Larkin About: Take On Helicopters Test Flown

By Tim Stone on September 28th, 2011 at 10:13 am.

 

My left mouse button is confused. It’s just spent five unbroken hours with a Bohemia Interactive game and not once was it asked to snuff out a man’s life. There were times when I felt like asking it to snuff out a man’s life, but as the preview build of Take On Helicopters doesn’t include player firearms, such a request would have been fairly pointless. After the jump, a picture of the man I wished dead, plus twelve hundred words where four -“Take On Helicopters! Gosh!” – probably would have sufficed.

That’s the swine in question. The bloke on the right. One of the two missions in the preview build involves delivering him and his two colleagues to a forest-hemmed firing-range near Seattle. You’re Tom Larkin a man with a chopper for hire. He’s Frost, a training officer for Vrana Corp, a PMC last seen on ITV in Arma.

En-route to the range, the obnoxious Frost insists you fly at treetop height and go like the clappers. Any tardiness or accidental altitude earns an irrate “What did I say about touching the trees!” or an apoplectic “Follow my orders, Larkin!”. Deviate for more than 30 seconds and the mission is scrubbed. You’re plainly meant to end-up loathing this client, but, thanks to annoying autosave points, confusing instructions, and the aggravating drip-drip of those reprimands, you end-up loathing the scenario designers too. I hope ‘Best Laid Plans’ isn’t a typical story mission. If it is, then saving Larkin Aviation, could be a gruelling business.

Right, now I’ve got that off my chest I’m free to say nice things like “Even if the campaign turns out to be a bug-spattered nightmare, I’ll still be recommending ToH to anyone with even a passing interest in simulated flight”. Most of my time with the preview code, has been spent tearing around the sim’s 3800 square-km Seattle terrain, ogling the amazing vistas, and enjoying the friendly-yet-flavoursome flight models. I can’t remember the last time a flight sim made me this keen to just jump into a cockpit and ramble about the countryside. I can’t recall the last time a sim caused me to spend so many hours simply swooping around like a swallow in love.

While my talk of chicken and washing machine-littered LZs turns out to be a bit over-optimistic (the scenery isn’t nearly as detailed as an average Arma map) ToH’s Seattle environment has to go down as one of the finest tracts of terrafirma the genre has ever seen. Fabricated from a blend of high-definition elevation mesh, photo-derived ground textures, tens of thousands of hand placed(?) structures and millions of individual trees, the combined effect is breathtaking and – going by the preview code – not too unkind to GPUs to boot. My modest i5/GeForce GTX460 system cruised along contentedly unless visibility was turned up to excessive ranges.

I doff my hat-switch to whoever it was that decided to put Jimi Hendrix’s home-town at the centre of the sim (there’s also a SE Asian map but that, apparently, will play a supporting role). With its crinkly coastline, surfeit of hills, and striking city-wilderness juxtapositions, the place is perfect for interesting low-altitude aviation. The fact that the cradle/sepulchre of civilian flight simulation is a five-minute helo ride from Larkin Aviation’s waterside base, is either a strange coincidence or deeply symbolic. I’ll go with deeply symbolic.

You’d have to be a mean-spirited bastard to pick holes in this gorgeous chopper playground.  Fortunately I have such a bastard living in the cupboard under my stairs. Over to you, Beswick.

“What that soft-hearted pillock hasn’t told you about ToH’s main environment is that it appears to be completely devoid of powerlines. That’s right, BIS’s landscape lackeys haven’t bothered to model the helo pilot’s arch-enemy! I’ve also yet to see a train or a moving boat. Automobiles are there. Just. Currently cars spawn and vanish at intersections. The readme implies this distracting shorthand is a temporary state of affairs, but with release a mere month away, I smell a rat.

Then there’s the hillside highways banked like NASCAR circuits, and the hillside homes with exposed foundations. And don’t get me sta”

That’s quite enough, Beswick. Back in the cupboard with you, you misery-monger. ToH’s scenery does have its rough edges and omissions, but nipping along at 500 feet and 120 knots, the flaws seem pretty insignificant. However much money you’ve thrown at your FSX scenery folder in recent years, I guarantee you’ll be blown away by what BIS have achieved.

The second preview mission – ‘Sling Your Hook’ – gives a tantalising glimpse of ToH’s randomly generated optional sorties. I’ve flown it four or five times so far and found myself visiting different locations each time. On arrival the jobs do always seem to entail roughly the same thing – skycraning two loads from one construction site to another – but the idea of keeping Larkin Aviation afloat through unglamorous contracting like this, is still very appealing to this old Air Hauler. Hopefully we’ll also get the chance to intersperse story missions with unscripted taxi work and tourist sightseeing trips.

Don’t expect sinuous cables or sophisticated pendulum physics from ToH’s skycrane outings. Even with the expert flight model active, strops never seem to snap, cargo never seems to end up oscillating wildly. Loads swing a little, yes, and drag plausibly on the ground, but other helo sims have dangled things more persuasively.

Other sims have also made more of an effort to compensate for the absence of an instruction-spouting co-pilot/winchman/groundsman. If ‘Sling Your Hook’ is any guide, the only help ToH pilots will get during delicate lifts or landings will come from the immersion–fracturing external camera. Oh, and the FM-dampening ‘auto hover’ cheat.

I could release Beswick at this point and let him rabbit-on about the inadequacies of the FM and the various non-functional switches in virtual cockpits, but I’m not sure how helpful that would be. Unless your a regular visitor to www.hovercontrol.com or a DCS: Black Shark devotee, I doubt you’ll find much to complain about in the realism department. Helos can be cold-started with a single click or coaxed into life in a more involving multi-stage fashion. During the 30 minutes of tutorials the only notes I bothered/needed to write were:

FROM COLD
Battery on (Ctrl + B)
Starter on (Ctrl + 1)
Wait a Bit
Throttle to idle (Insert)
Wait a bit
Starter off (Ctrl +1)
Wait a bit
Throttle up (Insert)
Wait a bit
GO!

That’s about as technical as ToH gets.

My time with the preview code hasn’t banished my damage model misgivings, neither has it convinced me that meteorology has been treated with the respect it deserves. What it has confirmed is a suspicion that the staid world of civilian flight simulation is about to get a glorious kick up the arse. Beswick probably isn’t going to enjoy Take On Helicopters. The jolt of elation I feel every time I lift off from Larkin HQ, and dip the nose of my MD 500 towards the glittering waters of Puget Sound, convinces me that I will. Roll on October 27.

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32 Comments »

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  1. GenBanks says:

    I’m definitely not a simulator type person, but there’s something about helicopters… I’m feeling the urge to play this.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Would like to play a demo, but… ditto.

      I wonder if it’ll support modding (airwolf! coming to a small local business near you)?

    • ST3V0 says:

      @aldo_14 yes it will support modding, it’s the ArmA 2 engine which is extensively moddable
      There are 100’s of ArmA mods and will probably be 100’s of TOH mods

    • Zenicetus says:

      The problem with things like this, is that people who aren’t normally into simulations won’t have all the hardware that really makes it come alive. It’s just a totally different experience flying with right hand on a joystick, left hand on throttle (collective), your feet on pedals to control the tail rotor, and TrackIR so you can look around to maintain situational awareness when you’re low to the ground.

      Flying with a gamepad or mouse and keyboard can be fun, but it really just skims the surface. The bird comes alive when your hands and feet are all doing the dance to keep it in the air, and doing exactly what you want it to do.

      Signed, Beswick

  2. royaltyinexile says:

    Beswick prevents us from sleeping at night.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Oddly enough, I used to have a flatmate called Bez, who lived in the basement room, and could be relied upon to always have a contrary viewpoint on everything. He too used to wake us up at night, most annoyingly by cooking bacon at 3 in the morning. It turns out that the smell of tempting food wafting up the stairs will wake me up more than someone banging around three floors below.

  3. Zeewolf says:

    There’s something about the picture where you see the docks from the cockpit view (7th from the top) that makes me wish I was playing this game right now.

    • Reapy says:

      Weird! That is the exact same picture that made me wish I was playing as well.

      Must be the cockpit view on top of the wash out from the glass making it seem pretty realistic. I think the dock looks pretty convincing and realistic as opposed to the other screen shots which seem like typical ‘video game from air’ views we’ve seen in many other games.

  4. grundus says:

    I play Arma II OA every now and then, and by far my favourite thing to do is fly choppers incredibly close to the ground. Words can’t describe how awesome it is to be >10 metres from the ground, going obscenely fast, cresting hills with 1-3 metres of clearance (I admit, I do crash a lot thanks to this behaviour)… It’s an awesome feeling. If ToH has valleys to buzz around in as well as cities, I might check this out. The only flight sim I’ve ever owned was X-Plane 9, weirdly to the contrary of my A2OA chopper antics I loved extremely high altitude flight so the U-2 Martin and, of course, SR-71 were my favourite things to fly. Damn, I was going to work today, but I might have to not.

    • Tim Stone says:

      You will adore ToH, grundus. The ground is positively magnetic in this game. Every time I’ve attempted to fly to a mission location at a sensible altitude, I’ve ended up caving in at some point and descending to rooftop level. Following roads, rivers and railways at low altitude is massively exhilarating.

    • Zenicetus says:

      @ Grundus: If you haven’t kept up with the 3rd party aircraft lately with X-Plane 9, there are some fantastic payware helicopter models out now, like the BK-117 and Bell 206. Definitely worth a look, if you want to revisit flying low. The new weather model coming up in version 10 should make it even more challenging.

  5. Arbodnangle Scrulp says:

    The last time I looked upon this cityscape I was playing World in Conflict. I miss it, WiC was awesome. Never quite finished it though, and now too many great games to play. Growing old isn’t easy folks.

  6. MiniMatt says:

    Can you play Wagner from chopper mounted loud speakers?

  7. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    I love the idea of taming helos.

  8. jackflash says:

    Flying choppers always was my favorite part of Arma II.

  9. Anarki says:

    So, I’ve been waiting for a sequel to Simcopter my whole life, is this it!?

    • Anvilfolk says:

      Heck, I hope so! SimCopter was great! Keeping the spotlight on the speeding cars, dropping water on fires, evacuating people! I had such a blast, and the fact that you could upgrade helicopters every now and then just kept you going! :) It was very open-ended too, I don’t recall there being a campaign in general.

      SimCopter multiplayer would be great :D

  10. Premium User Badge

    El_MUERkO says:

    Now all we need is Saitek or the like to make a decent set of helicopter controls (with vibration to simulate the real thing) and we’re laughing :D

  11. RadioactiveMan says:

    “If ‘Sling Your Hook’ is any guide, the only help ToH pilots will get during delicate lifts or landings will come from the immersion–fracturing external camera.”

    Can you open or remove your door and lean out of the helicopter? I’ve worked with helicopters a fair bit, and in my experience pilots generally lean out of the helicopter to watch their load during hook up and drop off. Not being able to do this would indeed be a pretty big immersion-breaker! Slinging is a tricky business, and good pilots can look out the door and get a good sense for exactly what height that load is at, 100 feet directly below them. They also use the momentum of the helicopter to balance the movement of the load. Its pretty impressive to witness… I can also imagine that it would be difficult to model properly for a game!

    Also- Seattle is indeed a brilliant choice of location! Its my hometown and I can testify that it is indeed a beautiful place with lots of interesting crinkly bits.. As a Seattle resident I would love to poke around and fly through the neighborhoods, under bridges, inside sports arenas, and inside the two-level and partially covered highways in downtown Seattle. Hopefully these things are possible! Also, I see Mt Rainier in one of your screen shots, but the image does not do the mountain justice: Mt Rainier is the jewel in Seattle’s crown on a bright, sunny day.

    Clearly, I am excited about this game!

    • Zenicetus says:

      I live in the boonies outside the Seattle area, and agree it’s just about the perfect area for flight simming (if you ignore the real weather for most of the year, that is). I wonder if they’ve modeled the area as far out as the Olympic mountains and the outer coast, or if they’re just sticking close to Seattle?

      Rainier has always been a problem in flight sims, because it’s so big and can be seen from so far away. X-Plane 9 currently looks pretty bad around Seattle because the mountain doesn’t pop into view until you fly fairly close to the lower slopes. It’s a limitation in the view distance, which I think they’re working on for the next version..

    • Targaff says:

      I’d like to get excited about the crinkly bits, but while a lot of great detail has clearly gone into modelling the city’s environs, I’m a bit bothered that the only geographical crinkly bit i can see is Rainier. The elevation looks very flat, with barely any in evidence for Capitol Hill, and in the shot over the docks the Space Needle looks taller than Queen Anne. It’s quite evident in the hover shot near the Duwamish, too.

      Now granted, some flattening is going to be down to the perspective, and I doubt it’s going to impact on the enjoyment level as far as flying choppers is concerned, but it does strike me as a bit odd to go to so much effort to model a specific area but then not use a better mesh for it.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Sagan says:

    In defence of the developers: That you haven’t seen any trains could be attributed to the terrible public transport system in Seattle. As far as I can tell there are no trains here at all. I think there used to be, because there are railroad tracks everywhere, but all of those are abandoned.
    There are boats all over the place here though…

    • psyk says:

      Take on trains/boats

    • Ruminator says:

      In defense of Seattle, I just rode a train yesterday! Not to mention the light rail, which I have to stop for almost every day.

  13. Saldek says:

    This brings back a few fond memories of flying around Seattle in Flight Unlimited III. Can’t wait to play this.
    Do hope they make the dangling more persuasive, though.

  14. Premium User Badge

    AmateurScience says:

    This looks great!

    Although the last and only helicopter-based game I have ever played was Sim Helicopter (remember that? Anybody? Just me then…), so I appreciate my opinion is less than worthless.

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  17. maball54 says:

    Can anyone recommend some sensibly priced hardware for helicopter sims? I’m sure I could get a stick and pedals together, but the collective seems like it may be a problem.

    Thanks

  18. royaltyinexile says:

    Sorry if it’s a bit late, but we had a thread about sticks with guys far more knowledgeable guys then I, and also opinions form devs too.

  19. bytex666 says:

    I hope it features the blue stealth helicopter from Blue Thunder (1983)
    And that my rookie hat has JAFO on it. And when I ask what JAFO means the cool flight guys will say “Just Another F*** Observer” and high-five while laughing spitefully.

    That helicopter was so silent he could hover outside a hot lady’s apartment window and watch her get dressed.