Military video games fill the shelves of nearly any store that sells games. The "Call of Duty," "Ghost Point" and "Battlefield" series are always popular. Want to lead a kingdom? Try "Kingdom Come: Deliverance." Fly a fighter jet? "War Thunder" is great. Command or drive tanks? "World of Tanks" and "Armored Warfare" let you fight other players.
But military games are, famously, not realistic. Most games are, you know, games. They're entertainment products. And cleaning your vehicle's optics 50 times, going on a two-hour patrol and then striking a mine and losing a wheel without ever seeing the enemy is not entertaining. So weapons manufacturers rarely get involved in entertainment.
In the long-ago year 2010, though, developer Gaijin released an Apache attack helicopter video game for PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 that did lean into realism, so much so that the developer got an official license from Boeing, the manufacturer of Apache helicopters.
Players took off with a realistic combat load in an AH-64D, flew in intense but fairly realistic missions, and would go down if hit with a reasonable amount of damage. It was as close to becoming an Apache pilot as most people could get without reprogramming their brain to use all four limbs independently.
One problem emerged, though: Even with dumbed-down controls, flying an Apache is hard. In his book "Apache: Inside the Cockpit of the World's Most Deadly Fighting Machine," British pilot Ed Macy said he and his colleagues called flying an Apache "riding the dragon," because a single mistake led to the dragon twisting around and eating you.
And "Apache: Air Assault," while fun, is hard. When flying with realistic settings, the player controls the cyclic with one joystick and the collective with another. If you don't know what those words mean, too bad. The training level uses them with no explanation.
But for players who push through the steep learning curve, the game is entertaining while being about as realistic as a non-simulator can get. You play as a contracted pilot, mostly in fights in a fictional Middle Eastern country. You get standard cannon rounds and Hellfire missiles, as well as Canadian CRV7 rockets that are better than American ones and even the occasional batch of Stinger missiles.
You have to clear as many targets as you can from distance, because your flying tank will become a crashing tank pretty fast if you take too much ground fire or a single missile. Top players make use of the terrain for cover, carefully line up their shots before firing and probably still fail the mission to protect a downed crew a few times, because it's really hard to protect your Apache and their crash site at the same time.
The fact is, as this game and few others really hammer into you: Military missions are legitimately hard. Flying an actual Apache must be mentally exhausting, and even the game is challenging. And at least gamers don't have to play while under a glaring sun or with a computer stuck right in front of one eyeball.
These days, the game developer, Gaijin, is best known for "War Thunder," which is a less realistic but very fun massively multiplayer online game that U.S. Army units turned to for training at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
And Boeing, of course, is more likely to license its data and software for equipment manufacturers than game developers. But if you want to try the game it once licensed, you can still get it used for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Most copies have only been thrown at the wall once or twice.
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