Come fly the friendly skies.

Heliborne Again

Captain W. E. Johns returned to consult on Battlefield 1 and those sales figures don’t lie. The Titans are indeed falling. We’re being called to duty for our three-hundred and fifty-third tour, a veritable Flashpoint Contiki of hyperbolic bang-bang-back-on-the-bus.

Hazarding a guess, the NATO armour rating for this current season of military-themed action fare would be a solid five. Nigh impenetrable. Allow me to crank Wagner and see if Jetcat Games can’t pierce the holiday season with their brand of rotorcraft multiplayer.

I’ve written a number of articles on Heliborne in the past, but after some recent updates that drastically deepen the strategic draught of this territory control game, it’s a perfect time to reacquaint and refresh. Heliborne is VTOL World of Tanks. Whirlybird Armored Warfare. A celebration of sorts that spans the breadth of combat chopper history; from the earliest days of the Wasp and H-24 through to the hungry, hovering carnivores of the modern era.

Teams battle across Vietnam, the Hindu Kush and Kosovo in combined arms conflicts that include armour and infantry, each player outfitting a three-strong ‘deck’ of transport, multirole and/or gunship via loadouts and — if supported by bird — troop type. Heliborne is a sort of neo-MOBA, but before I have to fire-force you back to base, its brand of ‘lane control’ is much closer to a Herzog Zwei than any hanky-ganky elf shunter. You and your friends roam about sprawling maps of various vertigiousness, capturing and consolidating sectors with an array of boots on the ground and air superiority. Hold a point long enough and tank and SPAAG columns move in to make recapture just that little more sticky. Once you and the team have bagged and defended the majority of strategic points, the day is won.

There was a peaceful town called Rock Ridge.

The simucade flight model, differentiated in each helo by lift, pitch and speed responsiveness, is an accommodating mix. More complex than mere arcade, yet lower entry bar than DCS. And given the obvious nature of the hardware, engagement is slower yet more three-dimensionally limber than that of its fixed wing counterparts. Seeing the bulbous snout of a Hind loom up above a wooded crest to loose a few Falangas encapsulates what’s fun about Heliborne.

But the big changes in recent patches completely transform the game into something even more strategic, and I really hope fence-sitters pull pitch on the new components.

The introduction of the deck is not the most recent addition, but it transforms every round and throttles throwing materiel away like a post-Soviet fire sale. The three helicopters forming a player’s deck now have respawn cool-down, where that specific model is unavailable for a short period after being destroyed. Damaged choppers returned to HQ endure repair downtime, dependent on level of airframe wear. If all three of a player’s aircraft are destroyed, it’s a case of waiting on the sidelines to contemplate just how frivolous you’ve been until a chopper comes online.

Troop composition is the big shake-up and largely the reason why I’m penning this screed. If you’re rocking multi-role or transport choppers in your deck, deciding what you want to haul beyond conventional infantry is certainly something to ponder. Deployable MANPADs were an early addition to Heliborne, but they’re now joined by mortars and anti-tank teams. The former not only requires you to drop teams in tactical locales, but to have the means to transmit target coordinates. Recon and certain attack choppers have the ability to assist as spotters for mortar teams; zoom in on a particular area, transmit for the requisite time, watch 81mm hell rain on someone’s armoured parade. AT teams work automatically, and placed correctly, can brutalise a tank push before they range in on a capture point. Of course, you’ve also got to factor in conventional troops for territory storming.

You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.

Era and point restrictions govern deck composition, but all things considered, it’s a very open and highly customisable addition to Heliborne. Want to stuff a Hind multi-role with AT troops to head off armour? Go for it. Fancy being the mortar team carrier or squadron SAM supplier? Sure. At the expense of basic leathernecks.

Oh, and any machine with a door gunner? They’re now able to track automatically or be directly controlled by the player. Sharpen up that Tom Colceri routine.

The big issue with Heliborne is currently the tiny community. I won’t beat around the bush; across the official EU, US and South East Asia/Australasia servers, you really need to pick your times. However, according to the development roadmap, we’re still in the ramp-up phase, so Nomexed fingers crossed the community blooms.

With the addition of foot soldiers and greater tactical choices with deck composition, Heliborne is really looking like it could hold its own with the Worlds of [insert hardware]. Its slower pace and breadth of options keep it open to the parentcore community. You know, the time-poor, responsibility-laden folks who still want to get their vertical sweep limits calibrated. I’m speaking from personal experience and have found that, even with thwop-time throttled, I can still track a Fleyta across the skyline and punch it through a NATO canopy.

For the price of a rotor head grease-down, that’s a pretty compelling prospect.

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