Being one of PC Gamer's wargame and simulation chaps, I get to use words like 'realism', 'Spitfire' and 'Panzer' an awful lot. Sometimes I glance up at my bowing Noun Shelf and see the thick layer of dust clinging to terms like 'plot', 'character' and 'romance' and feel a bit (hang on, it's up here somewhere) melancholy .
Take On Helicopters has blown away thatmelancholy. Combining flight sim, adventure and a little dash of business, it's the most refreshing flying game I've played in years. I may, courtesy of an FSX or Search & Rescue 4 sortie, have delivered SWAT teams, skycraned cargo, and medevaced accident casualties before, but I'm pretty sure I've never combined aviation with flirtation or interrogation, or spent inter-mission intermissions in a 3D hangar overseeing helo upgrades, repaints and repairs.
The story revolves around Larkin Aviation – a struggling Seattle chopper operator – and relies heavily on dialogue for propulsion. A lot of that chat takes place in the air. Usually, your ears are absorbing plot developments while your eyes and hands are busy making sure your speeding rotorcraft avoids the myriad structures and trees that cluster the game's handsome Washington State map.
As some of the voice-acting is more school play than Broadway, and a few of the plot twists shakier than a Huey with a bent swashplate, having that element of exhilarating distraction is a real blessing at times. Bohemia Interactive can definitely do plausible helo physics, ravishing scenery and fresh play concepts, but I'm still not entirely convinced by their storytelling skills.
Take On Helicopters' narrative starts intriguingly, but rapidly autorotates towards absurd anticlimax. Skip optional commercial and government contracts and the ten-mission career will barely see you through a day's solid gaming. In an Arma spin-off it just means you find yourself messing around with the super-powerful editor and sooner rather than later.
Now I've discovered what the deeply sinister Vrana Corp's deeply sinister CEO was up to (SPOILER! something sinister) I honestly can't see myself ever replaying the story missions. What I will be doing on a regular basis however, is strolling out of the Larkin Aviation hangar, clambering aboard one of the sim's three types of flyables, and heading off for a spot of high speed, low altitude lunacy.
Ironically, the best thing about Take On Helicopters isn't that it breathes new life into sims by adding drama. It shines by capturing the visceral buzz of flight better than its starchier peers. To weave between Seattle's glittering skyscrapers and skim its bustling wharves and forestcapped hills is to experience PC aviation at its most joyful.