My journey with the Early Access build of Comanche could be succinctly depicted with a movie-style montage. Like any good protagonist, I started out as a flailing neophyte, totally unable to control the helicopter I was piloting. I’m not ashamed to admit that my go at the game’s tutorials involved a prodigious amount of crashing and cursing. However, after a bit of practice and a couple runs through the first level of single-player (the only one currently available), I attained basic competency.
Then I took to multiplayer. It was here that I truly ascended. Where once I was struggling to make basic turns, now I was threading my bird through complex, twisting cave systems and engaging enemy aircraft in vicious dogfights. The crashing and cursing hadn’t faded away entirely, but now they were joined by the telltale sound of my Ghost decloaking, by barrages of missiles unleashed on unsuspecting foes, and by loud peals of triumphant laughter.
- What is Comanche? It’s a first-person piloting sim where you hop in the cockpit of a Comanche, “the world’s most advanced war machine,” flying and fighting your way through single-player missions and team-based multiplayer matches.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Price: $19.99
- Developer: NUKKLEAR
- Publisher: THQ Nordic
- Release Date (Early Access): March 12, 2020
- Website: www.comanchegame.com
- Multiplayer: Online
Learn to Fly
As mentioned, Comanche’s tutorial is a somewhat frustrating exercise. You’re given specific instructions for the most basic controls, but immediately following that, the directives become broad and vague. Movement feels awkward and imprecise, especially if you haven’t played many games with piloting mechanics, and your Comanche can easily spiral out of your control. However – even if it takes a few tries – by the end of the flight and combat tutorials, you have everything you need to start playing. They’re not exhaustive training exercises so much as primers meant to acquaint you with the game’s core inputs. Looking back, the tutorial merely provides a framework for the true learning experience in Comanche, your first mission.
Story-wise, the first mission feels appropriately Modern Warfare-ish, with various military operators chattering on the comms, their dialogue heavy with callsigns, jargon, and dry humor. While the voicework is occasionally spotty, most of the flavor of this introductory mission fits. In terms of design, you spend the duration of the level flying over the ocean or through a canyon and related caverns, engaging enemy boats, turrets, helicopters, and personnel with both your Comanche and your drone. Encounters ramp up in complexity, and so do flight paths and necessary maneuvers. Sections of flight and combat in the helicopter are broken up by sections where you control the drone, infiltrating enemy facilities and sabotaging their security measures.
Overall, the first mission is a success. One of its most potent dynamics is the way it encourages you to learn by doing. The tutorial ostensibly covers the need to fly both in the open air and in tight passageways, and it introduces you to the varied enemy types of Comanche. But it’s the first level that really sets these concepts in stone, and, in its own way, serves as a primer for multiplayer.
Not to say that it’s all smooth sailing. The first mission’s biggest shortcomings are issues of length and repetition. The mission runs a bit long, and the drone sections start to drag when it becomes clear that you will be doing almost identical tasks every time you take control of the thing. In the Comanche, it’s often an involved, rewarding process merely banking to thread the narrow gap between two rock faces. The drone is considerably simpler to handle, and breaching multiple facilities by entering through the same exact damaged vent gets old fast.
Thrill of the Kill
One of the most important parts of multiplayer is selecting your Comanche and drone. Initially, only the Prototype and Circuit are available, but playing matches will net you Credits and Blueprint Points, useful for unlocking different builds and skins. Each helicopter feels meaningfully different from its peers, from the long-range damage dealing Horizon to the cloak-equipped, rocket-loaded Ghost. However, there is a dynamic of different helicopters acting as counters to others, so only games with full teams of varied Comanches truly feel fair. While flying around laying waste to my enemies in a dragon-skinned Ghost is a blast, it feels cruel obliterating new players in their Prototypes who have no recourse but to hope I botch an ambush or simply quit the game. Didn’t stop me from doing it, but hey.
Of the two game modes currently available, Blackbox is the most straightforward and easy to get into. Your objective is to blow up enemy aircraft, collecting their titular blackboxes to score, and picking up allied ones to deny scoring. The flight mechanics and available Comanches provide a suite of options that make dogfights feel varied and exciting, especially taking into account the changes that altitude and cloud cover can precipitate. Initially, Blackbox was my favorite way to play Comanche.
That said, Infiltration, although harder to parse – and moreso than Blackbox necessitating full teams – is the most interesting game mode in Comanche. Teams switch off as Attackers and Defenders, the former tasked with infiltrating one of two facilities and using the drone to plant an EMP, the latter tasked with preventing such proceedings. Consequently, the choices and maneuvers required of players to win the match are variable. In a given game, you could find yourself in a dogfight in the skies, flying low and slow through flooded cave networks and trying to escape the notice of enemies while deploying your drone, or duking it out with other drones to determine whether a devastating electromagnetic pulse is about to go off.
Infiltration offers Comanche’s most nail-biting, cheer-worthy moments, from sniffing out an enemy helicopter in the bowels of your base and destroying them to planting and successfully defending a game-winning EMP. It’s absolutely a thrilling culmination to a journey that started with bafflement, frustration, and obscenity.
Already rewarding and fun, Comanche’s development will be one to watch. While some aspects of matchmaking and overall balance could use some tweaking, and bugs, of course, rear their head, Comanche has already attained a remarkable level of quality in its Early Access. Just like when you’ve accidentally dipped your helicopter in the ocean, it’s only up from here.