With FSX being almost a year old, all sorts of add-ons are available on the market to further enhance this new simulation. I am “hardware” challenged, so I am still stuck with the pre-global warming FS2004. Well, that is not quite correct, since FSX takes up a good chunk of my hard drive. I have also been spending more time on FSX trying to get it running somewhat satisfactorily. The results have been mixed and somewhat discouraging, yet I still enjoy one new feature of the FSX – The Missions!
With the exception of Tokyo Helicopter Shuttle, most default missions run decently on my hardware, and what they lack in fluidity, they make up in the immersion factor. I think that the team at Aces and Microsoft has made a great addition to our sim with the Missions. The casual simmer could probably be discouraged by the prospect of an all-nighter over the Atlantic, but he or she might peek in to the Missions area and find a plethora of interesting challenges for all skill levels.
To me, the missions are more game like, yet they have what many sims lack – the purpose, the goal, and the objective to sustain interest for longer periods of time.
ABACUS has built on that idea and came out with a combo product – a military helicopter add-on, and a mission pack. They have also done something that, to my knowledge, has never been done in the Flight Sim. Read-on…
Installation and Documentation
The product comes to you as a download or it can be purchased as a CD. After the download, ABACUS provides you with the license, which you insert during the installation and from there on things happen automatically – almost. During the install, the scenery needed for the missions was not installed automatically, but this is well documented in the read-me file, and I had no problems manually activating the scenery within the FSX.
In addition to the software, you will also get the PDF formatted manual and a read-me file. The PDF manual guides you through the missions and provides some hints on how to accomplish certain goals. It is short and well written. If you don’t read it, you might have a hard time playing with that mysterious new feature that has never been seen before. Again, read-on…
Some of the best things that missions bring to our hobby are the surprises that some of them include. For this review I will not reveal any secrets, but just report how much or how little fun Blackhawk missions are.
In all of these missions, you play the role of the brave helicopter pilot; be it Marines, Air Force, Army or Coast Guard.
As you get briefed, the engines are started and off you go on search and rescue missions, drop in the relief supplies, ditch the chopper, or meet up with the mysterious “Man in Black” and unload some sensitive cargo…yes that too. You will encounter enemy fire, which in one mission is overdone in effects, yet underwhelming in lethality since none of those deadly projectiles do any harm to your trusty chopper.
Game play is immersive at times, yet to reach some of the far away spots, I found myself using time acceleration – not really what a “hard core” simmer ought to do. In one mission, you can only achieve success after you drive the helicopter halfway into a building. Therefore, I think the nature of the Blackhawk missions is more game-like and less sim-oriented…which brings us to that aforementioned “first”.
The creators of the Blackhawk gave you perfectly good helicopters to fly. However, in one of those missions when you literarily fall short of your target, you will end up walking the troops. Yep! Just like in those First Person Shooter types of games. There is no driving, no flying, not even boating around – but actually walking and running the marines.
You will control their direction over some interesting landscape in the Nevada desert, which unfortunately includes some autogen sprinkled pine trees – no fault of the Mission: Blackhawk. Nevertheless, if you don’t read the manual, you may miss how to start the boys on their little “hike”. To do that you will have to CTRL-E their “internal” engines. Cute. Moreover, watch out for over-speed. Wow!
Since those troops don’t seem to have their brakes checked, you will end up slowing down by shutting down the engines. Then start them up again to get going…and so on. This type of activity certainly highlights the possibilities of missions and shows that creative minds can do things we have not seen before. Who knows, maybe the next version of the Combat Flight Sim, if it ever materializes, would include the FPS (no - not the Frames Per Second) elements in it. Let the speculation begin….
It is hard to say much more about the missions themselves, without giving too much away, but here are some highlights:
The scenery for the missions is well done, and it serves the purpose adequately. That said, I have found that in most missions you’ll have to crank up scenery complexity to at least "dense" in order to fully enjoy some of the action in there. No problem though, as these missions are not frame rate hogs and can be played quite fluidly even on an ancient single core P4, such as the one I have.
