Classic Simulations: Jane’s AH-64D Longbow

Andy takes a look at one of the most influential attack helicopter simulations in PC gaming history

Andy Mills, 17 June 2015

Those were the days

A boxshot of the original Jane’s AH-64D Longbow

A boxshot of the original Jane’s AH-64D Longbow

Back in 1996 the competition for air supremacy in the attack helicopter sim market was intense. Publishers like Domark, Digital Integration and EA/Jane’s Information Group were all homing in on gunship simulations for the PC. Digital Integration had already released AH-64 Apache and was in the process of finishing up HIND for release in 1997. Unfortunately, Domark’s title, Flying Nightmare’s 2, never saw the light of day, leaving EA/Jane’s AH-64D Longbow as the most significant rotary-wing sim release of 1996. Longbow did not disappoint. Built on the solid heritage of the Gunship franchise, Longbow became the benchmark by which all other helo sims would be judged for many years to come.

Enter James Combat Simulations

Jane’s Combat Simulations was a collaborative effort between Origin Systems/ Electronic Arts (EA) and the world famous Jane’s Information Group to produce authentic simulations for the PC. The deal was announced in 1995 and the partnership led to a number of successful flight sims, such as Longbow, Advanced Tactical Fighters and the USAF series.

Drawing on the experience of developer Origin and veteran simulation guru Andy Hollis, of Gunship and F-117 fame, the EA/Jane’s team produced an excellent simulation that enthralled both novice and expert sim pilots alike.

 

The Tutorial – Accessible Detail

Learning to fly and fight in a complex sim like Longbow can be very daunting for newcomers to the genre and represent a significant amount of work for veteran virtual pilots. One of the key factors that made Longbow so popular was the tutorial which was conducted by a virtual training officer. It consisted of an AH-64D walk-around along with numerous missions designed to teach players flight skills and critical gameplay details. Upon completion of the tutorial, the player had a good working knowledge of the sim and basic attack helicopter tactics.

Completing the weapons load-out paperwork.

Completing the weapons load-out paperwork.

 

Realism

The major strength of this simulation laid in the fact it was such an accurate replication of the real AH-64D Longbow. It sported a solid flight model, great weapon load-outs, and authentically modeled the Longbow fire control radar (FCR) and Target Acquisition Designation Sights (TADS). Virtual pilots could even control the actions of their wingmen by setting-up priority fire zones just as an actual Longbow commander would do in real combat situations. The realism didn’t stop there – Jane’s provided a variety of historical missions that let players fly actual missions from Operation Just Cause (that took place in Panama during 1989) or Desert Storm (1991). A fictional campaign set in the Ukraine was also provided (maybe the developers had a crystal ball next to their PC’s).

 

Getting a Hellfire (missile) lock on an enemy T-80

Getting a Hellfire (missile) lock on an enemy T-80

Longbow was an excellent title due to the depth of the gameplay. While the graphics were advanced for the era, the additional in-game details also created a truly immersive experience. The in-game sound was very convincing and the enemy AI was no pushover.  Longbow shipped with a very robust printed manual that covered both gameplay and the actual tactics used in rotary-winged warfare.

 

Longbow header

Evolution of the Series/Variants

Longbow 1

EA released Jane’s Longbow on May 31, 1996 to critical acclaim. In November of that same year, a mission disc entitled Flash Point: Korea was released. Aside from a Korean campaign, the package also updated Longbow to the most recent version. In 1997, the Longbow Gold package, which included the original game and the mission disk, hit the market, with integrated support for first-generation Voodoo-based graphics cards.

Longbow 2

Longbow 2, launched late in 1997, featured native support for 3Dfx Voodoo-based video cards and sported a number of additional in-game units.

Longbow Anthology

The complete Longbow series, featuring all additional content (including patches), was released in 1998.

 

Incoming!

Although Longbow was a standout simulation, it did have some technical problems. The biggest issue was the hardware demands the sim placed upon PC’s of that era. With all the video settings at maximum levels, my Pentium 133 system with 16MBs of RAM, and 2 MB PCI video card, was taxed to the extreme.  The game also required a 95 MB hard drive installation, which was considered rather excessive at the time. In hindsight, these criticisms seem laughable, but back in 1996, Longbow could bring even a high-end system to their knees.

 

With the addition of native support for 3Dfx video cards, Hydra rocket launches became were much more impressive!

With the addition of native support for 3Dfx video cards, Hydra rocket launches became were much more impressive!

 

Playing a Piece of History

As most virtual pilots know, depth, not just graphics, makes for a quality flight sim. Hopefully, at some point in the future, Longbow will be re-released for modern operating systems and allow new gamers to experience one of the most influential simulations in the history of the genre.


 

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