Best known for arming players with all the tools of modern warfare, Bohemia Interactive’s latest project has put away its combat fatigues and slipped the player into the shoes of a civilian helicopter pilot. Launching from an overarching storyline about a struggling family business and a shady corporation, you’ll help out at hostage situations, train paramilitary contractors in low level insertions, winch cargo from a sunken ship and take sight-seeing tours of Seattle, earning money for each activity that allows you to buy and outfit your choppers as you like them. With a massive editing suite, multiplayer and a never-ending range of user-created single scenarios, there has never been a flight-sim quite so powerful as this.

Story, dialogue and character interaction sit at the heart of the Take On experience and the strong combination of writing and gameplay are fundamental to the success of the title. You’ll see the story through the eyes of youngest Larkin brother, Tom, and during your tour of duty you’ll become embroiled with the mysterious Vrana Corp and their shady CEO Mr Hayward. Supporting you are your brother, grounded from flying after an accident in the opening scenes and the support staff at your heliport, a place that acts as a hub for all the content on offer in the game. Unfortunately, BI have again dipped into the same shallow voice-acting talent pool as the ArmA series and the wooden delivery, while an improvement on the ArmA titles, sometimes lets the story down. Bohemia have had plenty of feedback from their players around this so it’s disappointing that nothing  has changed. With that said, discovering what Vrana Corp is up to is a driving imperative for the later missions and makes the title stand out in the flight-sim genre.

It’s important in a flight-sim that the player feels like they’re in an unlimited space and Bohemia have delivered two massive maps to support this. Seattle’s 60km x 60km expanse is a highly detailed arena of city, suburban, industrial, water and woodland bodies while the sparse South Asian gamespace is a whopping 120km x 120km of deserts, rivers and simple villages. The skycrapers in particular are stunning and stand out as massive edifices of steel and glass that convincingly shine and reflect like their real world counterparts. This map size does mean some long travel times however and up close some of the textures look washed out and indistinct, however and more importantly, both areas look amazing from the air thanks to the massive draw distances allowed by the Real Virtuality 3 engine.

Much has been made of the flight-handling for Take On and in the words of BI’s Project Lead in a recent interview with RipTen, “we made a choice to not try to be a procedure trainer.” Even on the easier handling settings however, Take On is a real challenge to fly. Anyone can hover like a spastic and eventually bounce a chopper down to the ground, but learning to land smoothly while juggling rate of descent, collective and torque can bring a sweat to the brow. The scenarios on offer are uniformly excellent and you’ll be faced with landing on skyscrapers, formation flying or winching and transporting objects, just to name a few. Thanks to the underlying story and the function of your heliport as a hub for all game modes, each of the scenarios has a unifying context that makes the game feel far more organic than its stuffy peers; although taking executives to check out golf courses makes a bit more sense than suddenly being hired to drop a SWAT team via fastrope into a hostage situation, but when the flying is so exhilirating you won’t care. Within the heliport hub you can examine and repair your helicopters as well as fit them with tools that allow you to take on different types of contracts, but you’ll need to ensure you have the money first to do so.

One of the most impressive missions gives us a glimpse of what’s coming in ArmA 3 via a flashback memory from eldest brother Joe Larkin of his time as a chopper pilot in the armed forces. You’ll play through this memory, starting with dropping US propoganda leaflets above Takistani villages (the country that ArmA 2’s Operation Arrowhead takes place in) from a ‘Medium Chopper’ (looks like a Huey to me). On the way to the third village you are shot down and need to perform an auto-rotational landing. Once down, with your co-pilot dead, you’ll pack a rifle and fight your way to your extraction point through roving gangs of enemy troops. Overhead a ‘small’ chopper (which looks like an MD500) provides CAS and rains Hydra rockets down around you. With thumping explosions and sub-sonic rifle-cracks, it’s a simply thrilling mission that no other developer has the capability to deliver and it gets even more awesome when you’re picked up by a contractor’s helicopter belonging to ION, the stars of the Arma 2 PMC expansion. This intelligent cross-utilisation of their franchises is a real point of difference and one that modded scenarios will probably deliver more of.

After the 15 or so hours it takes to clock the Career mode, there’s more content on offer. You can take on individual contracts that are reminscent (but not the same as) the career objectives, or you can take a free flight in a copter of your choosing. Multiplayer is also on offer and while I haven’t seen a populated server with a good enough ping from Australia, the idea of hanging out and chatting to other pilots is immensely appealing. It’s no surprise also to find a comprehensive editing suite where you can create your own missions and it’s exactly this that will ensure the long term success of the game. My favourite has to be the time trials where you’ll attempt to beat the top three times for a course and most of these will test your piloting skills to the limit.

RipTen’s scoring system describes a 9 as “the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about” and without doubt, Bohemia have created something very special with Take On Helicopters. This is a flight-sim with a central career that gives a coherence to what in other titles would merely be a series of single instance scenarios; and it does so through an engaging story-arc populated by likable, but poorly-voiced, characters. Contracts within the career mode cleverly offer traditional standalone scenarios in a way that makes story-sense and adds to the surprisingly rich Larkin Aviation theme, and most importantly the scenarios are all a lot of fun. The helicopter models are stunning and the flight handling offers a variable challenge to all but licensed pilots although a joystick and pedals are recommended to get the most out of the immersion on offer. The longevity of Bohemia’s titles is founded on their open embrace of modding and ToH is already seeing community led tweaks and missions so a never-ending stream of free content is almost guaranteed.  Flight Sims will never be the same again.

Here’s your flight plan;

+ An engaging and evolving storyline builds an incredible sense of immersion

+ Great flight model across gorgeous and massive play areas

+ It’s a moddable title with an already active community

– The voice acting is appalling and detracts from overall build quality

– Maps a little too big; long travel times and bland textures up-close

Learn more about the RipTen scoring system and what this score means. Visit our review scoring page.

Take On Helicopters was developed and published by Bohemia Interactive. It’s a PC only title that can be found on BI’s online store Sprocket, or via other digital download services. A review copy of the game was provided to Murray by Bohemia… he still hasn’t let go of his joystick.