The Only Way to Fly
DCS: Black Shark is not merely a game, it’s a way of life. It’s one of the most ambitious and complex flying sims I’ve ever encountered – it takes hours and hours just to get this thing off the ground, and then you have to learn to control the damn thing. And if that’s not enough, you have to engage enemies in mid-flight, all the while being mindful of the myriad of buttons, gauges, and displays, which help keep you airborne. With downloadable upgrades in the future, there is every indication that Black Shark will be on your PC for years to come.
Before I go any further: I hate Vista. There, I said it, and I don’t care what you think. My laptop runs about as fast as a Pentium 1… and it’s friggin’ loaded! But, I can’t downgrade to XP since it will void the warranty. It appears the developers of Black Shark agree with me and have included a disclaimer about running the game on Vista – you can expect some glitches, including inconsistent framerate with the scenery. The maps just have a hard time keeping up due to the resource-hungry Vista. Still, it’s not a deal breaker. If you’re into flying sims, or just up for a whopper of a challenge, don’t pass this one up.
You only get one vehicle in this game, and trust me, that’s enough. The star of the show is the Ka-50; a Russian attack helicopter. It’s a strange bird. Just getting this thing off the ground requires a lot of effort. There are literally hundreds of pages to the manual. The in-game tutorial won’t really help you. It gives you the kind of information that you would only appreciate after you’ve become familiar with the craft. There’s a shorter quick-start manual if you like flying by the seat of your pants. An “easier” option is available that will let you play this as a game, but it’s never in danger of becoming an arcade game. This is one tough sim, but one that’s worth the struggle.
Black Shark is so realistic that I swear I could pilot the real thing (who am I kidding? I’m sure I would be dead in less than three seconds). There are more than 50 switches to activate in perfect sequence before you can even think of making it move. This will all be taken care of for you in the Game mode, but the simulation mode is the meat-and-potatoes of this title. Hardcore sim fans are going to think they’ve died and gone to heaven with this chopper. And boy, did I ever die a lot, but I’m not sure heaven is where I’ll be headed. I did spend many hours in the Game mode, just to get a feel for the Ka-50, and it’s no slouch either. You’re still going to have to commit to a lot of reading and freaking out.
Precision and finesse are required to land this shark. You can’t slam this thing into gear, give it some gas and expect to live. It’s a highly sensitive, sophisticated piece of equipment. The developers worked with the actual company that made the Ka-50, Kamov. You can even read encouraging statements on the game site’s forum from pilots that have actually flown the real thing. Is there any better testimonial than that?
The Ka-50 is a single-seat chopper. What makes it unique is that it has dual, stacked rotors on the top instead of the traditional top and tail rotor system. One of the biggest headaches I encountered was keeping the blades in perfect synch. You have to be careful never to jar the craft in any particular direction. Through careful manipulation of the rotors, you should be able to take-off, fly, hover, spin, and land smoothly. The rotors are resilient, designed to withstand fire from automatic weapons on the ground, but they won’t fare well in contact with each other, the ground, or sides of buildings. Other features of the Black Hawk include a heavily armored cockpit, ejection seat, chaff and flair dispensers ,and a kick-butt weapons system.
The Game mode features various missions such as recon, search and destroy, and escort. There’s plenty of action to be had as you open fire on the enemy with machine guns, missiles, and rockets. There’s even an online co-op mode. You can choose from the campaign missions, which are lengthy and more involved, or the streamlined quick flight missions.
I played for hours online with a friend in the co-op mode. Technically, it worked great. There was no latency or noticeable slowdown, even though the map was running a little rough at times. In Sim mode, the campaigns will really test your mettle. Each time you play through a campaign, you’ll be offered various side-missions. These side-missions are different each and every time. The replay value is off the charts.
When you’re up in the air, the draw distance is amazing. You can literally see for hundreds of miles. Unfortunately, the closer you get the less pretty the scenery becomes. But, the Black Shark is where most of the visual glory has been focused. This is one seriously beautiful piece of gear. The cockpit is stunningly realistic, made even more so by hundreds of interactive switches and components. Radio chatter, whirling rotors, machinegun fire, and the clanking of enemy projectiles round out the audio component of the game. The sounds are perfectly recorded and respond appropriately to the onscreen action.
Black Shark is best played with a joystick for that authentic chopper feel, but you can get more than satisfactory results with the keyboard. But, if you’re going to be in this for the long haul, and there’s really no other alternative, pick one up. Whether you throw down for a joystick or not, be sure and pick up a copy of DCS: Black Shark.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
Some issues with the background, but the chopper is incredible. 4.8 Control
Interface is friendly. Can use keyboard but a joystick is optimum. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great sound effects inspire realism in all areas. 4.7 Play Value
Replay value is off the map. Steep learning curve, though. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.