Digital integration, you may recall, have been receiving accolades (not least from me) for the really rather splendid Apache Longbow. Well it seems that they had some talent going spare, so after rolling out the bug fixes for Apache, they've gone on to produce something a little more interesting. It's all very well doing the Apache, but the trouble is everybody else has done it as well. Although helicopters currently appear to be terribly fashionable (dahling) - which is good news as far as I'm concerned - there are only so many near-identical games that the market can carry. So I have decided to take a different tack, and the result of their labours is Hind.
Somebody once suggested that combat helicopters could be likened to couriers cycling around town. You have the cyclists in their Hughes Defenders, delivering your lightweight packages over short distances at the risk of being sent flying by pesky pedestrians. Then you have the maniac bikers in their Apaches, delivering average packages over longer distances and occasionally getting knocked off their wheels by cars. If you continue this analogy, then the dirty great Parcel Force artic is the Hind. Basically, it will despatch a whole stack of parcels - and not just yours -wherever you like, squashing anything that dares get in the way.
The Hind is a proper gunship helicopter. It is as ugly as sin, handles like a bus and scares the hell out of anyone on the receiving end. But better than that, it carries more than just pointy things - it carries troops as well. It has often been said that no matter how tough your aircraft might be, you can't capture and hold ground without troops. Although to some extent events in the Gulf War proved that this isn't always true, fundamentally the fact remains that the grubby business of actually holding land belongs to soldiers, not airmen.
I offer you the opportunity to fly a Hind-E, which is the main version in service with the Russian/Soviet forces. The Hind-E saw a great deal of action in Afghanistan, as indeed did most other Soviet kit, and it proved itself to be particularly handy for certain types of mission. Unfortunately, it also proved spectacularly crap at others. You get the chance to lay minefields, pick up casualties, insert Spetznatz troops, take out vehicle convoys and recover troops after missions. Hind is very good at these. You also get to go up against other helicopters, especially the Apache. Let's be honest - the Hind is i not a dogfighter. It's like going rallying in a Transit - a bit of a laugh but at the end of the day hardly competitive.
The idea of putting a helicopter with a cargo capacity into a game isn't a new concept. LHX and Gunship 2000 both had the Blackhawk, and LHX certainly had missions where you had to pick up casualties or troops. The real difference with Hind however is the way that the troops are handled: rather than just standing there waiting for you. soldiers here will dig in, provide covering fire, and get off their arses to come to you. Not just any old how, either. These guys will go round the aircraft, avoiding the tail rotor, and come in through the door. Properly. In fact, if you look from outside, you will see the doors open and the men climb in. Each figure is animated separately, and you can even tell what weapon the enemy is about to fire at you by the way he is holding it. The jury is still out as to how people will react when killed - they will probably just keel over in an untidy sort of fashion, so those looking for Doom-style gore will be disappointed. Similarly, although there will be area denial missions, you can forget about any opportunities to murder civilians. Well, for the moment anyway.
You will have at least three campaign areas to rampage around in. Afghanistan is probably the most controversial, and DI have erred on the side of caution by basing it on a historical campaign, so there are no grounds for accusations of them being biased. There is a campaign in one of the breakaway republics (which is fairly dodgy ground if you want to be politically correct), but probably the most likely scenario here; there's a Korean campaign too, which is where air-to-air action will come in. This is also where you can expect head to head multi-player sessions to take place.
Okay Monty, I'm going in
As you can see from the screenshots, the graphics are very close to those in Apache. Nothing wrong there I suppose, and there's an advantage in that the two games can be linked and played against each other. World landmarks are very well detailed, and the sizing seems about right. The flight model is attracting a lot of attention, and DI even enlisted the assistance of a real chopper pilot who has actually flown a Hind to fine-tune it. Sadly, I haven't got my mitts on the finished (or even tuned) article yet, and can only report that it currently feels fundamentally okay although it still needs a lot of work.
Most importantly for a simulator of this genre, there will be proper networking options from day one, although sadly there still won't be any facilities for four-player, two-aircraft play. Apparently this is just too much to handle at present, although it may be possible later. Normal modem and serial options are also included, and linking Apache and Hind together for some head-to-head action is a fairly simple matter. So far, as with Apache, there are no networked co-operative facilities in place.
In short. Hind looks like a really interesting simulator. To many of you this is probably like saying. "Gosh, what a thrilling party political broadcast." but take my word for it that a wealth of new features have been thrown in which could well end up taking the simulator market in a new direction. Heavily involving ground troops in the action is the first step towards an air and land campaign played over a network which could genuinely provide something for almost everyone.
Many years ago, even before bill Gates was rich, a guy called Igor Sikorsky made a helicopter with an enclosed cabin. Not only did this contraption fly, but it was actually possible to do something with it. Not a lot, but something. Now, progress being what it is, it wasn't long before helicopters became reliable and useful. At which point, the military became interested and started to throw money at new manufacturers to persuade them to hang nasty, pointed things on their previously quite harmless devices. The Americans invented the helicopter gunship during the Vietnam conflict, bolting machine guns and rockets onto every possible point on their Huey transport cabs. Later, they refined the concept into the HueyCobra, the first ever dedicated helicopter gunship.
Across the Iron Curtain the Russians were on a similar path, although they had little need for a Huey type assault chopper for their own forces. They had many, many allies in other parts of the world who were keen to strap as many offensive devices as possible to their Mi-8 transports. And. competition being what it is, they just had to come up with a proper gunship as well. So they did. They called it the Mi-24. NATO called it the Hind. Why? Because all Russian helicopters were given code words beginning with 'H'. Fighters begin with 'F bombers with 'B. Being Russians, the designers at Mil Helikopter didn't just design a gunship. If you ever visit Russia, you will see that they rarely have anything which has only one purpose, especially in the military. So you'll see people shopping on their tractors, production lines building prams and fighter planes, gunship helicopters with room for eight troops in the back.
After a brief and rather unsuccessful first design, the Hind was unleashed on a tremulous NATO as the bogeyman we were all afraid of. It was big, heavy, fast and carried more firepower than the average British helicopter squadron in one aircraft. Amid rumours of awesome air-to-air capability and unreasonable damage capacities, NATO battlefield pilots throughout Europe shat themselves and prayed for peace. Then came Afghanistan. Six months in and CNN and the BBC teams started sending back film of shot-down helicopters. Not just any old thing, but Hinds. Late model Hinds. Lots of them. Nobody knows (or if they do, they aren't telling) how many Hinds were lost in the Afghan campaign, but it blew all the rumours away. The sheer size and weight of the Hind were its worst enemies.
Once the Mujahideen started to get decent SAMs, (American Stingers, which of course were not supplied by the CIA), the Hind attrition rate went through the roof. Make no mistake, we still didn't want to get on the wrong end of one, but at least we saw that it could be beaten, which helped a lot. As an aside, the result of all this was that the Americans got really complacent and the Russians developed the Werewolf. Now we're back to where we were, only the Werewolf really is as scary as the rumours suggest.
Okay, enough war stories
Fine, let's look in the box, shall we? Hind is, as usual, a CD-only release, which comes with the normal readable but intense DI manual and a rather useful quick reference guide. It installs without fuss, and seems to auto-detect sound cards without any odd effects. The introductory sequence is excellent - even better than the one which started Apache - and everything works as advertised. The mail screen gives the normal options, quickstart, single mission, campaign, mission planner and network play as well as offering-the facility to manually change detail levels, sounds, flight models and so on. No surprises so far, then.
Firing up a single mission puts you into a briefing screen which will be familiar to you if you have played Tornado or Apache, and will bring you out in a cold sweat if you haven't. Get through that and into the cockpit. Here's the first surprise. No digital displays, MFDs or radar. Just a fully manual cockpit with clockwork dials and lots of pretty blue background. Hop into the gunner's seat for a similar visual treat, only with less dials and more well, cunnerv bits.
The whole thing is presented in the crisp, clear, detailed way which we have come to expect from DI. As, of course, is the outside a world. That means that there's less detail than some other offerings, there's no texture-mapped terrain, no fantastically detailed trees. And it's no great loss either. The sky looks like sky, complete with clouds and so on. The ground looks like ground, albeit a little featureless. The hills and mountains look pretty cool. Overall, I reckon it works okay.
Ah, did you say something about a mission planner?
Yes. The planner gives youthe facility to accept your mission as briefed, move waypoints to take advantage of terrain or what-ever, change your time on target (as well as that of your wingmen), do prettyj well anything you like. It's seriously powerful. It's also seriously difficult to use. Tornado first gave us this little delight, and it took Duncan a whole page just to explain it.
Okay. I'm convinced. So can I fly it now?
Um, yes why not - but be prepared for the next surprise. You see, the Hind is not like other helicopters. More iSccurately, Hind does not fly like any other helicopter simulator. Until now, the folk who decide what we get to fly have concentrated on the mainstream stuff. That means more Apache and Falcon simulations than you can shake a big stick at, and not a whole lot else (mark my words, the Comanche and F22 will be the next to get the treatment).
