Sunday, July 29, 2007

Enemy Engaged 2 Review

Enemy Engaged 2, developed by G2 Games and published by Strategy First.
The Good: Outstanding dynamic campaigns where success is not always required, novice-friendly difficulty settings, accurate simulation, central multiplayer server provides persistent online real-time campaigns
The Not So Good: No tutorial, virtually identical to previous versions, rudimentary AI, minor bugs
What say you? It’s entirely the same except for the graphics and one new campaign, but still very enjoyable: 6/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Simulation games illustrate why PC gaming is great: you can do something you would never be able to do in real life. Most of these games center around warfare (with one notable exception) because blowing stuff up is fun. A very distinguished simulation was released in the year 2000: Enemy Engaged: Comanche vs. Hokum. This close follow-up to Enemy Engaged: Apache vs. Havoc featured a spectacular dynamic campaign in a realistic simulation, something that was noteworthy back then and even relevant today. There is a very obsessed (that’s the right word for it) community dedicated to producing various mods and scenarios to the original, but they can only take the engine so far. Enter Enemy Engaged 2, an update to the original series, charged with bringing the simulation back to the future (complete with flux capacitor). Will Enemy Engaged 2 offer enough improvements over the original games to satisfy both veteran and novice players alike?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Clearly the focus of Enemy Engaged 2 was to bring the graphics up-to-date, and the developers have mostly succeeded. The models in the game are the highlight of the title, and all of the objects, from the helicopters to the buildings, look very good. The exteriors of the player craft are nice and finely detailed. The various tanks and buildings that you will encounter (and eventually blow up) are excellent as well. The roads and rivers are curved (instead of the angular highways of previous titles) and the terrain is spotted with many 3-D trees that look great when you are hovering over them. The cities are not at the level of Microsoft Flight Simulator X or IL-2 Sturmovik as they lack convincing ground textures to compliment the 3-D buildings, but at least you can run the game at more than five frames per second. The lone disappointment with the graphics is the bland airports, which actually look worse than the ones in Enemy Engaged: Comanche vs. Hokum. The runways are solid black and the level of detail lags behind other features in the game. This is odd, since you spend a lot of time around airfields taking off and landing. The weapon effects look good and the countermeasures like flares are convincing. Explosions are unimpressive: just a ball of fire as the structure magically disappears. There are lots of views to enjoy the action from, including the ever-popular Dr. Strangelove weapon cam and the ability to view the battle from pretty much any military object on the map. There are some clipping issues when tanks and planes start moving, but they are rare. The sound is the same as Comanche vs. Hokum: repetitive voice acting from ground control, ATC, and other flights. It's interesting that air traffic control speaks in a Russian accent no matter who you are flying for in the Hokum (North Korea, China, or Lebanon/Syria). Most of the effects are good enough, but the voice could be more varied to lend a degree of realism to the chatter. Enemy Engaged 2 set out to improve the visuals of Comanche vs. Hokum, and in that aspect the game is successful.

ET AL.
Enemy Engaged 2 is Enemy Engaged: Comanche vs. Hokum, with one new campaign. This isn’t entirely bad, since Comanche vs. Hokum is a great title, but more features are always appreciated. Enemy Engaged 2 features three dynamic campaigns, and these are great fun. Unlike most games that feature set missions in a scripted order, the battles in Enemy Engaged 2 play out in real time (and can be accelerated) and missions are generated according to the results of previous missions. You can watch ground forces progress across the map, and successfully completing a mission will help out your side to gain military superiority in the region (represented on the map, although I think the colors are reversed). It really feels like a real war is taking place in the game, and it’s a wonderful feature that I’m surprised more games haven’t copied. There are a number of different mission types you can undertake, although they generally involve flying to a location and blowing stuff up. You can be instructed to destroy ships, tanks, SAM installations, airfields, and factories, or escort units, provide reconnaissance or close air support, or evaluate post-battle damage. There is an ever-changing list of available missions, and you can even join mission in-progress if they use either the Comanche or Hokum. I would like the ability to pilot most of the craft in the game, especially since the first Enemy Engaged game featured the Apache and the Havoc which are inexplicably unavailable here.

