Reading the June 1990 issue of Computer and Videogames brought back so many good memories. Forget the World Cup, forget the music and the very dubious fashion. No, June’s issue contained a number of corking reviews: the timeless Loom, the forgotten gem Persian Gulf Inferno, and the helicopter flight sim LHX Attack Chopper. Gaining a heady 97%, this was the game of the month for me and I read and re-read the review to savour the highly detailed 3D graphics and lush descriptions of the game provided by what was one of the best games magazines ever printed. The review did, however, contain one hefty caveat. This was PC only. And PC in 1990 was a very expensive proposition. Yeah, you could buy an Amstrad for not much more than an Amiga 500 but spec wise, if you wanted to be anywhere near the forefront of PC gaming, you had to spend a grand at least. Some things never change. Sigh.
Anyway, it was with great interest that just over a year later, and in another magazine (Mean Machines, which had outgrown its CVG parents), LHX Attack Chopper received another review, this time for the Sega Megadrive (Genesis) where it received 89%. Whilst I still didn’t have a PC (but I was treasuring the Amiga 500), I had received a Megadrive the previous Christmas and so it was that with some hard earned pocket money, I ordered LHX from Special Reserve (remember them???).
Now just to be clear, some corners were cut with the move to console, most notably the roster of machines. The PC version gave you the AH-64A Apache, the UH-60 Blackhawk, the LHX and the V-22 Osprey. The console version cut that to the Apache and LHX but given what they managed to achieve on the Megadrive, that is a fair trade.
You start the game by selecting your the aircraft and then the difficulty. That last bit has a lovely touch: the face of your pilot changes with each difficulty level and with the hardest, he looks terrified! There are three locales, Libya, Vietnam and Central Europe, which are accessed by playing through the game in order and your progress is saved via password.
The missions themselves are varied and as long as you can handle the presentation, you can lose yourself for hours in here which is handy as some of the medals you can earn can only be gained by a few hours solid playing. The game, however, is happy to steal your time from you as once you get the hang of the controls (more on that in a mo), you’ll be captured by the very addictive gameplay. The easiest difficulty level is there to get you started and the harder difficulties really do give you a work out and even add to the experience. Indeed, the game is rather tactical in outlook. Yes, you can go in all guns blazing but most levels require some thought and planning, and it’s nice to see such depth in what could have been an almost arcade like experience (looking at you, Steel Talons). Whether it’s a straight forward “destroy this here” or a more complicated POW rescue, LHX has enough variety to cater for all tastes. As long as you like helicopter games, obviously.
Speaking of the controls, the developers had realised that the extensive PC controls could not be entirely mapped to a four button joypad so offer the player the opportunity to use a second pad to add that touch of complexity back into the game. It’s a neat touch and works well. That is not to say the game doesn’t work with just one pad, but some players might find the use of two easier to handle. It also means that you don’t have to learn the finger gymnastics of one pad control.
Comment must also be made of the manual. It’s detailed and packed with stats and hints, explaining how enemy weapons work, the differences between the two aircraft’s cockpits and much more. Oh, how I miss game manuals!
Graphically, LHX is dated. True, the CVG PC review and MM Megadrive reviews both complimented the game on its outstanding graphics (though noting the console version, whilst mostly smooth, was a bit juddery at times) but playing today, the game looks basic. However, think about what the developers were able to achieve. The Megadrive was not a 3D console and it’s telling that there was never an Amiga version of LHX, the closest computer equivalent to the console’s architecture. I have seen YouTube footage of LHX running on an 8086 and it’s not pretty. A decent 286 will do the game justice but as noted above, compared to what an Amiga cost in 1990, that would not have been an option for many. The best that I can say for the Megadrive version is that it runs. Sometimes reduced to a hobble, but it can run.
Sound is basic but functional. There is some digitsied speech but that is sparse, memory considerations taken into account. The aircraft sounds are monotonous and the effects are ok.
It’s the whole package that counts here and although cuts have been made to fit LHX onto a cartridge, the end result is about as good as you can expect. It’s never going to be considered a looker, though for me, there is something clean and simple about 3D graphics of the period. The textured 3D of later years (until they got the tech right) just looks messy and quite confusing. That and texture warping. But anyway, with LHX, I think it deserved its plaudits back in the day and as a time waster to get into now, you could do far worse.
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With less than smooth graphics and extremely basic sound, it is the gameplay that makes LHX Attack Chopper still fun to play today, as long as you can deal with the controls.