So anyway, the chances are that if you have flown a proper helicopter simulator before, it will have been an Apache. And the Hind is kind of different. Actually that isn't quite true. The Hind is totally different. This is a large, heavy, unstable beast which dates back to the '60s and has all the problems (sorry, features) which go with that heritage. No semirigid rotors here. No hi-tech materials. No vast surplus of power. No powered controls. No Ferrari-like response. In short, we're looking at a dinosaur. And it behaves like one too.
The pilot (brain) gives a command, and some time later it works its way through to the rotors (limbs) and something happens. The control responses in Hind are so sluggish that sometimes you think there's a machine problem. On low power there's virtually no response at all to pitch commands, and it's possible to get into a totally non- recoverable situation alarmingly easily. If you have the flight model set to Realistic - and who doesn't? - (Er, a lot of people - Ed.) you can also get the pleasure of vortex rings, transitional lift, retreating blade stall and Pilot Induced Oscillation. This baby bites. Hard. And then it chews and spits the bits back at you. The strange thing is that despite all this, it's actually quite a good cab once you get the hang of it. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Hind is not even a little bit easy. It's sluggish, heavy and departs from controlled flight given half a chance. Other than that, it's fine.
Go on then, tell us about the flight model
Well, if you insist. Basically there are two flight models available: arcade and realistic. Arcade still has some of the problems, but not the serious ones. Realistic is. odd though it may seem, realistic. Having flown both this and a real Hind. I am happy to say that DI are pretty close here. I'm reliably informed that the entire flight engine has been redesigned and reworked from Apache to give an even more accurate feel. It's not perfect, although by the time it hits the streets that may be sorted out. but it isn't bad. In fact, it's really rather good.
Don't you normally ao on about networks too?
Yes, I do. But that's only because having a partner is so much better than playing with yourself. Assuming you agree, this bit should make you happy. Hind will support loads of multi-play options. You can have a direct serial link, or a modem to allow two players, or you can have up to eight (at present, maybe more later) on a network. Plus, you can link up with machines running Apache for a frenzy of thrashing rotors and blazing cannons. Tip for Hind drivers: stay low and fast, and prepare to get shot down a lot. You do also get the really neat pilot/gunncr options from Apache, although sadly that's still two-player only. They say that there's too much work involved in making that work for more than one aircraft, but I still reckon that having eight of you working together in four aircraft would be a laugh. Maybe I'm just very sad.
But I have no friends. Can I still play?
Of course. The usual choice of single player missions are on offer: either one-offs or as part of a campaign. You get to fly in Korea, Afghanistan or Kazakhstan. The Afghan campaign is based on actual events shortly before the Mujahideen started to get Stingers. The missions are hard, but rewarding when complete. You could always advertise for mates to play with over the wires.
Hmnun, doesn't sound like anything new...
No. it doesn't. That's because it basically isn't anything new. Sure, it's an unusual aircraft, but that probably isn't enough. No. Hind stands out because the aircraft can carry troops. And that means you get missions delivering them. And others bringing back the remains. But the great tiling is the way they behave. They run, they drop to the ground, they fire, they advance. They get shot, fall over and retreat. They'll get straight back into your cab if the mood takes them. The best way to stop this is to dump them and take off straight away. Works wonders for survivability, too. And it's almost impossible to get them to give you fire support as you come in. Mind you. they soon get stuck in if an enemy unit fires on them, so all you need to do is provoke a stray shell...
As well as playing with ground troops, you get to do all sorts of other politically incorrect things that although other folk do them, only DI have thus far had the balls to include. So you can drop land mines (area denial missions), use fuel and air bombs (that's Napalm to you and me) and generally rearrange the countryside to suit your needs.
So, at tin end of the day, what do you reckon?
If you're into helicopters, you'll probably buy this anyway. But rest assured, you're making a smart move. If you aren't into helicopters, this probably won't get you into them. In fact, if this is your first helicopter sim, stick it on arcade mode until you get used to it, or think about getting Apache instead. It's far too difficult to be fun instantly, and even with a fair amount of experience, it's hardly a laugh a minute. But it's very satisfying when everything comes together, although bloody hard work.
There are a whole load of features, which make Hind worth having. It certainly flies well, and the way that the troops have been done is really very impressive. The network options are pretty good, and being able to go up against Apaches is a major plus. In fact, the only thing I really dislike is the pseudo-Cyrillic writing in the interface and the English writing in the cockpit. Hopefully, that will be gone by the time it hits the streets. In short. Hind is pretty good, and generally worth buying. It's a little different too. Whether that is enough remains to be seen.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode