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|Reviewed by: Joe Hachem|
|Author:||Digital Integration||Price:||Retail:$50 US, Street: $45 US|
|Category:||Flight Simulation||Released:||October 1996|
|Platform:||DOS, also on Win 95.||Version:||1.0|
|Multiplayer:||Up to 16 via Modem/Serial, IPX.|
|Controls:||mouse, keyboard, joysticks, throttles, rudder pedals|
|Sound devices:||SB's including AWE32, Media Vision PAS, GUS, Ensoniq Soundscape, Wavejammer, ES688|
|Computer||Memory||HD space||CD speed||Other reqs/options|
|Minimum||486-33||8M||15M||x2||VESA-compatible video, 16MB RAM for Win95 version|
Reviewer's Hardware: Dynamite 128 4MB, Ensoniq Soundscape Elite,
Teac 8X CD-ROM
Hind comes in both DOS and Windows 95 versions out of the box (a nice bonus), and so has two distinct installation routines. The Windows 95 version uses DirectX 2.0, and will install the drivers if you don't already have them on your system. Thankfully, it (unlike Microsoft's own offerings) leaves the choice up to you, so that potential mess-ups of existing DirectX-supporting drivers are avoided. Both installations allow a choice of size: 15, 20 or 50 MB of hard disk space respectively. Testing for this review was done with the medium installation (20MB), for both the DOS and Win95 versions. Apparently, there have been some reported problems with the DOS installation, where some users were reporting ridiculously long install times; on the order of 45 minutes on fast Pentium machines. Strangely enough indeed, IM tech support recommended running the DOS installation from Windows(!), and Windows 3.1 yet if necessary. This would, they said, avoid this bug and bring the installation down to a manageable 10 minutes or so. In any case, I myself experienced no problems with my installation, having done it from DOS on a lowly 486/66 - it probably did take about 10 minutes or so - but this is noteworthy nonetheless in case you, dear reader, experience it yourself. A note to those intending to run this game from Win95: the 8MB RAM minimum requirement should be taken not to hold true in any way in that case and an appropriate 16MB should be taken as being a true minimum memory requirement. The Windows 95 installation was just as easy and flawless, offering the same options with the exception of the DirectX drivers.
The game's comes with a decent 100-page instruction manual that is on par with other Interactive Magic offerings. It is adequate to learn how to fly the Hind and use its systems, but not much else. The game (as we have come to expect from Digital Integration) is one of incredible depth, and there is so much, SO much else that could be discussed. I can't fault IM for this, though...the instruction manual does its job well enough. Discovering the game's other nuances is left up to the prospective pilot or a good strategy guide (which, I might add, in this case would be justified). With the ridiculous pamphlets that pass as game manuals all too often these days, there is no real complaining to be done about Hind's manual...it's ok. For the sake of comparison, it is very similar in layout and content depth to the one that came with Apache.
view of cockpit
Bafflingly enough, gone is the lo-res mode available in Apache. Despite reference to it in the installation guide, IM Tech Support said simply that the decision was made to "drop" it from Hind. That may be well and good (which it isn't), but why weren't the docs and minimum requirements updated accordingly? As it is, with hi-res (640x480) being the only option, Hind just will not be playable on a 486/33, as stated. See the miscellaneous comments section.
The graphics themselves are based on the same polygon engine from Apache. Whether or not you prefer it over the texture-mapping found in Jane's Longbow is up to you; as a general rule, Hind's performance is quite noticeably better. I personally find it doesn't give quite as good an impression of distance and speed relative to the ground as does Longbow, though, but I've heard both sides to this, so it's a somewhat subjective call.
Much ado has been made about Hind's little men, and I think it's at least partially merited. The level of detail in Hind can be astonishing, and its modelling of infantry is a good example. Each one is modeled individually as a mass of polygons. They move, walk, and fire shoulder-based SAMs at you, and they play an integral role in the game as well; several missions involve using the Hind's personnel-carrying ability, and in external views, you can see the little men embark or disembark from the Hind through its side door or go about their business (be that shooting you down) in missions. Neat!
