of the campaign is scripted it will have you flying contract missions that range from Civilian to Government, passenger transport, emergency services to heavy lift operations while flying different helicopters that you can purchase or upgrade as you progress through the campaign.
Throughout the campaign you will find yourself watching your progression through each mission and will be able to monitor funds taken from completed contracts from flights you have successfully completed and this is called the Heliport From the Heliport you will also be able to purchase new choppers and upgrade existing ones.
My first impression of the campaign mode was to say the least, unexciting. It has you flying with your brother on a tutorial style of mission for your first flight since your father died and in conversation you ultimately assume responsibility of flying choppers over Seattle, WA for the family business, Larkin Aviation.
The tutorial flight has your brother yapping in your ear as he instructs you where to fly and how to do it, take a turn too fast and he takes control again and you have to start all over. I tried this mission several times but it was never to the liking of his piloting skills because I wanted to fly the chopper like it was being flown in the TV series Airwolf.
Once you get past the simpler missions and/or contracts, they progressively get more and more difficult. I enjoyed most of the search and rescue missions as well as flying the heavy chopper doing heavy lift type of operations and I found it to be quite a challenge because you are in downtown Seattle and in some cases you have skyscrapers on both sides of the cockpit!
There are 7 challenges to choose from and each one will put you in the cockpit without the need to upgrade or purchase new helicopters. Each challenge will have you doing everything you can do in the campaign mode plus it changes every time you play it. Take the rescue challenge for instance, I played it three times and each time the stranded boater was located somewhere different than the time before. This carries over into all of the challenges and makes for some quick, but not easy, flights when you are just in the mood for a quick flight with a challenge thrown in.
As for the multiplayer end of things, I do not play online and I just chose not to, but I was surprised to see how easy it was to get into multiplayer flying with TOH. Simply click on the Multiplayer option and you will be given a list of current missions that are available on the server, pick one and you are flying. It is that simple!
The World Of Take On Helicopters
If you are familiar with the ARMA worlds and the way ARMA works, you will find yourself right at home in TOH world. The gaming environment in TOH comes with two different maps, the campaign and missions will have you spending most of your time with the Seattle map, but it also comes with an Afghanistan-esque style of map and a map that centers around an oil platform in the middle of the ocean that will allow for custom missions or just good old fashioned free flight with any helicopter of your choice.
The city of Seattle Washington has been brought to life in TOH by offering map coverage that spans all of the city and its surrounding towns and communities. The base of the map is photo-real with all of the buildings and other structures placed on top. Frankly, the Seattle map is probably one of the most impressive models of Seattle I have seen to date, not just because it looks good but because of its sheer volume of real world buildings and custom objects. No matter where you look there is a building, tree or a house.
You can literally land your helicopter in downtown Seattle and walk through China Town or even explore the waterfront. Now, there is no signage so businesses are not marked but overall the game is very convincing! From Bellevue, to Issaquah and west to Bremerton then onto Bainbridge Island there is just so much to see that one can’t put it into words. You will find yourself with a lot of “I’ve been there moments”.
The weather is preconfigured depending on how it was set up in whatever mission or mod you might be flying in. Seattle is well known for its rain and that preconception really shows in this game and what I found was that most of the missions all have low cloud cover and rain, but visibility does not seem to be an issue when the weather conditions are bad, which seems rather strange. You can turn the clouds off in the settings menu, but it that does not change the lighting conditions and in most cases it’s pretty dark.
There are a couple of mods that allow for clear and beautiful weather over Seattle during free flight and it is just a matter of figuring out which ones they are or creating your own using the editor. I did try to edit one of the scenarios but I was unsuccessful in my attempts and managed to change things I didn't want to.
Other conditions such as wind doesn’t seem to be much of an issue, I found a mission that has you on a rescue mission going out to a stranded boater in the Puget Sound. The conditions were raining and windy but I had no problem maneuvering my chopper over the boater and getting him onboard. This may have been a fluke, but I have yet to experience a mission with severe wind conditions.
As for the sound, the external sounds in the world environment are a nice addition as you can hear the sounds of the city, birds, cars and wind as you stand outside your chopper in this massive environment, try getting near a construction site and just listen!
