Whirlwind Over Vietnam: UH-1 Review (PC)

Leaving the dubiously moralistic setting out of the equation, 'Whirlwind Over Vietnam' takes on a highly militaristic approach to the simulation of one of the most iconic fighting machines ever made; the 'Huey' UH-1 Helicopter. Even for those with no interest in the genre whatsoever, you can't help but recognise the distinctive shape and characteristics of the aircraft, and the cinematic connotations that come along with it. From M.A.S.H to Apocalypse now, the sight of a Huey cutting along an embedded treeline has served to be the symbol of America's worst nightmare since the infamous daily news footage first aired in the 1960's, and continues to provoke a reaction to this very day.

The cockpit is possibly the best-rendered part of the entire game

Exterior view cameras are largely useless

Logically this should be easy pickings for videogame territory, but with the conflict perhaps a little too recent and shadowy to produce the usual bombastic approach, a helicopter simulation can still enter the market without too much attention given to the setting. Unfortunately, given the quality that's on offer in Whirlwind, the lack of media attention can only be described as a good thing.

The game provides ten short missions with which to prove your worth as a helicopter pilot and gunner. Starting off from a base deep in the Vietnamese jungle, you'll be tasked with following the route to a particular destination, laying siege to a target and then returning back home with the rest of your squadron intact. There is no variation in structure, and each encounter plays out in pretty much the same manner; only the radio chatter provides a distinctive touch on each sortie into the depths of enemy territory.

Sitting in the cockpit of the Huey for the first time can be a daunting experience. Flying a helicopter is no easy task, and in that respect Whirlwind does a decent job of conveying the technicalities. This is no easy game to control with a keyboard and mouse, that's for sure. Hundreds of adjustments and subtle alterations need to be made in-flight in order to simply remain in a forwards position and not plummeting to earth frantically searching for the door handle, and it would have been nice to have some form of tutorial taking the player through the basic steps. Unfortunately the only training you'll get is to read through the manual and have a look at the basic flight controls, and if you're not a helicopter expert chances are you'll be overwhelmed.

High-res texture, but it's completely flat
Taking off from base, on the way to another faceless target

Thoughtfully, Whirlwind does have an 'auto-pilot' mode that effectively flies you from destination to destination with no manual intervention. This mode essentially switches the game into a shooting gallery, as you'll be free to take up one of the side-gunner positions and fire away at your designated target with impunity. Playing in this manner is Initially fun, but wears thin after a few missions due to a lack of any particularly tactile graphical feedback and the fact the helicopter is so far away from the target you may as well be firing at a bunch of ants with a potato gun.

Compounding this basic structure and lack of any guidance is the non-event of a story. Completely devoid of any cutscenes or exposition, each mission tells its tale through radio-chatter alone, which you'll soon be ignoring as you fast-forward the auto-pilot to each conflict zone. Without any narrative hooks to pull the player in, the experience feels completely hollow.

Of course if the game was as shallow as described but looked like a million dollars then at least something could be rescued, but unfortunately the same no-frills approach has stretched to the artistic and audio design. The Huey helicopters themselves are decently modelled and the interior of the main cockpit certainly looks the part, but unfortunately everything else seems to have fallen by the wayside. The jungle itself is rendered fairly blandly, whilst explosions and smoke effects seem years out of date, and certainly wont be pushing the limits of anything but the most basic of rigs. The in-helicopter audio effects are good enough and the radio chatter is decently put together, but gunfire and explosions are very weak, undermining the perceived power of the machines themselves.

You won't care about any of the characters
Playing as a side-gunner is the only enjoyable part of the game

All in all then Whirlwind is a pretty unsavoury experience. Without enough depth and presentational focus on the Huey to make it a decent simulation, and without any form of tutorial or guiding hand for the novice players, the developer has managed to straddle both camps, pleasing nobody in the process. There is definite room for a game of this type to be made, and if nothing else Whirlwind can at least point in the right direction for others to follow.

Top Game Moment:
Lifting off in your squadron of Huey helicopters and grazing the treeline below.

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