Other objects in the game are also very nicely done; in my opinion, I think the aircraft look superb. In external views, the player's Hind itself looks magnificent. All weapons are shown, with proper graphics and in their correct place on the aircraft. You can even see the turret gun rotate in proper directions as it is aimed and fired! One more extremely nice bonus in the way of graphics is the sun. It not only looks good, but when facing into it, will cause glare and blindness, whiting out vision in most convincing manner! Wow!
An important note to consider regarding the graphics is that performance is noticeably better than with Apache. In Hind's 640x480, the game is on the edge of playable on a DX2/66 (but not quite - see Performance section) - significantly better than Apache at that resolution. And it looks great.
The animations in the game look really nice. They don't sound nice, though, because they don't sound at all (see next section)! The cutscenes are shown in between missions in campaigns, or a random one can be viewed from any menu screen by simply choosing GoTo / Animations. These mini-movies of the Hind in action do indeed look very nice. Without sound or music, though, they have an empty feeling about them and an incredible sense of wasted potential.
The sound effects are pretty good, including the in-flight speech (from wingmen, the Weapons Systems Operator (WSO), the aircraft's warning system, and even other pilots). The bases are covered as far as sound effects go, but some "secondary" ones like the sound of the landing gear being raised or lowered have not been included. It isn't that big a deal, though...there are others that you may not have expected, such as the sound of different aircraft when viewing them in external views...very nice! And nothing can match the atmosphere that the inflight chatter gives. One thing about DI's sims is a wonderful feeling of being in a living world that extends beyond the player's cockpit. Throughout missions, the player will see other aircraft and military units going about their business, and in combat, the radio peppers with phrases from your compatriots in the air. You don't feel like you're the only one in this world, and sometimes the level of detail to which this aspect of the sim has been taken is astonishing.
I think I'll mention that one of the things I liked about the game's sound is the narration. More specifically, it is done with a genuine (or otherwise very well voice-acted) Russian accent, which I found to be a nice touch. As with many games employing acting, voice or otherwise, I expected a cheesy attempt at an accent but was pleasantly surprised.
I also liked the music. Diverting a bit from the pop beats that were found in Tornado and Apache, Digital Integration has, this time, tried to give the game music a Russian feel, and to good effect. It doesn't make you feel like you're in the heart of Mother Russia or anything, but it has a nice slavic/classical feel. There is no music during missions, though; only in game menus and the mission planner.
As mentioned, one major downer in the game, as with Apache, is that the animations have no sound or music in them at all. I'm not sure I fully understand why this continues to be so. With good sound effects and music, the cutscenes in Hind could have ranked among the best ever (I'm still especially partial to Mechwarrior 2's wonderful opening scene myself), but as they are, they really just feel like eye candy and aren't immersive. After a point, you'll find yourself feeling that they're just there to skip over when in a campaign. They don't really relate to the player's progress, and the lack of sound in them makes them feel quite empty. Would sound have added that much to the development cost? I don't know, but in Hind's case, it is, unfortunately, too valid a question.
external view; other aircraft
Hind's flight model has an excellent feel for the most part. It comes in three flavors: Arcade, Stable, and Realistic, in increasing order of realism. As with Apache, the Arcade flight model is very simplistic and isn't really meant as a helicopter model...it is meant as a transitional model or for those used to arcade game "flight models" wishing to get right into the game without much of a learning curve involved. It even has a certain degree of terrain-following built in; when approaching a hill, for example, the helicopter will automatically rise in altitude to maintain distance from the ground. This kind of thing is, to me personally, anathema and I never recommend the use of such arcade models (though I don't oppose their inclusion) unless the player really isn't interested in using a more realistic model at all. In other words, don't use it as a "transitional" model...just jump right to Stable if you're interested in seeing how a helicopter really flies. Otherwise you'll just develop bad habits you'll have to unlearn later on. The Stable model rates pretty high on the realism scale, but does not incorporate some of the extras that the Realistic model does, like full rotor torque effect or aerodynamic effects like vortex rings and retreating blade stalls. The Realistic model has all the bells and whistles, and incorporates an impressive list of "extra" effects like the preceding, but it really is work. Coordinated use of rudder pedals is required at all times; in fact, the manual specifically states that they are all but required to use the Realistic model at all, and I will echo that sentiment. For what it's worth, I have to wonder a little bit if DI didn't just go slightly overboard with this model. I've never flown a Hind (though I assume I'll be swamped with invitations to, after this review), and I wonder if they really are as unstable as they seem with the Realistic model; coordinated use of the tail rotor really is a constant chore in it. I usually jump straight to the most realistic flight model setting in flight sims and stick to it religiously, but in Hind I found myself using the Stable model (which is still quite excellent) more than half the time, when I was in the mood for less headaches in my fun. I should add that, as it turns out, I was also not able to reproduce all of the supposedly modeled extras in the Realistic model to begin with. Ground Resonance, for example, which occurs when landing heavily on one wheel, does not exist as far as I can tell. Even landing very lightly on one wheel instantly destroyed the aircraft, every time. And I don't mean just a tip over, either...I mean a full, exploding, totalling of the helicopter and its component parts. What's up with that?
There are three types of missions available: Training, Single, and Campaign. Training allows the user to practice and get familiarized with the Hind before embarking on a real mission. For the most part, I found the training missions to be quite good but was a bit disappointed at the lack of emergency-oriented training, such as system failures. In fact, the manual specifically mentions a training mission for practicing autorotations (engine failure), but there is no such mission (that I can see, anyway). Somewhat disappointing.
The campaigns and single missions can be played in any of three theaters : Korea, Kazakstan, and Afghanistan. Hind introduces an interesting twist to its campaigns: they are do-or-die. There is no "save campaign progress" feature, and when a mission is flown, it is logged no matter what. This is to give the player pilot accountability for his or her actions. In theory, it's a neat little feature that adds to the realism and pressures of flying an actual Hind campaign, but in practice it is uncertain if most players won't just find it an exasperating feature. Like the debate over Dark Forces' lack of mid-mission save feature, some will feel that it should have been an option given to the player, since it is, after all, a game and part of its appeal is just having fun and testing your limits without pressure. Whether or not you agree with DI's decision will be ultimately up to you. I myself don't mind the accountability aspect of campaigning for now, but that may well change the day I blow an entire, lengthy campaign on the basis of one stupid mistake. One thing that has to be kept in mind with this, is that in real life, missions are rarely as difficult and the odds rarely so ridiculous as in sims. If accountability is to be forced, then missions and scenarios themselves should also represent the average. And if they do, is that a good thing? Part of the excitement of simulations is that they allow us to play out far-fetched (and exciting) scenarios at no real risk. I haven't played enough of Hind to know if its missions, on the whole, are really representative of real life ones. If they are, then having to accept one's consequences in the campaigns is not unreasonable. It will still remain, though, ultimately up to the individual player whether or not they agree with this feature. I myself am not entirely convinced that the lack of such an option was a good decision, but I understand (and mostly agree with) the reasoning behind it. Time and further play will tell. You won't believe, though, how easy mid-air collisions (and thus un-undoable deaths) with your wingmen can be. Don't ask me how I know!
The campaigns are, however, refreshingly and thankfully dynamic. Actions in one mission affect future missions, and the successful completion of a campaign does depend on successful (sometimes extraordinarily so) individual performances by the pilot.
The Hind, in real life, is a two-crew helicopter. This is handled in Hind by having the computer take over the functions of the Weapons Systems Operator (WSO). The computerized (or "Silicon", as it is known in Hind) WSO is a formidable aide indeed, with eagle eyes and unerring accuracy. In fact, he's too damn good. You put a turret gun in that boy's hand, and all hell breaks loose in the enemies infantry columns. As such, I think Hind's "Super WSO" is a bit too good at his job. I don't know what could have been done to make him more "human" (and thus fallible)...perhaps some kind of algorithm, but in any case it's a somewhat minor beef. There is an option to disable the Silicon WSO and handle the weaponry yourself, but you'll find this a ridiculously daunting task in all but the easiest of missions. What makes it even worse is the unwieldy manner in which the human WSO must designate targets; holding down ALT and moving the joystick, then pressing T. I think this is much too time-consuming in the heat of battle. The WSO should be able to use simple mouse-based input for designation. Anyway, as it is, I doubt that the Silicon WSO will see much off-duty time in your games except in two-player games where one player is the pilot and the other, the WSO.