You can undertake smaller skirmish battles that take place in a more restricted area, or free flight games that really have no point. There is no tutorial in the game, although the manual does an adequate job explaining how to operate a helicopter. It is interesting to note that the manual is a carbon copy of the Comanche vs. Hokum manual, even referring to compatibility with Apache vs. Havoc. That pretty much sums up the theme of Enemy Engaged 2: a carbon copy of Comanche vs. Hokum. There is a central multiplayer server available if you enter the IP address (195.149.21.44) into the options menu that offers persistent online campaigns. This is a really neat feature that offers essentially the same features as a MMO for free. Although I hadrly ever found anyone to play with, it is potentially an engrossing feature with high possibilities. Enemy Engaged 2 keeps most of the features of Comanche vs. Hokum intact but doesn’t add any more. The least the developers could have done was to include the Apache and Havoc helicopters from the first Enemy Engaged game (well, actually, the least they could have done is what they did). They could have also added more new campaigns; the community has developed well over ten in the years since Comanche vs. Hokum was released, and only having three is disappointing. There are also some minor bugs or annoyances in dealing with the campaigns, such as the reversed force colors I mentioned earlier, and that fact that saved games don’t remember which side you were on.

Not surprisingly, the physics model is intact in Enemy Engaged 2. The controls are straightforward and I find the helicopters of Enemy Engaged 2 are actually easier to control than ones in ArmA or Battlefield 2142 on the novice difficulty settings. You can make the dynamics as easy or complicated (realistic) as you want, introducing such alarming things as blade stall, over-torque, or wind effects. In essence, you control the cyclic for steering, the collective for power, and the tail rotor for rotation. The two helicopters featured in Enemy Engaged 2 are essentially the same and just the names for some of the components are different, but the Hokum does have wipers (which don’t work anyway). Enemy Engaged 2 has a decent autopilot function that will automatically go to the next waypoint and land the helicopter for you (although it slows down when reaching a waypoint). You can also have the computer maintain a hover if you so choose, but holding an altitude seems to be broken.

Of course, what’s the point of having an attack helicopter if you don’t attack stuff? Enemy Engaged 2 can make targeting and engaging enemy units as difficult (realistic) as you’d like. At the most basic level, targets are automatically selected and it’s just a matter of pressing the fire button and boom goes the dynamite. If you so choose, you can use all of the real weapons systems to detect and choose targets yourself. The multi-function displays present ground and air radar, video targeting, maps, contacts, weapons, system damage, engine, flight, and mission information. Your co-pilot can identify targets and deploy electronic countermeasures like chaff and flares. Novice avionics will provide automatic targeting, while realistic avionics will require you to use the radar, video equipment (FLIR, TV), or helmet view to spot and target enemy units. You can adjust the difficulty of the game as well that will affect how much damage your weapons cause and how quickly the enemy responds to your presence. Each helicopter comes with air-to-ground missiles, air-to-air missiles, and guns that automatically track targets. You are commonly given wingmen that you can issue orders to, such as formations and attack commands. Controlling the action is very fun and rewarding; although Enemy Engaged 2 lacks the constant combat of arcade military games, the game does play out realistically and the dynamic campaign goes a long way in presenting a genuine environment to play in. The enemy units can be tough, especially if you are flying through areas covered by surface-to-air missiles. Thankfully, the campaigns do not penalize you much for failing your missions or dying. Enemy Engaged 2 is just as good as I remember it. There are some bugs with the controls, such as the windshield wiper commands I mentioned and the control key on the right side of the keyboard doesn't work. Oh, and don't press Control+D by accident: it crashes the game. Overall, Enemy Engaged 2 is a very solid helicopter simulation, but, again, we’ve seen this before seven years ago.

IN CLOSING
For people who own the original Enemy Engaged: Comanche vs. Hokum, there is absolutely no reason to get Enemy Engaged 2, especially when you consider all of the user-made mods and scenarios that have been made in the past seven years. However, if you have never experienced the awesomeness of the Enemy Engaged series, then Enemy Engaged 2 is a quality simulation that deserves a serious look. The three dynamic campaigns are outstanding: it’s like being in a real conflict, where your actions have an effect (although an appropriately minor one) on the outcome. The game is friendly to novice players, as you can turn the realism down a bit to make piloting and targeting a lot easier. Or, for experienced players, you can experience full-on reality. The controls are seemingly realistic, and the detection systems are generally easy to handle. I like the central multiplayer server: although I never saw anyone else playing, it adds MMO flair to the game, and you can jump into the continuous conflict at any time. There are several things the developers could have done to improve this update beyond the graphics, such as more scenarios or more controllable aircraft. In fact, if they would have done those two things, then Enemy Engaged 2 might be worth it to owners of the original. Plus, Enemy Engaged 2 introduces some minor bugs to the game, such as conflicting controls. Still, it’s Enemy Engaged and that title’s overall quality has been unmatched by a helicopter simulation in the past seven years. While veteran players can steer clear of this superfluous graphical update, players new to the series will find a lot to enjoy.