Posted on 04 Apr 2020 by Jay Shaw

Comanche

The Defence

Developer: Nukklear
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Genre: Action, Simulator
Platform: PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 12 Mar 2020

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 7200U
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
AMD equivalent
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 35 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 7700
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
AMD equivalent
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: 35 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

Comanche has a big cockpit to fill; the original four Comanche games are well loved amongst the arcade helicopter flight community and the fourth game still finds lots of play to this day. Nukklear Games have taken a big bite of this particular pie and time will tell if they can chew through it to the satisfaction of the community as a whole but for now what we’ve got is pretty entertaining if a little rough around the edges.

Let’s start with a look at the single player mission currently available: As a lone helicopter you must escort a patrol boat through a variety of objectives in a vast canyon network. This involves lots of flying to objective markers and deploying your drone (more on those later) to fly into buildings and press switches, usually opening a large gate to allow passage on to the rest of the mission. The basic gameplay holds up well, it’s exciting to blast down a canyon at 150 km/h with the nose of your chopper barely out of the water but things start to fall apart when enemies enter the equation.

There’s some enemy variety; helicopters, small boats, patrol boats, ships, drones, missile turrets, and humans. They’re all major bullet sponges though. This makes sense for some targets like large ships where you wouldn’t expect a helicopter’s rotary cannon to have much effect but even helicopters can take multiple missiles and upwards of three dozen bullets to put down. Compounding this issue, the AI is incredibly basic and apart from a few boats on set patrol paths the AI doesn’t show any inclination towards tactics or even engaging you with any enthusiasm sometimes. Missile turrets will often fire several missiles that go nowhere near you before firing one that actually targets you even if you hover right in front of them.

Having cannon fodder enemies is fine, 99% of games that involve shooting have them everywhere, but you don’t feel like an elite Comanche pilot undertaking a super dangerous mission into enemy territory when the enemies are presented like a shooting gallery. This would be a tough problem to fix without an overhaul of the AI but in my personal opinion major enemies, helicopters and ships, should display some tactical acumen and attempt to engage you appropriately. I also found myself thinking how much fun it would be to fight another Comanche complete with its abilities instead of the fictional Alouette III style choppers.

I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moment's gone...

Another problem that crops up quickly is repetitiveness; you’ll be flying down a canyon, shoot a couple of things, infiltrate a base to push a button, rinse, repeat. The mission length is appreciated, it clocks in at a fairly hefty 15-20 minutes, but more variety in objectives would help break things up. This might be an area where a more exciting “boss” battle against a ship or enemy helicopter could go a long way to spicing things up. We’ve only got one mission available in the early access build so it’s hard to say how the others will play out but we really hope Nukklear decide to put more of their resources into developing the campaign because there’s three other things we’d love to see too.

First: cooperative play. Everything is better in coop, plain and simple. Either having two helicopters or having a second player take on the role of gunner would be so cool. Secondly: Alternate helicopters to fly. There are five helicopters available in the multiplayer mode but only one in the campaign and that’s a crying shame for replayability. Being forced to switch up tactics by bringing differently equipped player vehicles would also help sell the fiction that you’re an elite working for this awesome elite force which is currently only hinted at and name dropped in dialogue a couple of times. Third: Less linear missions. Flying down the canyons was cool and all but being railroaded into a particular path wasn’t very enjoyable, players should be free to approach the space as they like.

Lastly, in addition to the campaign there are a few flight tutorials that take you through the basic controls and three obstacle courses of rising difficulty. There’s no time limit so you can take your time to learn how the chopper feels and tweak your inputs, as a natural consequence you end up going faster and more confidently through the course so they work well for teaching players to fly. Lastly there’s a shooting range full of enemies that don’t shoot back so you can practice attacking moving targets. Honestly, this one’s a big let down and would be better served as a more comprehensive combat tutorial. Having a command to toggle enemy hostility or spawn in specific targets would have gone a long way to making this tutorial as useful as the other three.

Enough about the solo content though, the game was marketed originally as a multiplayer shooter and that’s where the meat of the game currently is. Right now there are only two Nukklear owned servers and simple matchmaking which can vary greatly in its efficiency at getting players into games. Unfortunately this isn’t helped by the frosty reception the gaming community in general has given Comanche, with many not even giving it a chance, so player counts right now are usually in the low to mid teens. Matches range from 1v1 to 4v4 in scale so even with low player counts it’s not too difficult to find a match if you’re patient and willing to wait three-five minutes.

The incoming damage warning might as well be a party siren for all it matters.

As mentioned previously there are five different choppers to fly in multiplayer: Prototype is your typical Comanche with homing missiles and a machine gun. Horizon takes the role of sniper, packing a powerful railgun but little health. Ghost can turn invisible and has rockets as well as a heavy cannon, favouring ambush attacks due to its low health. Rhino is a shotgun equipped flying tank that can search out cloaked enemies and ram them with rocket boosters. Lastly, Eve takes the role of healer with missiles that can heal friendly targets and a shield that heals itself while making it temporarily invincible.

