Technical stuff: I used DegeVoodoo 2 wrapper to get this game working with Windows 10 on a 2011 HP laptop. Anything modern or beefed up I can’t say if it’ll work or not.
I was first introduced to Comanche 3 when I only about 8 years old when it was initially released for Windows 95/DOS in 1997. Comanche Gold is the improved windows dedicated 1998 re-release with all the expansions. With this game I fell in love with what is the sexiest piece of rotor-wing to ever beat the air into submission. Fast forward only 7 years later and this ultra futuristic, stealthy and advanced recon helicopter program would be canceled after just two prototypes. It’s ultimate fate due to military budget cuts and what I believe to be 70s stealth design principles that were nearing obsolescence, roles that simply didn’t apply (or could be fulfilled adequately by current platforms) and lack of ability to compete with the unmanned technology swiftly coming over the horizon. Thankfully the game series remains.
Seeing as I hadn’t played this game in over 20 years when I found a tutorial to get it working I was excited. Taking the hardware limitations into account, what Comanche Gold offers today is still a very fun, yet fairly complex and challenging at times. 60+ missions are spread out across a half dozen or so campaigns. There’s no context for the reason of each campaign, they’re merely scenarios related by locale and subject matter. No drama, just straight sim. Each mission comes with an MFD text briefing and a default weapons load out that you can change before beginning but it doesn’t go overboard. The ease of getting into the action definitely fed the dozens of hours I spent playing it.
The missions themselves almost approach action game territory but with just enough severe consequences for carelessness that it keeps it to “tactical” levels of action. You’ll attack air-defense installations, escort friendly convoys, call in artillery strikes, run actual reconnaissance routes, and annihilate enemy armor columns. The sheer number of environments and scenarios means you won’t be auto-piloting your way through these missions the first few times you play them.
Compared to modern graphics, Comanche can’t compete using voxel based graphics (something Minecraft is known for) but is still far more than playable. The Comanche itself is rendered faithfully in all its slim, angular glory. Enemy vehicles are also surprisingly well rendered though explosions and fire effects are sprite based. The voice acting is purely functional: grainy radio, straightforward down to earth like real military communications. The biggest letdown to the audio is probably the music: MIDI synthesized tracks that are short, repeat fairly often and venture into cartoonishly simple and annoying. Turning it down to background levels keeps it tolerable.
From what I remember this game can/could use a HOTAS and peddle set up back in the day, but will be equally well served today by something as basic as a Logitech 3D Pro with rudder twist. What prompted me to seek a way to play it is the dissatisfaction I got from Comanche 4 on Steam. It was just too quick and arcady. Cartoonish almost. Not so with Gold. The Comanche feels nimble without feeling weightless and even with altitude/hover hold, skimming over sometimes rough, voxel rendered ground, through m valleys and around trees is challenging without being overly difficult.
While flying you have full control over most of the helicopter’s functions: Opening and closing bay doors, ejecting stub wings to maintain your stealth profile, engine startup and shutdown, team mate commands, landing gear, varying multi-function displays, landing and reloading at re-arming points. You can also suffer system-specific damage if you nose into the ground or take too much fire. Damage to your rotary cannon means it may fire unreliably if at all, damage to the main and tail rotors means less control, shaking and shimmying and more difficulty flying effectively. Damage to your airframe means you’re more detectable.
While you have supreme control of your own aircraft, the limited teammate commands leave much to be desired as does the friendly AI. Should you decide to fly high up, if an enemy missile system is in range it won’t hesitate to nail you. Meanwhile you can tell your teammate to directly attack a defenseless structure only for them to start spinning in a circle, or not seem to know where their trigger is.
Overall though I’m glad I finally get to relive this wonderful experience. I often question if the games I played during childhood really were as good as I remembered. Having asked that of Comanche Gold, I can say while the graphics take some getting used to again, the rest of the experience really can’t be paralleled by modern sims in terms of combining action, accessibility and yet being complex enough to provide a sense of accomplishment as you weave your way through low valleys and successfully ambush a column of enemy armor. I still recommend it 23 years later.
If you’re looking to give this game a try, eBay would probably be your best bet to get the original disks.
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More about Gaming NewsPost: "Comanche Gold: the Last “True” Helicopter “Sim”" specifically for the game Gaming News. Other useful information about this game:
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