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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: June 6, 2000
The folks at Microprose have long been known for creating some of the most realistic air combat simulations the world has ever known. Their more recent offerings include Avault Reviewer’s Choice Award winner Falcon 4.0 and one of the best World War II simulations this critic has played, European Air War. Realism and authenticity are core competencies for these folks — their designs are often considered to be the highest authority when it comes to true-to-life simulations. Sadly however, even with as vocal and dedicated as the hardcore simulation audience is, their numbers are small and Microprose has found it difficult to compete against more mainstream titles such as Jane’s WWII Fighters and Jane’s USAF. But cater to the masses’ demands Microprose would not: they would not give into the general public and like their competitors produce another jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none flight simulator. Rather, Microprose has decided to return to their roots and re-establish one of the most storied franchises of all time.
Gunship!, a product that launched itself into the history books more than 12 years ago, returns in 2000 looking to establish itself as the perfect balance between hardcore air combat simulation and arcade flyer. Standing in its way however, is the golden rule of balance — you can please some of the people some of the time, but never all of the people all of the time. Attempting to create an air combat title that appeals to realism fanatics, joystick jockeys and arcade junkies all at the same time is a monumental task. To its credit however, if there is any game capable of accomplishing such a feat, it’s Gunship!. The series has long been known for combining quasi-realistic flight models with an easy-to-use interface all in a package wrapped with beautiful graphics. The new version, subtitled Rock the Bloc, sets up under the guise of World War III. A rebellion has taken place within the nations of Russia, and many of the old countries that made up the old Soviet Union are once again tied together by the strings of military might. As storylines go in flight sims, Gunship! rides the status quo: It has enough plot to warrant reasoning for starting the next world war, but let’s face it, it’s not going to win any Pulitzer awards.
The term ‘Gunship’ is a long-time nickname of the military’s most lethal attack chopper, in this case the AH-64 Apache. Gunship! models four different aircraft — the aforementioned Apache that comes in two flavors, the older A model and newer D model, which comes equipped with Longbow radar. Also in the game is Great Britain’s Westland WAH-64D Apache and the Mi-28 Havoc, which is present in a few of the solo missions and in the campaign mode. One of the product’s best features allows you to play as the pilot or as the gunner. Gunship!’s one-size-fits-all strategy manifests itself here in the way the game manages difficulty settings. Setups that use lower difficulty settings enable players to fly the helicopter from the pilot seat as well as take charge of all the targeting controls from the gunner’s perspective. Higher difficulty settings, which increase the levels of realism, are not quite as forgiving and require players to choose between the two modes of operation. The real beauty of this system is in how Microprose designed the communication and cross-functional tasks of the two positions. There’s a ton of fun to be had in playing both roles; however, while playing as the gunner it’s necessary to use the autopilot, which isn’t always the most reliable method of transportation. Still, the two-seat gameplay options are, for the most part, wonderfully designed and succeed well in offering distinct and equally fun gameplay choices.
In regards to choices, Gunship! offers a wide range of features. At the game’s roots are options such as ‘Fly Now’ and ‘Single Mission’, which using predefined parameters get players into hot-n-heavy action without having to concern themselves with mission briefings or weapon loadouts. While most of these sorts of gameplay modes usually constitute nothing more than superficial suicides or extended training scenarios, in Gunship! the instant action mode of gameplay offers significant value. Microprose has gone to great lengths to ensure this feature includes good variety and lots of fast-paced action. For those folks wanting a bit more depth, an in-game tutorial gives novice pilots an introduction to the basic commands, flight model, weapons’ systems and control methodologies. Finally, for those wanting the full experience, Gunship! offers a campaign mode which links events from one mission to the next and ties in the story I mentioned earlier. Getting set up and ready to take on the enemy in Gunship! is a fairly simple task. The pre-game interface is simple and doesn’t overburden you with unnecessary complications. I did experience some hiccups with joystick configuration, however. For unknown reasons, Gunship! didn’t like my CH Products F-16 Combat Stick and Pro Throttle combo; I had trouble getting all of my buttons used properly.
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