You will do a lot of flying over the ocean, land on oil rigs, drop cargo and paratroopers, avoid enemy fire, and rescue hurricane victims as well as hostages. The weather varies from nice and sunny to windy and rainy, and challenges your flying skills accordingly. To be successful, practice the hover technique in the helicopter as well as precision landings. You will have to come down on rooftops as well as an iceberg in the middle of the ocean. Hovering is critical though, because in most missions you will have to do just that - in order to successfully accomplish the goals.
The six missions and six variations of the Blackhawk helicopter that are included will keep you busy for a while. Even after successfully completing all of them, you may find yourself revisiting and playing your favorite parts again.
Just as everyone enjoys the FSX for various reasons, you will also find that some of the ABACUS missions may be more to your liking than others. I found all them entertaining and at least fun for a while. For me, they are the departure from the regular flight simming, and an excuse to try to fly helicopters well. On the other hand, the missions included are more game-like then my regular flying, but that is not necessarily a bad thing - it is just different.
The Blackhawk Helicopter
As a part of the package, you will get several variations of the Blackhawk helicopter. They all share the same panel, virtual cockpit and flight dynamics seem very similar. On the other hand, you will get six distinct exterior models and you can also use those during freeflight in FSX. I liked the spot view of the helicopter but I am not a Blackhawk expert by any measure. If you ever find that certain elements are missing and are not 100% real then… well… just look at the pictures and decide for yourself.
As far as the Blackhawk’s panel design, ABACUS uses the philosophy of keep it simple and undemanding on system resources. Great for people like me who have an older computer that is struggling enough with all those new sandy textures of FSX, and blur introduced with SP1. Not so great for the dual core DX 10 card owners who demand to see every crack on the glare shield. There is definitely room for improvement in the panel background area since not everyone will be happy with FS98 style panels in 2007.
On the more positive note, the instruments that come with the panel are a mix of standard gauges and military green LCD’s. While the military enthusiasts might have seen some of those in other panels, the PFD was interesting to me. It seems to work fine. Then - just like some of the real things in older equipment - stops and resets itself. Maybe it happens due to voltage spikes. Or, is it gremlins that might cause it to have hick-ups?
It doesn’t fail however, or at least it did not for me yet, so after being an interesting anomaly at first, it becomes an annoyance later. I just hope that real Blackhawk pilots don’t have to put up with that.
The sounds of the helicopter mesh in well with the special mission voice-overs. While I did hear “to-low-flaps!” on one of the emergency landings, I cannot say that sounds are bad. On the contrary, I think the sound is quite adequate for the package and unintrusive.
In my opinion, the sounds add positively to the overall experience. If you want to hear some examples, ABACUS has posted sound clips on their product page, so you may want to decide for yourself. One thing though…some of the voices in the missions seem to belong more to the good ol' boys in NASCAR country, rather then to some of the elite forces of the U.S. Military. Then again, I am not a military type.
This is not bad, just a little bit different from expectations, but that is what often makes a good package – you get something that surprises you.
This helo is a breeze to fly. While the missions are rated as Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert, I had very little trouble flying this thing. On landings it is very forgiving and everything stays together even when you slam it down hard. Since I do not normally fly the choppers in any sim, due to inadequate control setup (I am using CH Yoke) it was remarkably easy to fly this helo around. Actually, it was a bit too easy. So maybe a tweak or two for the real rotorheads would be in order – if you are more interested in the mission part of the package then the actual sim of the Blackhawk, you will love the airfile.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a detailed simulation of Blackhawk operations and real world numbers to fly this baby by, you might not be impressed, because, well I hate to say it, it is just too simple – more game-like then sim-like. There are no special start-up procedures, call outs, or checklists. Just CTRL-E and off you go - even with the yoke. But then again, ABACUS never said this is a helicopter sim – it is a set of missions and they throw in the Blackhawk to fly them with for free.
Mission: Blackhawk is an interesting add-on for those of you who like helicopters and the mission part of the FSX. The six missions get progressively more challenging and provide good entertainment for some time. If you are more into the airliner sim aspect of the FSX, and flying by FMC, then this may not be the add-on you are looking for. To me however, this package is exactly what it claims to be, and I had fun running it within FSX.
What I Like About Mission: Blackhawk
What I Don't Like About Mission: Blackhawk
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