When Bohemia Interactive announced that they were going to tackle the flight simulator genre, they had my interest piqued, but it was a reserved interest. They are a company known for creating ultra realistic simulation, but their focus was nowhere near flight sims. In fact, the flight models in the ARMA franchise had always been a bitter pill to swallow. I liked that they were in there, but trying to fly a helicopter with a mouse and keyboard isn’t exactly kosher.

Nevertheless, I kept my eye on its development. They just seemed to be a bunch of folks practically honor-bound to deliver realism balanced by fun. When I booted up the game for the first time and played through the training missions, I knew they had something special here.

I am a flight sim junkie – I have been since the early days of Microsoft Flight Simulator. I remember fondly playing the Jane’s sims that had their heyday back in the late 90’s. I’ve logged many hours in various versions of X-Plane. Heck I even flew around for hours in Flight Unlimited. Since Microsoft’s Flight Sim X has been out for years and X-Plane 10 is still under development, there has been a long hard drought for civilian flight simulation.

Enter Take On Helicopters.

When asked “Why Helicopters?”, Bohemia essentially stated: They’re awesome. They wanted to give themselves one piece of their gigantic and daunting “Combined-Arms” warfare engine and focus on it completely giving it the most fidelity possible. I know that they worked with many real, working pilots during the course of development. I’ve never flown a helicopter myself, but I have ridden in one. From my experience, in this game everything just feels right.

Since I am in the minority of flight simulator junkies by not having a flight license, I have to rely on that feeling of reality. Take On: Helicopters definitely feels like I would imagine a helicopter feeling. Like something barely holding on to control, willing the air below it to hold it steady for a few more seconds.

I have flown helos in other flight sims before and I’ve always enjoyed the completely new dynamic they bring to the table. During installation, I was growing more excited while dusting off my trusty Logitech G940 Flight System. After tweaking the graphical settings, I started the game and jumped right into training.

There are about a dozen missions, each getting progressively more difficult and covering progressively more advanced maneuvers. During training, your co-pilot is a very calm instructor talking you through the basics. I did appreciate the extra words of caution when I was off a little bit, or even being able to scare your passengers when doing something particularly stupid. That said, although the training takes you through the baby steps very well, expect to crash and burn several times as you’re getting used to the touchy little training helo.

One thing I did appreciate is a pseudo-start-up sequence. You can turn on the battery, prime the starter, set the engine to idle, warm it up and then set the throttle to full before you can take off. This extra bit was fun just because I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. If you like, you can skip the whole process in a quick auto-start as well.

There were a couple minor hiccups during the training missions. I was completely unaware that you could use the mousewheel for the buttons in the cockpit. During the very first start-up and shut-down training I couldn’t figure out how to set my throttle to idle since just left clicking on that made me fail the mission. Later I figured out using the mouse wheel is necessary when manipulating any switch that has more than two settings. Also, I have two words: Auto Rotation. This is the bane of any helo pilot, mastering it is a necessity. When you lose power in a helo, you don’t have those wonderful things called wings to hold you up on a nice glide approach. I simply couldn’t master auto rotation in the short time since I’ve started playing it. This is one of those times I wish the tutorial had a video or something to show you how to do it first.

After I completed enough of the tutorial stuff, I went ahead and jumped right into the meat and potatoes. Take On: Helicopters is unique among modern flight sims in that it has a story based campaign. You take on the persona of one of the Larkin Brothers, the heirs to their late father’s helicopter charter business. As of the time of this writing I’ve only completed a little over a dozen missions, but in that time the variety of flying mixed with a decent story keep things constantly fresh. There is intrigue in Puget Sound, and it seems like the Larkin Brothers are right in the middle of it. In those few missions, I’ve searched for whales, picked up high-powered CEOs and helped secure financial backing for the future of Larkin Aviation.

The other brother is a war vet, he talks about Operation Arrowhead like he was in the shit. I liked that part, how this is part of a cohesive Bohemia Interactive world. Throughout the normal campaign, you can take part in flashback missions from the war as your brother. He flew helos in all sorts of situations that take things into a wildly different path of the Seattle missions. You can easily skip them, as they only come up during conversations with your brother in between flights. In fact, I skipped the first one on accident without realizing what was happening.

The main reason why I skipped that conversation is the voice acting. Holy hell it’s bad. The only thing it has going for it is it’s so bad that it grows on you. I felt like the programmers of the game themselves, along with their family, all got together with a microphone and knocked the script out. After a time, I stopped thinking the voice work was terrible, it just blended into the background as I was sweating trying to keep my helo steady over a target on a choppy day. In the end, the voice acting is a means to an end. It propels the story forward and the story exists to do new and cool stuff in a helicopter.

Graphically, the game is right up there with ARMA II. I was able to play it at a resolution of 5760×1080 at high settings without issues. I have had experience tweaking ARMA’s settings, and that helped. Bohemia’s engine is slightly more difficult than others to get looking perfect and running well, but it does give you options no other game does as well. The area of Seattle is beautifully rendered, and although here I don’t have the entire world to fly about in, I don’t really mind so much. This decision means that I start recognizing landmarks when I’m flying home, or if my mission takes me someplace near where I’ve been before I know what to expect.

The flight models are superb. During my training and the first missions, I got so used to the lighter helo, that when I eventually started flying the medium model it was almost like I had to learn from scratch. I messed around with the heavy model in free flight mode as well and the learning curve was similar. I quite enjoyed getting a helo down into a difficult to land spot, maybe even on uneven terrain. These kinds of decisions seem like what a day-to-day helicopter pilot has to deal with. Any sling-loading mission also brought a new level of difficulty. The precision of flight this requires does take a lot of practice.

My test system is considered high end by some, but I was able to get excellent frames per second performance. I never noticed a significant drop running the resolution and 3D resolution at full at 5760×1080. All the extra options were set to high. I wish I did have some head tracking solutions, like TrackIR, as flying a helicopter and landing or hovering keeping your head on a swivel is necessary. I wouldn’t recommend anyone play this game without a HOTAS system, or at least a joystick with all three units (stick, throttle, rudder) built into one.

Test Rig

EVGA X58 FTW – Intel 920 @ 3.8GHz
6GB of Corsair DDR3 memory
2 x EVGA GTX 570 graphics cards in NVIDIA Surround
Logitech G940 Flight System

Overall, I really enjoy Take On Helicopters. It’s a worthy addition to the Bohemia Interactive family, as well as realistic flight simulators everywhere. I highly recommend anyone with a love of them to give this a try as you won’t be disappointed. I hope more campaigns are added to Take On: Helicopters as I would love to explore more areas and more crazy situations. I would also love to see Take On move into fixed wing aircraft and see what else they can do. Hopefully this is just the beginning.

Screenshots