There are three types of helicopters in Take On Helicopters and they are categorized as Light, Medium and Heavy. Each chopper has a significant role to play throughout the campaign and with their available upgrades one can use each one to maximize the amount of money they make throughout the game and as you upgrade each one, it will allow you to access more advanced missions.
The choppers in TOH are based on real world helicopters. Take the light version for instance. It is based on the MD500, the Medium chopper is based on the 412 and the Heavy chopper appears to be based on the Sikorsky S-92 and their respective military variants. The exterior models are simply gorgeous and offer a lot of eye candy depending on what model you choose to fly and what I found most impressive was the shadowing both inside and out of each helicopter, as it really brings them to life in the game.
With each chopper there are multiple liveries to choose from and each livery again reflects what portion of the campaign you are flying, all are available via free flight mode. My personal favorites are the MD500 and 412 Sheriff paints, it's kind of fun flying the King County police chopper through downtown Seattle!
The interiors for each chopper is unique to whatever model you are flying. For example, the Heavy helicopter has a luxury, cargo and military version and each is unique to its model, Marine One looks great as a presidential helicopter. The light and medium choppers also offer a variety of models that range from civilian, cargo to military as well.
As for the cockpits, the instrumentation is limited and is standard throughout the three choppers in the game. The only difference is that when you are flying the Heavy model you will have LCD screens instead of analog gauges. Otherwise, you will probably do most of your flying from the HUD display that comes up with each of the choppers at the bottom of the screen, as it gives you all of the important flight information and is much easier to read than the actual instruments in the chopper during flight.
Something else I found that was quite interesting was that the gauges, by default, are set to a lower resolution than that of the actual game and that setting the 3D Resolution to its maximum will result in crisper gauges from inside the cockpit and make them much easier to read.
Controlling and flying the helicopter is like any other game of this genre. Flight models include beginner, trainee and expert and from what I have seen, there is little difference between trainee and expert. If you are comfortable with Microsoft Flight Simulator X's fleet of growing helicopters than you should be right at home with TOH and in some cases you might actually find it easier.
Each helicopter has its own distinct sound and the sounds reflect the type of chopper you are flying whether it is heard from inside or outside. The startup sounds are impressive and make the MD500 stand out most, in my opinion.
Command and Control
My biggest gripe with this game is that it retains all of the key strokes assigned to the ARMA series of games and when looking at the control options and settings, you are overwhelmed with a slew of keystrokes that really don't do anything in this game.
Yes, this game can be totally controlled through the mouse without any interaction with the keyboard, but it would have been nice to have figured out how to remove the HUD when it came to taking screenshots and in the end I just got tired of looking through the endless list of key options.
Deploying ropes, rescuers, and hauling equipment is done through a simple click of the scroll-wheel on your mouse. I can't tell you how long it took me to figure this out! Clicking the scroll-wheel brings up an in-game menu that will allow you to do everything from startup, shut down, auto-hover and activate; other options allow you to deploy a rope and diver when you are on a rescue mission.
Setting up your control system is pretty simply, but because I have both a Saitek Flight Yoke and an X-52 flight system, I did have to manually configure it all to work properly and I did set up some of my own keystrokes to make accessing things a tad easier in game.
As for the Editor, it is easy to use but does require a little studying when it comes to configuring your own missions. I simply loaded up one of the existing missions and I was able to create my own based on the one that already existed in the game. The editor opens up endless possibilities for TOH because of the online community that plays it, same with the ARMA games.
As I come to close this review I can't tell you how excited I was the first time I booted it up and played it. It far exceeded my expectations and threw any doubts I had about it away. The folks over at Take On Helicopters at Take On The Game.com offer a downloadable demo so you can give it a try if you are at all apprehensive about it.
Again, my biggest preconceived fear was performance. However, it far exceeded those expectations when I witnessed how beautiful the game was and how well it ran on my system. I know this review only covers the tip of the iceberg when it comes to TOH, but every time I go to use the game again I find something new to write about, so I need to stop!
If you like choppers, Seattle Washington, graphically intense games then TOH is for you. The only other thing I can add to this is that when ARMA 3 comes out it is definitely on my list of must have games after playing Take On Helicopters!
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