In mid-February fledgling developer and publisher ‘JetCatGames’ spun onto our screens with their first rotary release – ‘Heliborne’. Players will be able to fly a vast number of helicopters from the 1960s and beyond, across a range of maps and mission scenarios. Sounds cool right? Of course it sounds cool. Flying combat across decades of rotary aviation history – ok the concept isn’t entirely unique (*cough* War Thunder *cough*) but carry on reading to find out what Heliborne does right, and what it does oh so sadly wrong.
Let’s start with the positives. The biggest one being that it’s in early access and therefore subject to major changes. The game features two modes as of now: a skirmish mode, and a domination-style battle. The concept is great because I think quite a few PC gamers are fed up with most of the current FPS titles out there, so Heliborne is a fresh way of presenting a struggle for superiority. Your objective is to land near a capture point to release some ground troops who will capture it – flying away cackling to yourself as you don’t have to do the dirty work.
In Heliborne you can even take on the role of a specialised chopper pilot, providing reconnaissance for your team, chasing away other ‘copters in air-to-air combat, or blowing up every mother on the ground. All of this across three maps (so far) based on historical conflicts!
The number of helicopters in this game is quite impressive, and the detailed modelling put unto each one is top-notch. Having spent a few hours hovering around in various different choppers though, I couldn’t find much difference in the way they handled, or the type of weapons they carried. You’d expect some of the bulkier models to take more rotary speed before taking to the skies, but they seemed to shoot upwards as if they were a much smaller craft! Despite this the actual control layout is standard for arcade-style flight games on PC – with choppers showing a smooth response to player input.
Unfortunately the refreshing idea that is Heliborne becomes weaker here, as after several sessions of play I am yet to find a server that is anywhere near full. When you log into the game it asks you to choose a region – EU, US Central or Australia. I have played on all three regions and could only see a maximum of two servers in each, all of which had between 0 and 4 players. This was the case at all times of day, which is a great shame because it prevented me from getting into the meat of the game. No matter how fun a game is, if nobody is playing then it will score low on the enthral-o-meter.
The promotional media across the JetCatGames website makes Heliborne look fantastic. Crisp textures which boast fine details stack up next to impressive lighting and shadows. To be quite honest though, in-game it doesn’t always turn out like a graphical glutton’s proverbial chocolate cake. For instance I flew my chopper full throttle into the side of a gargantuan mountain, and it just stopped dead without taking any damage. Yet if I eased said chopper down onto the surface of the water, it erupted into a fireball as if spat from the mouth of hell itself!
Maybe I’ve overreacted a bit here, but hasn’t gaming moved on from the days of unnecessary explosions – I guess my point is why bother making the game look realistic if you’re then going to blow us up for the silliest of reasons? This is a potential downfall for Heliborne, they’re at a fork in the road here: go the arcade route, or the realism route. Right now they’re simply flying over both and I’m afraid that detracts from the enjoyment for me.
With a little more direction and fleshing out to be done, Heliborne could start to realise it’s potential as a fun and off-the-wall multiplayer concept. It would be great to see a single player or a challenge mode added to the perhaps? I’d also love to see a bigger difference between heli types, both in terms of how they handle and the onboard weapon systems. For now though the lack of a solid player base is what’s grounding Heliborne. In the next few months as new content is released and more people make a purchase, hopefully Heliborne will get the clearing for takeoff that it so desperately needs.
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