"Duncan!" said the voice. Blimey, it was none other than Simon Bradley, PC contributor (and real-life chopper pilot).
"Blimey," I replied. Simon told me that he, too, was off to the Comanche 3 launch; indeed we were on the same plane. What? Had we been double-booked? What was going on?
"I've been working with NovaLogic in a freelance consultancy capacity," explained Simon as we headed toward the departure lounge. "I've been working with the programmers, on the helicopter flight model." Aha! So, cue horrible BA flight, sitting next to a fat Italian bastard who first spills tomato juice on my leg and then snores in my left ear for nine hours.
It's a rather posh hotel in Palm Beach (it's got its own golf course for gawd's sake), and Simon and I have joined the American computer press and NovaLogic throng in the Seafood Bar. Hating seafood, I concentrate instead on the neverending supply of chilled Gu stars that most w lineage and there later and I'm fo crime in thes a NovaLo much thanking my lucky ins pretend to be of Irish Tick's day. Five cans cigarette, which is virtually a atly relieved when Jackie - like Naomi Campbell's much, sister (swoon) - sparks up as well er! And God bless America too, especially when the activities for the next couple of days are announced:
1 - Hands-on experience on Comanche 3, which includes flight instruction, a chance for some head-to-head network action (over four machines), and then a competition: the journalist who racks up the most points on a selected range of missions wins a 'superb prize'. (Duncan came last - Ed)
2 - Yippee! Get this: a helicopter lesson. A real helicopter lesson, for everyone present, in a Jetranger. Why are NovaLogic forking out all this dosh? I'll get to that, but don't forget it's all tax deductible anyway.
3 - The genuine article: in other words we're going to the Sikorsky Development Flight Centre where we'll be treated to a Comanche air display, and then get to talk to the test pilot.
Cool. The drink continues to flow, and Simon launches into his personal-experience helicopter pilot anecdote library, much to the joy of a receptive American audience. And me? Er, I've known him for ages, and so suspend belief for 90 per cent of the routine. Still, who can compete with his tale, whether true or not, of almost being hit by an exocet missile during the Falklands War? You know? My most interesting counter could only be something like "Hey, what do you guys think of my trousers? I bought them in Croydon." (And then I'd have to explain where Croydon was.) I decide to keep my mouth shut. Simon's Boy's Own Adventure tirade continues, meanwhile, until three in the morning.
Eight o'clock alarm call. Groan. Off to the conference room, where I've just missed breakfast. John Garcia, NovaLogic's MD, is 'coming clean' as I lean slobbishly against a wall, a cup of rosie-lea in hand. What he's saying, to put things in a nutshell, is that NovaLogic are a tad pissed off. They've had top-selling aircraft games with the Comanche brand, and, more recently, with F-22 Lightning, yet the press refuse to take the company seriously, sticking their efforts firmly into the 'arcade game' rather than the 'flight sim' bucket. He then defends arcade-style games, admitting along the way that the original Comanche was pretty arcadey, but adding that F-22 was far more realistic than the press gave it credit for. At the end of the day he's more than happy with the company's sales figures but wants critical acclaim as well - if not for the earlier games, then at least for this one...
"The realistic flight mode in Comanche 3 is authentic." He winks at Simon, then fixes his gaze back on us press boys. "Um, how many of you have actually flown a real helicopter, by the way?" No hands are raised, and the point has been made.
Thus the forthcoming helicopter lesson. But first off we go to the gaming room medal' ceremony, the thicker end of the Comanche 3 wedge beckons. And now things start to get hard.
There are four scenarios, each of which is split into eight missions - and the eighth mission in each scenario isn't available until the previous seven have been completed... yes, a bit like an arcade game: four scenarios, four bosses, take the other missions in any order you like.
And as I've just said, things were now very tricky indeed. Yup, with the tutorial over I was being shot down with alarming regularity. Restart. Die. Restart. Die. Restart. Die. NovaLogic people were watching over my shoulder. I made excuse noises to the tune that I was using the 'realistic' flight model. And I was - but time for a rethink. Time to adhere less strictly to the direct waypoint routes, I felt, and time to use the superbly realised terrain to my advantage, rather than just enjoying it as eye candy. Yes, I could hug that treeline. Yes, I could drop into that hollow and then sideslip across the road to my right and let off a quick Hellfire before sideslipping back into cover again. Yes, I could then change tack and hack recklessly across an open field to hide behind those buildings on the northern side of the valley.
And okay, the Comanche can travel at 170 knots, but I was learning to hold back, to keep low. Thirty knots at 25 feet would do fine, thank you very much -either that or hovering (and popping up and down). It's like chess, this helicopter warfare lark. In fact it's also very much like a tank game, a genre which NovaLogic are no strangers to either. Armored Fist, anyone? And, coincidentally, Armored Fist 2 is just around the corner, as, unfortunately for me in my Comanche, was a mobile SAM launcher. It locked me up and blew me out of the sky.
"Bad luck Duncan," said Simon gleefully. "You weren't doing particularly badly until then." Bastard.
The real chopper lesson
I won't harp on about this because I didn't do too well. I've flown a Cessna before and it was a piece of piss: no more difficult, really, than driving a car. I assumed a helicopter would be - to tag on a simple multiplication factor - about three times harder. Wrong. Try 100 times harder. 200 even. And having cocky Simon sitting in the back seat made it even worse. It's not the multiple limb co-ordination that's the problem, it's the sensitivity of the instruments - or at least it is in a Jetranger: a 5mm movement on either of the control devices can magnify itself within moments, if you don't know what you're doing, into an out-of-shape death plunge. I hovered magnificently for 1.39 seconds, for example. Then Randy (the patronising and porky Tom Cruise lookalike tutor) had to urgently resume control. Doh! Still, I took from the experience the knowledge that the basic Comanche 3 helicopter flight model, in realism mode, as John Garcia had said, is pretty top.
And now for the denouement
As I said at the beginning of this review, the final item on the agenda was the visit to the Sikorsky Development Centre. After a briefing from the Boeing/Sikorsky PR geezer, we were marched outside, where we saw the first vaguely operational Comanche fly past. My hopes of seeing some top aerobatics were quickly quashed as we stood there and watched it fly first one way, then back, and then the first way again. Yawn. Then it landed. Time to talk to the pilot.
I'd just asked him whether the MicroProse joystick twistgrip style tail rotor control mechanism was easier to use than foot pedals - and whether the fact that his feet were now freed up meant that they could be put to use in other ways - when, for what seemed the umpteenth time that day, Simon leapt into the picture. "Hi, I'm not a journalist, I'm a helicopter pilot," he chirped.
The Comanche jock wasn't impressed.
"...Er, what's she like to fly?" added Simon, sheepishly. "Buddy, this here's fly-by-wire technology. There's a computer-style joystick in there. It's as easy as playin' a freakin' arcade game, godammit!"
Spook! It's a pretty bizarre turn of events, for sure, but what that means is that if you want complete realism in Comanche 3, you're probably best off selecting the 'arcade' mode. If you opt for 'realism' mode you'll be getting a flight model along the lines of an Apache or something. What a strange old world it is. And what an absolute corker of a game Comanche 3 is, too.
Download Comanche 3
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode