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Comanche 4

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NovaLogic
Developer: NovaLogic
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Action/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

Comanche 4 sports a very top-end graphics engine. As such, nothing older than a GeForce 3 will let you crank out the best that it can push, and I doubt seriously that even the GF3 can top it off. This game has some serious power behinds its 3D engine, and it shows. The environments are absolutely massive, ranging from rolling hills to steep cliffs and even islands in the ocean. There are lots of trees and buildings dotting the landscapes, and plenty of enemy vehicles and flying things to blow up (or help, if they're good). I'd be lying if I said that the models were accurate, because I'm no war-machine buff; however, they seem pretty accurate to me. The explosions are downright gorgeous, with bits flying everywhere and a really cool mushroom cloud effect when you destroy anything with lots of gasoline. Very cool.

I did, however, have a number of display issues with the game, especially with the settings turned up. Instead of degrading gracefully by giving me a bad framerate, the game tended to discolour textures and the like. It was frustrating, but solvable by turning the settings down lower. Indeed, it's somewhat amusing to watch the installer tell you the highest settings it'll let you turn on; I suppose they don't want people burning out their video cards, but it seems a little 'authoritative parent'.

The game's sound is quite solid. There's no real music to speak of, which is understandable; in a game like this, sound cues are just about necessary, and listening carefully for the sounds of different engines in the background can be the difference between life and death. You'll hear the warning chirrup of your Comanche more than you ever wanted to, but it's supposed to be irritating, knocking you out of any reverie you may be in and forcing you to check for bogeys. The voice acting is solid, even if some of the actors sound like repeats; they're never overblown, and although I wish that there was more 'radio chatter' I suppose that my desire for realism has been outpaced by my desire for screams as helos crash and burn. Er.


And if it's helicopters crashing and burning you want, Comanche 4 offers up plenty of that--both the enemy smashing into the ground and, occasionally, yourself. There's plenty of other targets, of course, and a rather far-reaching single-player campaign is sure to keep your interest for a while. And while I had some serious technical issues with the multiplayer, it will undoubtedly enthrall those of you into dogfighting with real live opponents.

The first thing to note is that Comanche 4 does not try to be a real 'sim'. Indeed, the default configuration is mouse-and-keyboard, with WASD-style movement controls. This seems a bit incongrous at first, but NovaLogic aimed for a more arcadey, fast-paced feel for Comanche 4, and it definitely works. Hard-core sim fans will be disappointed that they're no longer required to balance all of the controls for proper flight; those of us who like to just fly around and shoot stuff will be pleased.

That's not to say that the game doesn't require more finesse than your standard FPS. Helicopters, after all, have never been easy to control, and even the simplfied scheme presented in Comanche 4 requires quite a bit of getting used to. It's easy to smash into the ground if you're going too fast, and utilizing the cushion of air that surrounds the helo whenever you're flying low is an important skill. Your weapons are all entertaining, ranging from the requisite 20mm cannon (which, unsurprisingly, is one of the best weapons in the game) to the dumb-fire Hydras to the laser-guided Hellfire missiles. And, of course, everyone's favourite air-to-air rocket, the Stinger. Using the weapons is usually painfully simple; the Stinger and Hellfires are both guided missiles, the onboard computer calculates where you need to fire the Hydra to hit your target, and the cannon is also controlled by the computer. It definitely makes the game easier to play, which is nice, because sometimes the flak comes fast and furious.

Comanche 4 sports a half-dozen campaigns across the globe. Each campaign generally tells a story, although you really only get the 'plot' from the briefings and level intros. The missions range from standard blow-stuff-up challenges to escorts and everything in between; you've seen the mission types before, and they work as well here as anywhere else. Actually executing the missions is more challenging than your standard action game, though; they get tough fairly quick, and the Comanche can't take as much damage as you'd like it to. This requires a lot of concentration, quick movements to keep the enemy fire from hitting you, and occasionally some luck.

The 'action game' influence can be seen in the existence of automagic repair points throughout the levels, which rearm and repair you instantly; the lock-on is also quite simple to use, but the game intelligently loses the trace behind buildings and mountains, keeping you from being completely cheap.

Along with the single-player missions, Comanche 4 sports a multiplayer engine that can handle up to sixteen people at once. It uses NovaLogic's own game server, which unfortunately gave me a good deal of trouble when I tried to use it. The game itself supports Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Cooperative Play; I would think that co-op on a LAN would be damn fine indeed.


While you can choose your difficulty when you start a new game, even the Normal difficulty level is quite challenging fairly shortly into the campaigns. You are usually vastly outnumbered, and the ability to run back to base and heal fully isn't as all-powerful as you think it'd be. You can be tooling along, blowing up distant SAMs with your Hydras, when suddenly three or four helos will pop up and start shooting you. Guess what? You're dead. Unlike the Quakes and the Unreal Tournaments, the Comanche goes down quick if not carefully guarded, and it's easy to blow up three-quarters of the way through a mission and be forced to play it again. It's rare that you don't want to play it again, though, which is a good sign; the enemies almost always appear in the same locations as well, which can help your planning.

Game Mechanics:

Comanche 4, by default, uses a mouse-and-keyboard combo that works surprisingly well. There are a lot of buttons on the keyboard that you'll be using, but they're easy enough to learn. The game even ships with an overlay for the F-keys, although it doesn't fit my ergonomic keyboard. You can also use a flightstick and throttle, of course, but the fast action of Comanche 4 almost lends itself to standard FPS controls more than traditional 'sim' controls. The game's menus are nice and snappy, and load times are fairly minimal. I must point out that I had serious issues with the in-game browser used for the Multiplayer feature, only getting it to work well once; it seems that a simpler login, such as that found in the Blizzard games, would be more useful.

Comanche 4 is an action game, and a fun one at that. It doesn't do anything particularly earth-shattering; you fly around in a helicopter, blow stuff up, and save people. But it is entertaining, and the graphics are good enough to show off those brand-new video cards on the market. Technical issues bring it down a bit, and the fact that the game is--in the end--a 'run and gun' of a different sort takes away a bit of the 'gee whiz' factor, but Comanche 4 is definitely an entertaining romp, one that action fans will definitely enjoy, as will sim fans who can put aside the need for hard-core realism and have fun clicking a mouse at some things and blowing them up.

Did I mention the sweet, sweet explosions?

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win98/Me/2K/XP, P2 450, 2x AGP 3D accelerator with 16MB RAM, 128MB RAM, 250MB HD space, 4x CD-ROM, sound card, keyboard, mouse

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Command and Conquer: Yuri's Revenge Windows The Corporate Machine

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated