These days only dreamers, masochists, and millionaires build combat flight sims from scratch. Everyone else takes an ageing classic, tarts it up, maybe adding a new campaign or two, then re-releases it. Falcon 4.0 and Rowan's Battle of Britain have both been hoiked out of retirement, re-sprayed, and resold. Now it's Enemy Engaged: Comanche Versus Hokum's turn.
EECH was the best of 2000's bumper crop of military chopper sims. Starring the RAH-66 Comanche and Ka-52 Alligator (two prototype helicopters that looked to have bright futures back then) it charmed all but the most pernickety PC pilots with its accessibility, good looks, realism, and riproaring campaigns. Rather than serve-up strings of scripted sorties, or rely on randomly generated action, Razorworks provided three constantly changing dynamic war-zones to fly and fight in. Fictional yet plausible conflicts in Yemen, Taiwan, and Lebanon, unfolded unpredictably in real-time as you played. Skies swarmed with purposeful aircraft; valleys and hills crawled with angry armour; bases fell, were re-taken, then fell again; airwaves crackled with the voices of the victorious and the vanquished... this was war you could believe in, war you could lose yourself in.
So, a strong candidate for refurbishment - exactly the sort of game that deserves to be polished, prettified, and expanded. What a shame then that it's ended-up getting a requel (the term by which all re-releases masquerading as sequels will hereby be known) as half-hearted as Enemy Engaged 2.
Most of developer G2's time and effort seems to have gone into superficial alterations. Improved models, textures and lighting mean the game now looks four or five years old rather than seven or eight. Nothing's monstrously ugly, but nothing's going to have you reaching for HyperSnap either. A wing of Comanches skimming low over a river (now ruffley!) or road (now snakey!) ejecting flares (now fuzzy!) and spewing Hellfires (now glowy!) is about as handsome as things get. That same wing of choppers dashing over the Lebanese plain or Taiwanese jungle is far less impressive thanks to sparse rural scenery (an inherited weakness) and a questionable new approach to woodland representation. The slab forests that covered the original maps have all been replaced by masses of individual tree objects. This seems like a step forward until you notice that plantations pop-up with jarring suddenness and cause nasty frame-rate stutters.
Tampering with terrain appears to have caused other problems too. Collision detection anomalies particularly in cities, missing airbases, confused AI aircraft, disappearing shadows, invisible infantry... it's rare for an hour to pass without some sort of geo-related goofiness. Other small new bugs like broken warning lights, faulty cockpit displays, and non-functioning keys might have mattered less had G2 addressed the odd legacy shortcoming. How much effort would it have taken to improve the awful controller configuration screen, discourage ground forces from congregating at road junctions, and smooth-out jerky AI flight path transitions? Too much, obviously.
Ironically, the very thing that dooms EE2 to a middling score is the thing that saves it from a complete kicking. Because this is basically EECH in a new frock, you're guaranteed EECH levels of excitement, intensity and atmosphere. Spend an hour fighting the horrible joystick config screen, skipping through the scanty manual, and sampling 'free flight' and skirmishes, and you should be ready to step into the maelstrom of a campaign. Seconds after the icon-strewn theatre map displays for the first time, the tempting mission offers start rolling in. Recon sorties, strikes, interceptions, SEAD raids against enemy SAM sites, escort missions... the selection is usually broad. Whatever you choose you can be confident you'll experience something you've never experienced before. Because dozens of unscripted sorties and engagements are occurring on the battlefield at the same time unexpected overlaps are inevitable.
Example. A couple of hours ago I was hammering across the sun-scorched Levant on a routine transfer flight when I spotted a friendly armoured column being set upon by a brace of thuggish Hinds. I could have minded my own beeswax and flown on, but, instead chose to wade in. Result? Two downed Mi-24D. Me off course far enough to stray into the range of a Grison SAM battery. Me limping on to my destination in a missile-damaged chopper that handled like a sack of Jersey Royals.
The great thing about this system is that you're free to jump around, taking missions wherever you please. If you don't fancy flying back to base after blitzing a power-station or crippling a carrier, then you can simply hand control of your bird (either an Alligator or a Comanche) back to the AI, and go grab another job in a different area of the frontline. Even falling to earth in a blazing tangle of aluminium doesn't have to curtail your career.
Behind the splendid chaos there's some pretty interesting strategy going on. Each side in a campaign has a handful of objectives (often the capture or destruction of particular installations) which it works ceaselessly to achieve. If you go out and, on your own initiative, trash an enemy base, your silicon commander should reward you with a medal or a promotion, and - more importantly - attempt to consolidate your work by tasking appropriate follow-up missions. It's not unusual to find yourself escorting an insertion flight of troop-laden Black Hawks back to the site of a previous triumph. Very satisfying.
The final coffin nail
That five down there is starting to look a bit mean isn't it? It would be if EE2 wasn't buggier than a shrew's breakfast and outgunned by a better, cheaper, alternative. Get hold of a copy of EECH (a fairly recent budget release means there's still plenty floating around) download and install the convenient 500MB mod compilation from www.eechcentral.com, and - hey presto - you've got a game that looks as good as EE2 (in most respects at least) runs better, is more polished, and comes with tons more content. Bolstered with a bevy of visual and realism tweaks, a dozen extra campaigns, and a hangar of new flyables (all admittedly utilising the Apache and Havoc cockpit) the original EECH is more than a match for this rough-edged requel.