February 27, 2012
Take On Helicopters
Version 1.04 ( Beta Update 89299)
by Erik "EinsteinEP" Pierce and Chris "BeachAV8R" Frishmuth
When Bohemia Interactive Studios (BIS) announced Take On Helicopters back in 2011 with screenshots and descriptions of a cutting edge simulation with beautifully rich landscapes and an authentic flight model, hardcore simulation fans across the world leapt up from their flight yokes and giggled like little girls. Or maybe that was just me. In any event, the number of helicopter flight simulations that can claim to be high-fidelity can be counted on the fingers a single hand — even the hand of a high school wood shop teacher. Unfortunately, when version 1.00 was released, the less-than-ideal dynamics model left some of us with an unsatisfied feeling and we didn't give the game our full attention. I know I was personally guilty of neglecting this fun little sim because of my disappointment. The recent announcement of Take On Hinds has breathed some new life into the series, and, I am very happy to report, the dynamics patch is in the final beta phase of its life cycle (Beta Patch 89299 was current at this writing and was used for the physics portion of this review).
I've asked Chris "BeachAV8R" Frishmuth to assist in this review and was very thankful to get his inputs.
Installation and Configuration
I pre-purchased my copy of Take On Helicopters through Bohemia's online store, Sprocket. This also gave me access to the pre-release beta version which I previewed here. Installation and activation were easy and painless.
The in-game menus are extremely similar to Arma 2 which is great news, as they are very simple and intuitive to navigate. Within just a few minutes I had updated my video settings and was configuring my flight controls. First, I made sure my Saitek X52 Pro HOTAS was recognized (it was) and that TrackIR™ was enabled (it wasn't, but a quick click of the button was all it took to fix). Next it was off to the control settings to ensure axes were mapped where they were supposed to be, and unmapped where they weren't supposed to be. I also mapped the Set Manual Trim control to a convenient button as I expected I would need to use this control often.
I downloaded the patches directly from the Take On Helicopters web site and, just like the main program, they downloaded and installed with no problems.
Don't let the similarities confuse you: Take On Helicopters is not a mod or add-on for Arma 2. It is a full-fledged standalone helicopter simulation with its own features and play modes.
Take On Helicopters offers six different modes:
The Free Flight mode lets you pick a helicopter and livery (that's "paint job" or "skin" to you combat-flight-sim-heads out there) and spawn location. There are endless hours of fun to be had in scouting the Seattle city side, scooting along the Puget Sound shoreline, tooling around the shipyards at Bremerton, or just moseying along the vast northwestern countryside.
Career Mode by "BeachAV8R"
The career mode campaign is the heart of the game I'd say. Well, let me rephrase that — it is the current focus of the game, but I can see the potential for continued evolution of gameplay should BIS and the user community commit to supporting Take On's further development. The campaign consists of a sequence of missions where you are basically taking the reins as a line pilot in your family's helicopter charter business. I won't spoil the storyline, but sprinkled throughout the campaign are "flashback" missions that allow you to relive some exciting moments in one of the character's military careers. The missions so far (I have only done about 9 of them) are varied and they build a story that you actually do start to get involved in and start to wonder how it ends. I consider Take On sort of like a story driven FPS but with the bonus of getting to fly helicopters.
The military "flashback" missions take place in a nicely rendered "South Asia" theater which could be any one of the numerous "stans" that the U.S. has an interest in these days. The rugged terrain is impressive and makes helicopter operations quite entertaining.
While the majority of the campaign is civil flying (transports, rescues, heavy lifting, etc.,) there are some flashes of brilliance that really appealed to me in the flashback missions. In one mission, you'll find that you have the opportunity to leave your helicopter and defend yourself using your rifle. This is the awesomeness that was birthed from the game engine's Arma 2 roots. With the ability to do nearly all of the ground items available in Arma 2, the potential scope of the game is limitless. Granted — the logical question might be: "Well, I can fly helos in Arma 2, so why don't I just play that." To which I say — true, but Arma 2 was a squad based ground war simulation with some very light helo and fixed wing modeling whereas Take On leans more toward realistic(ish) flight models, controls, and environments. To me, the mixing of Take On with the Arma 2 features is really a winning combination provided we get continued releases of content from BIS or the user community.
Here the player can select from a number of quick missions that have specific goals or tasks. Lifting, racing, aerobatics, and scenic flights are all in the hopper, challenging all your helicopter skills.
This is where racecar drivers who want to be helicopter pilots go. Complete circuits and earn gold, silver, or bronze medals based on your time. The routes are each challenging but placed along scenic areas of the Seattle area, making for some fun flying.
Training by "BeachAV8R"
The training missions are very well done, methodical, and constructed to get you familiar with helicopter flying principles and the use of the simulation/game controls. The green highlighted click points are useful tools for identifying those things in the cockpit that are functional, but truth be told after going through a manual startup a few times I soon started using the automated startup for each mission. The training structure seems to make sense and the tasks you accomplish will come in handy during subsequent missions and the campaign.
Take On Helicopters comes with a powerful mission editor so I expect to see a lot of missions out there that will keep virtual helicopter pilots entertained for a long time to come.
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