I grew up playing unforgiving aerial combat games like G-Police, Warhawk, Ace Combat and Firestorm: Thunderhawk 2, and loved them all. I dodged homework to spend hours in Desert, Jungle, Urban, Soviet & Nuclear Strike(s), and was even passably good at RC Stunt Copter. About 15 years ago my parents generously and ill-advisedly bought me a flying lesson in a real helicopter, and I didn’t crash it once. Not once.
In Air Missions: Hind, I crashed a lot.
And I think I was misled, because at first glance this game doesn’t look like it’ll be rough on you. The menus, music and heavily-accented voiceover feel like a dated arcade shooter, and I naively sat back and expected to burn through anything I came across in my heavily-armed “Flying Tank”. That illusion lasted the four or five introductory missions then crumbled as the learning curve sharpened considerably, ammo became scarce, and landing unassisted invariably ended in a curiously small ball of flames.
Developed by 3DIVISION, a Slovakian indie studio with back-catalogue of semi-successful flight sims and… foosball games, this is a gently enhanced version of the 2016 PC original. The Xbox One and PS4 ports in 2017 and 2018 respectively were met with mixed reviews, but it’s easy to see why they’ve brought it to the Switch in 2020 - it’s one of only a handful of serious flying games on the platform.
Our main protagonist is the MI-24 Hind, a gloriously angry-looking attack helicopter that deserves its own game every bit as much as the marginally more iconic AH-64 Apache. Variations on the Hind cover three of the six choppers available in the game, together with the newer, smaller MI-28 Havoc, plump transport ‘copter the MI-8, and a distinctive co-axial rotored KA-50. They each come with a handful of different paint jobs and a (progressively unlockable) array of guns, bombs, rockets and missiles to choose from, which are all modelled brilliantly. The level of detail on display both in- and outside the cockpit is genuinely impressive and there’s a lot here for airborne warfare fanatics, but confession time: I’m not one. My own lack of knowledge coupled with the game's insistence on using legitimate codenames for everything - sans idiot-proofing - meant I was pretty much choosing my load-out based on what looked coolest at the time, with wildly unpredictable outcomes.
The central campaign takes you on 18 missions across Europe and Asia, and eventually out into the Arctic Ocean. Environments are not impressive, but they get the point across, know what I mean? Having recently seen a mind-boggling amount of footage from Microsoft Flight Simulator this was always going to underwhelm by comparison, but you get the gist of where you’re supposed to be, and there’s enough variance in the landscapes to make each outing feel different. The missions themselves are a familiar combination of rescues, defences and assaults, and while they start off almost offensively simple, the chained objectives, tight deadlines and miserly ammo supplies that start to gang up on you at roughly midway are a serious challenge at times.
That challenge is multiplied by some of the smallest hitboxes I’ve ever seen. It is absurdly difficult to hit things, especially playing in handheld mode, and this was my biggest gripe with the game by far. Expanding them by 50% or so, even if it was only on easier difficulty settings, would’ve made it a far more enjoyable experience with far fewer bewildering and infuriating failures. The problem is probably illustrated best in the remote, line-of-sight guided missiles tutorial mission, fairly early on, which asks you to hit a pair of speeding cars from miles away with an utterly useless control system. I got mad, I tell ya.
On many objectives you’ll have some additional ground or air support, and they’ll occasionally help you chip away at big targets or unload a volley of rockets into a tank with accuracy you could only dream of, but they feel peripheral at best. Your mates seem to lose interest after a while too, presumably so you can’t just let them finish a job when you (almost inevitably) spend all your bombs on infantry and then get told to blow up a bridge. The online deathmatch and co-op multiplayer modes both have this same feeling of remoteness, compounded by the game being appropriately scaled (so you’re tiny relative to map) and the fact that hitting things is every bit as difficult as in single player.
In tense moments it can feel less like flying a helicopter and more like doing two Rubik’s cubes at once, with cramp.
Flying is tough, but fun when you get it right. It’s a familiar control system but one that rewards small, gentle adjustments, and despite offering Casual, Novice and Pilot options there’s really no 100% safe ride, so be prepared to practice. Playing on Pilot (the hardest setting) isn’t complicated per se, but has that increasingly rare thing where a useful action is mapped to almost every button on the controller, so that in tense moments it can feel less like flying a helicopter and more like doing two Rubik’s cubes at once, with cramp. It’s a small mercy that you aren’t punished too quickly for hovering within range of anti-aircraft guns, because I spent a lot of time self-correcting in plain sight, and probably deserved worse. While being in the hot seat is a mostly enjoyable mixed bag, the few gunner missions are consistently weak, highlighting a lack of finesse in the aiming, low-res terrain textures and buildings, crudely-animated enemies and the unforgiving nature of some missions objectives.
Presentation also lets the game down a bit, even taking into account the £22.99 RRP. While it is entirely defensible for a small team to focus their energy on the detail and authenticity of the helicopters, they really should’ve thrown a couple more weeks at designing better interfaces and HUDs. The font is borderline illegible in handheld mode and worse when docked, and navigating the menus is clunky and in dire need of better testing.
Despite obvious flaws and too many red-mist moments, at times I really enjoyed it, and the pedigree of a studio with years of flight sim experience is apparent. There’s untapped potential beneath untidy first impressions and a couple of mechanical issues that honestly, they probably should’ve patched in the four years since its original release. Nevertheless, fans of the genre - or people looking to play as a Soviet hero for a change - might just love it.
Special thanks to Mark Allen PR, on behalf of Grindstone, for the review code.