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LHX Attack Chopper

Genre: Simulation Developer: Electronic Arts Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-2 Released: 1992

Here is what I’m supposed to write about LHX Attack Chopper. That is, assuming I follow the expected script for reviewing such a game in 2020. Presumably, I’d begin by saying that though a polygonal 3D game for the Genesis was a noble idea back in 1992, the hardware clearly wasn’t up to the task. Sure, the game offers multiple camera angles, a “time warp” function to speed up travel, and other courtesies. But bells and whistles aside, the single-digit frame rates make it clear that this was a bad idea to begin with… so any sane individual would stick with Desert Strike et al. for their mission-based attack helicopter needs.

Next, I’m obligated to note that this kind of simulation-oriented game was never a good fit for consoles. Its awkward control scheme more or less requires the player to juggle two different gamepads, and the game’s thick manual and complicated HUD only further overload our synapses. Who could be expected to learn such things?

I’m also expected to opine that a game like this hasn’t “aged well” (whatever that means). After all, we have tons of great, hyper-realistic 3D games now, with intuitive controls, helpful in-game tutorials, and graphics straight out of the cinema. Therefore, a game like LHX Attack Chopper, with its slideshow of primitive flat-shaded polygons, couldn’t possibly be relevant in 2020.

Finally, I’m duty-bound to observe that anyone who really wants to play the game, whether in 1992 or 2020, would be better off playing the DOS version. After all, it has a much higher frame rate and the benefit of keyboard controls, and was commercially available a full two years beforehand in 1990. Sure, it was nice of Electronic Arts to make a console version for us working-class plebes who couldn’t afford a decent PC, but nowadays we’ve got DOSBox.

Thus, the Genesis game is just a downgrade from a superior original, and is best left on the ash heap of history alongside the likes of Hard Drivin’, Steel Talons, and that weird port of Duke Nukem 3D. Right?

And yet, though all this may be true… I enjoyed the heck out of LHX Attack Chopper on the Genesis.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of frustrations – most notably the flaky targeting system that often left me tearing my hair out. And it has a real learning curve: especially at first, it’s not always clear whether you’ve accomplished your mission objectives, or even what those objectives are. But LHX Attack Chopper is a fully-fledged and genuinely engaging Genesis game, not some sad tech demo or period piece. It helps that it’s helicopter-based, since that type of aircraft inherently lends itself to more methodical play, where the low frame rate isn’t a problem. Once you get used to them, the controls offer a level of precision – and a variety of options – that wouldn’t have been possible with a single three-button gamepad. (There is a one-pad control scheme, but I’d recommend sticking with two. With this in mind it’s vaguely possible to play LHX as a pilot/co-pilot twosome, if you’ve got a very tolerant spouse or eager-to-please offspring.)

The plot is standard military-sim stuff, with occasional touches of humor to lighten the mood. You know the drill: blow some things up, rescue people, or whatever else you’re asked to do, be it by night or day, in desert or in jungle. Meanwhile, with five levels of difficulty and a password after every mission, you can choose your level of engagement here: breeze through the game one mission at a time on Very Easy, earn medals by completing a bunch of missions in a row without reloading, or face the game’s most unyielding resistance on Very Hard mode. (I’ve managed the first two, but the third is still a work in progress.)

Besides an unremarkable theme for the main title screen, the sound is strictly diegetic, with gently garbled voice samples from your co-pilot – “Lock and load!”, “Toasted!”, and “Behind you!” to name a few – to punctuate the whirring of your blades and murderous cadences of your chain gun.

If you’re the type of person who spurns manuals, flies into a rage easily, and thinks the history of video games has been one of unequivocal progress, I wouldn’t bother with LHX Attack Chopper: there’s nothing here for you. However, if you enjoy spelunking through the past, and choose to fire up LHX with an open mind (and an open manual), you’ll find a more compelling experience than most of its early-3D peers. It’s a game meant to be played — not just used as a prop (“No SuperFX chip here!”) in the endless, pointless console debates that marred the 1990s and continue to this day.

Ultimately, LHX Attack Chopper accomplished everything it set out to do, and that’s the mark of a fundamentally successful game. It provided a highly playable polygonal helicopter combat simulation, and did so at an affordable price on an affordable platform. There’s real honor in that, but to my pleasant surprise there’s also fun.

SCORE: 7 out of 10

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