The mission planner will be familiar to DI fans; it's the same one found in Tornado and Apache. That is mostly a strength; it's generally recognized that Tornado's mission planning was one of its outstanding features and one of the best of any flight sim available. That doesn't entirely apply here when Russia's use of the metric system becomes a factor. More specifically, the mission planner deals with knots (nautical miles per hour), but the Hind's navigation equipment deals with kilometers/hour. It obviously has been simply transplanted from Apache without much testing. Thus, it introduces the annoying requirement for conversion from knots to km/hr when planning missions. This is a headache and a relatively small, silly oversight; one that I hope will be rectified soon in a patch.
One of Hind's most promising features is its multiplayer capability. Most games today incorporate some kind of modem or network play, and that in itself may not be a big deal, but what sets Hind's multiplayer games apart, I feel, are the types of multiplayer games available. There is the consummate head-to-head duel, yes, but what I find more intriguing is the alternative method of having two players go against (or with) each other in an actual mission, or even better, end up in the same Hind as Pilot and WSO, and play out a mission in a 2-crew helicopter as per the real thing. Unfortunately, there is no option to complete a campaign like this; I think it would be a marvelous addition, with the 2 players taking turns as pilot and WSO (or not) at their discretion. There are even more twists in Hind's network capability, which supports up to a whopping 16 players. There is, again, the standard "Death Match" type of game (individual or team), or the more interesting alternative, "Capture the Flag", where the goal is to destroy the enemy's headquarters. The thought of having two teams of 8 helicopters in a game trying to destroy each other's headquarters makes my skin bristle. I grant that it's unfortunately bound to get very little use out there, but the potential for some unbelievable fun is, I feel, immense. It would have been nice if, to faciltate such games, IM included a multiplayer licence with the game, where one copy could be used to run a multiplayer game (with however many players), but only a single solo game. Some games are starting to use this kind of marketing and I think it's an excellent idea, from both the point of view of the customers as well as of the developing company. As it is, what are the odds of having many people each buy their own copy of Hind and have access to an IPX network on which they can play? I don't think they're very high, and I'm not sure how this can be circumvented by something like Kali, for play over the Internet. In any case, again, I'm just afraid that the game's considerable multiplayer potential may go to waste in the vast majority of cases.
The game's listed minimum requirement is a 486 DX/33. This is, stated bluntly, a sad joke. The game is not playable on anything less than a well-tuned 486/100, and even then, it would require that minimum visual detail be set in the preferences. I suspect that this minimum requirement is a side-effect of IM's apparently-last-minute decision to remove the lo-res option from the game altogether. With no choice but to play in hi-res (640x480), the game really requires a Pentium for any kind of decent playability. I don't know why the lo-res option was dropped, but I will say that it is a horrible loss to those with 486 machines (or slow Pentiums). Now, IM, update your minimum requirements on the box and your documentation and we'll consider forgiving this. Or at least accepting it with decent humor.
Now as far as hi-res goes, I will say that the performance of the game is very good. It plays noticeably better than Apache at that resolution, and on a P-133, for example, play was very smooth (certainly more than playable) on full detail. There is no frame-rate counter in the game, unfortunately, so no emipirical data can be obtained.
