By Nate Adcock on Sat, 03/07/2009
Hellfire by Astraware and Pazzazz games will take you back to the cold war era, when the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. were locked into an escalation of military might. The top helicopter gunships of the day were the Mi-24 Hind (Soviet) and AH-64 Apache (American), and just about anyone from that era is familiar with the ferocious firepower of these helicopters. The Hind has a longer history and more varied operational capability than the AH-64, so it's not exactly a fair comparison. The Apache is an attack helicopter, in the truest sense of the word, while the Hind is a combination gunship and troop transport that could also handle a 500kg bomb load. The original WinMo Hellfire game came out around 2004, and was dubbed Hellfire: Apache vs. Hind which was a little misleading in that it sounded like direct air-to-air fighting between the 2 helicopters, but in fact referred to the fact you could choose to pilot either a Hind or Apache helicopter. The game was fun, and nicely executed in my opinion, including both direct action and a bit of strategy in order to make it through the progressively harder missions (leaving aside the fact that picking up prisoners in your Apache is ludicrous). After pulling out my original iPAQ for comparison, I noted some improvements (and a few detractors) in a couple areas in the new Hellfire iPhone version, but the game is still very cool. The AH-64 has been updated to the AH-72 Mamba, and the Hind to the MI-28, but the gameplay is essentially the same.
Go to iTunes, and search for Hellfire (or use the App store on your device) to install/purchase Hellfire, or go here to learn more and view a video of it in action. The total size is about 9.4M, which should DL/install pretty quick if you have a high-speed network. The game is compatible with both iPhone and iPod Touch running 2.0 and higher software. I had no issues installing the game, but had a few quirky problems at run time. I recommend doing a restart (hold down power/home for an extended period until you see the Apple boot screen) of your unit if you encounter problems.
Choose Your Fight
The first step is to choose between the helicopter models. There are adv/disantages to choosing one gunship platform over another in terms of firepower. Both 'copters have the same 3 weapons types. A minigun, rocket launcher, and guided missiles. Essentially you could say all weapons are "guided", because when you come close enough to any target, an icon locks onto it on the screen. When you depress the on-screen firing stud, whatever weapon you choose will fire at and likely strike the target unless you lose lock by drifting off to one side or go out of range, etc. The original WinMo version does the same thing, and the automatic aiming is understandable. There are plenty of threats to worry about when you ingress into the target area, such that you will likely be grateful for not having to line up every shot...you'll be busy flying and trying to not get shot down yourself! The difference in the weapon types are more in terms of killing power. The minigun, for example, is excellent for taking out any target type, ground or air, but requires a longer sustained attack to destroy an enemy (exposing you to longer periods of return fire). Rockets, like the minigun, are also rapid-fire in nature (by holding the firing stud continuously) but have more punch. They are also in shorter supply (though the Hind has a larger loadout of Rockets than the Apache). The AGM (missiles) are one-punch killers, but you get only 4 of them on the Hind, and 8 on the Apache, so you must use them wisely.
The game runs pretty smoothly on the iPhone, and the graphics are of course better than on my old QVGA iPAQ model, so no sense even comparing the 2 in this department. The controls are managed by using the acceleromter on the iPod/iPhone. You tilt the phone left/right forward and back to move in the desired direction. You can adjust the sensitivity, which I did, but still found it was difficult to keep the aircraft from moving forward, unless I practically tilted the game up to where I could barely see it. I looked for a tilt "calibration" capability, which similar games I have played included, but found none. It can be very dicy landing accurately because of this (i.e. when you neeed to land on a small ship to drop off rescued prisoners, for example). I crashed at least a couple of times at the end of a mission, because I was low on life and smacked the side of the ship. The iPhone version of this game adds the ability to raise and lower the altitude during flight, which the WinMo version I have does not. This is useful as in some terrain or around target areas you can sneak in below the terrain and do some recon before commiting to your attack run. The scenary is pretty well drawn, and the sky looks like actual photographs of real cloud decks, etc.
It's fun just flying around the terrain sometimes, but there is a game boundary that limits "field trips" that stray too far outside the mission zone. To select between weapon types, a small toggle just above and to the right of the firing stud button is provided. I found that I would sometimes press the wrong button in the heat of battle, which would result in a weapons change when I needed to be firing, or waste precious ammunition when I needed to switch weapons. Along the top are several status indicators (life%, replays, etc), and a map indicating your location with radar positions of the friendly/enemy units. When you start the game, you have 100% life on your helicopter. Taking hits will bleed this down eventually to 0%, resulting in crash and destruction of the chopper as well as mission failure. You can exit a mission by closing the game, and it will be saved, but if you abandon the game or the mission fails (and you have no remaining choppers) you cannot go back to the same level. You must start at level 1 again. After you have passed missions in campaign mode, they will be unlocked in single mission mode, which are the 2 types of gameplay available.
Missions and strategy
When you first run the game, choose your gunship, and start the first mission, a mission brief will display the objectives. Each mission will typically include multiple onjectives in order to complete the level (the game has sixteen levels for each gunship type and 4 difficulty settings). Hellfire doesn't tell you this, but you are not required to do the objectives in a correct order. For instance, the mission brief may describe blowing up a ground-based radar facility, then destroying several enemy ships, and finally attacking a bunker facility (and rescuing/returning prisoners). You might find that after you hit the radar and ships, your life percentage is down to like 10%, which means you will likely die trying to take the bunkers. During your mission, an arrow on the ground will mark the direction where you must travel to take on the next objective (see below)...
...Pay attention during the briefing and note where the bunkers (where prisoners are located) are on the map, as there is nothing preventing you from going and attacking them first...
Here's why you might attack them at least second (if not first). Rescuing prisoners and returning them to home base gets you back life points. So maybe you attack the bunkers first (and let the prisoners run around outside on the ground) while you go hit the bigger objectives. If you find yourself at any time running low on life points, simply go back and grab the prisoners and return them to home base to get some life points back. The PPC game used to also replenish weapons like rockets and missiles when you returned home (it seemed random which weapon got reloaded). I did not confirm that the iPhone version also does this, but it would be a nice addition. Some mission profiles actually require you to escort fellow ground or air units to a certain point to engage the enemy (which is one of the more attractive aspects of the gameplay), so this strategy doesn't always fit the scenario. At the end of each mission a debrief screen also indicates your time elapsed, kill stats, and prisoners rescued.
Attack and Evade
All strategy aside (and even though Astraware bills this as a strategy game), the game is about going in and totally destroying the target areas and completing each mission. Let's face it, it's an action game.. Targets can run from ship-based platforms guarded by air defense missiles and anti-air (and other gunships) to enemy land bases. Some objectives, though for example, require you to take out a moving column of tanks or enemy air that are encroaching on your own base of operations (note the column of tanks approaching from the right below).
Some of the missions require you to start firing as soon as the chopper is in your hands (as your base is being attacked). The land-based objectives are usually a square area of territory guarded by tanks, other copters, anti-air cannon, with bunkers located in the center (which also have to be destroyed in order to free prisoners). The enemy copters typically patrol at the very edges of the target area, and likely some of the first resistence you will meet.
The tanks and ship-based missile launchers are probably the biggest threat. A hit from one of these platforms knocks out a good 10% chunk of life.
The tanks like the enemy copters are mobile, so you can miss when firing on them. This is critical to note when wasting a precious AGM. The tanks simply follow a regular patrol circuit around the enemy compound. The choppers do a more back and forth sweep of an area, but will turn to engage if you get close enough. The tanks and anti-air can fire in any direction, but tend to sweep. So a good strategy after buzzing the target area is to keep moving in an arc away from the angle of fire if possible. When coming straight in on a run, it is a good idea to veer from side to side. As you progress through the missions, they become more elaborate/challenging to complete without being shot down. You get 3 helicopters (or lives) to start with, and bonus lives are earned as you progress.
Hellfire for iPhone or Touch is a worthy addition to the combat arsenal, but the game could be made better with a few gameplay enhancements. The missions are essentially the same as the older WinMo version, with no new concepts or missions types added. It would be neat to go up against, for example, more varied targets like actual infantry and mobile assault vehicles and/or fortified bases of operation, like a compound with walls and towers, or in bad weather conditions (limited visibility or gusty winds)--Maybe some new mission profiles would help as well--like search and destroy missions from an OH helicopter type, where you try to get close to a compound without being detected and then help attacking units/aircraft to paint targets. An all out air-to-air battle would be another cool addition as well. I had some issues with Hellfire after installing it. A couple of times, the helicopter (at mission start) simply went into a circle that I couldn't correct, and forced me to reload the game. Mostly, it worked very well, and I'm glad to have this game available finally on my Touch, so go check it out. Hellfire gets a thumbs up, but could still use a few updates. The next game I plan on reviewing is an awesome first-person shooter called Brothers in Arms by Gameloft. Any developers out there trying to compete in this genre should take a serious look at this game (BIA) as an example. It is truly top-notch!