In addition to the choppers there are also four drones: Circuit is the default with a light machine gun and grenade launcher. Shell-Shock swaps out the machine gun for a powerful short range shotgun. Bug packs a pulse weapon that stuns and decloaks enemies as well as a powerful self destruct function. Finally, Curie is a healer with a short range repair beam and mines that act as detectors for enemy activity.

The combination of chopper and drone makes up your pool of skills for a match. Typically drone weapons are weak against choppers and are best used against other drones but utility drones like Bug and Curie can provide additional functionality to choppers that lack healing or stealth detection ability. In the two game modes present, Blackbox and Infiltration, the drones are primarily used to achieve objectives; picking up a black box and setting or disarming an EMP respectively. This makes for some tense moments as you leave your chopper vulnerable while racing to an objective with your fragile drone.

Blackbox plays very much like team deathmatch with a kill confirmation mechanic. After a helicopter is shot down it will drop a box directly below it. Retrieving an enemy box gives your team a point while retrieving a friendly box denies points to the enemy team. One current Blackbox map largely takes place around towering islands just off the coast so there’s very little cover which makes each drone deployment a mad dash to a box or two before the enemy catch on to what’s happening. The other Blackbox map (which doubles as an Infiltration map) is more land based and offers more opportunities for hiding and ambushing, a solo player in the Ghost can take on two enemies fairly effectively if they’re confident enough to throw their helicopter into steep dives through holes in the terrain at breakneck speed to perform hit and run tactics.

Teamwork makes the dream work, smashing your chopper into a dam doesn't.

Infiltration on the other hand largely borrows from classic Counter Strike style bombing objectives. Two points, inside buildings, are designated as targets and the attacking team must arm an EMP at one of them and then protect it for several minutes until it explodes. The defending team must prevent the plant for several minutes or disarm an EMP to win the round. Team tactics begin to really shine in this mode with distractions and swift communication going a long way towards helping your team win. Again, the Ghost has a large advantage in this mode as it can remain invisible while its drone is deployed so a well timed dash into a building can allow the attackers to arm an EMP before the enemy even know what’s happening.

One of the Infiltration maps is a large dam blocking up an icy river cutting between two mountains. In addition to the indoor areas for the drones and main river and lake area are complex cave systems running under each mountain with various entries and routes through them. Careful control of your helicopter is absolutely necessary to make it through the stalactite infested passages but is rewarded with sneaky alternate entrances to the two objectives. These caves also double as flanking routes or ways for a skilled pilot to lure an aggressive enemy into a disadvantageous position.

Against opponents of near equal skill a multiplayer match in Comanche can come right down to the wire with clutch victories being fairly common. Even when outmatched, a smart player can still turn the tables on their attackers by using the terrain and clouds (which remove your marker from enemy HUD) to their advantage. Equally important are helicopter skills, for example: The fast and heavily armoured Rhino can close with enemies and kill them in one or two shots point blank or act as a patrolling guard with their stealth detecting sonar ability. Similarly the Ghost often plays a pivotal role in ambushing enemies or hunting down choppers that are currently unattended by pilots operating their drones and killing them before the pilot can react.

Admittedly, I was incredibly sceptical that a multiplayer focused Comanche game would be any good and I’m very glad to have been not only proven wrong but fully converted as a believer that this could be something special down the line. That said, with Nukklear having a stranglehold on servers the game has a guillotine blade poised to execute its future. Player hosted servers, either dedicated or listen, and a server browser would go a long way to ensuring the game has a longer life (and would likely take a lot of financial burden off of Nukklear) as would the implementation of private matches against bots. Bots would also be greatly welcomed for evening teams as it’s easy to end up 1v2 or even 1v3 at the moment.

Plenty of caves and indoor areas make flying pretty exciting and makes for some fun tactical opportunities.

Our next criticism comes with a big “but;” map variety at the moment is very much lacking. We have one icy map and two vaguely south-pacific style maps. All of which feature canyons prominently in their design. Something more exciting and unusual would really help, perhaps an Ace Combat style harbour city, subterranean dock/military installation, or battling over objects at sea such as a pair of battleships or oil rigs. Now for the “but” – Comanche is still in early access and while it’s impossible to say what the developers plans are on this front, we can probably at least expect more maps of some kind in the future.

We’d also like to see more variety in choppers and abilities. The interplay between the existing types is solid and enjoyable but also feels quite sparse. We’ve been saying, semi-jokingly, that the game needs an Airwolf crossover right from our first match. It may not be in line with Nukklear’s vision but we also feel like playing into the real Comanche’s role as a scout for an attack helicopter would work well for an additional aircraft: something along the lines of a helicopter that can lock on without line of sight and launch top-attack missiles from long range would be very cool. More ability focused aircraft would be great too; forcing a cooldown or making an enemy chopper’s gun fire erratically for a brief period would open up more tactics to gain the upper hand.

In closing, Comanche is a very enjoyable game and doubly so with friends along for the ride. What’s on offer right now is a little sparse but quite well polished and the easy to use controls make flying a helicopter in crazy air battles a cinch. Nukklear have been attentive and interact with their community while listening to feedback so we hope Comanche can evolve into a full-blooded heir to the venerable series. What we have right now amounts to a few unsteady steps in the right direction and Comanche is well worth a look if you find the stuffiness of a sim to be off-putting and just want to take a high tech heli for a spin.

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