Does the DOS version run faster than the Win95 version? Of course it does. I won't go into detail to shed light on this miracle to the clueless that still believe Win95 games run faster than their otherwise-equivalent DOS versions. I will, however, say that I used DOS 6.2 in my testing, not Win95's MSDOS mode, which may make the difference. Is it enough to sway use away from the Win95 version? Probably not. The Win95 version still ran quite smoothly and adds the benefits of multitasking to the chip pile, so I believe that those with a choice (ie adequate hardware) will still probably choose the Win95 version. If you have a machine on the edge of the requirements (especially with 8MB RAM), you will want the DOS version on your machine.
returning to base, external view
Is Hind a better game than its predecessor, Apache? Well, I think the games are still too similar for one to really be considered "better". I think it relies more on individual taste. As far as the helicopters themselves go, the Apache is much more avionics-oriented and is capable of aerobatics that the Hind isn't. Hind, on the other hand, does perform better (game hardware-wise) and has its little "extras" like the little men. Both have three theaters of operation, and both have similar action. If having both Win95 and DOS versions in one package is important for you, Hind wins the contest there. Personally, I like Hind better. I like the smoother gameplay (ie. better performance) and the helicopter itself...I'm not a big avionics person and like to feel the aircraft I'm in and feel like I'm flying it, not programming it. That is, of course, a personal call. I will also say that I like Hind's multiplayer capabilites, but Apache-vs.-Hind games are all but useless; the Apache, in my humble opinion, will shred through the Hind given the pilots are of relatively equal skill.
The joystick configuration, at least for a standard Thrustmaster FCS, is flawed. The hat does not control views to the right or left. In fact, no function is assigned to right or left hat, that I found. The game's documentation makes no mention of this (or of assignments in general) at all, aside from mention of some Thrustmaster files on the CD. This, I think, is not enough, and as with several such omissions in the game documentation, it has me scratching my head.
One thing I never liked about DI games still holds for Hind, and that is, that enemies simply blow up and disappear. One of the most marvelous things about Falcon 3.0 was shooting an enemy down, literally, and watching it spiral, smoke trailing out, down to earth. Alas, that is not to be seen in Hind. If you shoot enemies, they simply disappear. Unless they happen to be infantry, in which case they'll jolt back and die in proper, award-winning manner! Just how much attention did DI pay to these little men, anyway?!
One thing I didn't care for in the animations is how the helicopters' movement itself is portrayed. The choppers are basically shown to be able to shoot forward and stop on dimes. I understand this is for dramatic effect (to add to the aircraft's role as watchdog over rolling columns, for example. Unfortunately it also looks damn cheesy.
Bugs were rare, but (strangely) more often encountered in the Win95 version. Generally, they were of the sort that aborted the game abruptly with an undecipherable error message. A couple of minor annoyances were also found in such things as the sound of the cannon being available with the DOS version but not the Win95 one, though to what extent this is a "bug" I'm not sure. In any case, stability-wise, Hind is at least acceptable, no doubt due to the maturity of the underlying Apache engine.
shot from cutscene
Hind is an excellent helicopter sim; the latest in a bumper crop of excellent helicopter sims. 1996 is truly seeing heli lovers spoiled. This game has great graphics, decent sound, and excellent gameplay. It is based on the Apache game engine, but brings its own bag of improvements to the table, and the helicopter is indeed modeled with individual characteristics. Hind is a terrific game, and despite its extremely misleading minimum requirements and inexplicable lack of sound in cutscenes, I have no qualms about giving it the thumbs-up for a GDR Gold award. Flight-sim fans can't go wrong with this one.
|Appeal:||Flight sim fans in general. Helicopter lovers will be in heaven for the third time this year.|
|Originality & Storyline:||The campaigns actually follow pretty well-designed, original storylines.|
|Graphics & Video:||Very nice, though only in 640x480 (no lo-res option).|
|Audio:||A bit sparse, but good. Big thumbs down for silent cutscenes.|
|Longevity:||Very long. A very deep sim and a true bargain in terms of play value.|
|Presentation:||Decent. Clean menus, relatively easy navigation through them.|
|Packaging & Docs:||Usual Interactive Magic quality (ie. good).|
|Bugs & Problems:||Some, most of which kill the game abruptly. More encountered in Win95 than DOS version though.|