By Vincent Haoson (Ojogo)
There’s this special place in gamer’s hearts for being able to jump into any real-life ships, tanks, or planes and just shoot people down. That’s why Wargaming has consistently been able to sustain their World of <insert vehicle> games. It’s surprising though that one other staple of military vehicles hasn’t had its own online arena style battle akin to that of Wargaming’s titles. Then comes JetCat Games’ Heliborne.
Heliborne is a paid game on Steam developed by JetCat games and published by Klabater, the publisher of the single player VR game Alice VR. The game puts you in the pilot’s seat of a various roster of helicopters, starting as early as the 1950s up to the 2000s. You’ll be flying missions where you’ll need to help the movement of ground troops that fortify positions and supply lines, or evacuate pinned down enemies deep within the enemy lines. The game boasts a dynamic battlefield where you’ll be facing not just against AI controlled enemies, but also PvP against other players who belong to the opposing team.
JetCat seems to take a page out of Wargaming’s gameplay system. If you’ve played any of the World of Warships, Planes, or Tanks of the company, then that’s what you’ll be experiencing with Heliborne. However, JetCat tweaked the prescribed gameplay system and added a “squadron” format before you can jump into any battle.
Squadrons allow players to build teams of three types of helicopters that you can switch around in-game. The helicopters you can put into your squadrons are limited to your chosen faction, the US or the Soviets.
Currently the game has five major mission maps, two game modes and a solo/co-op game mode that you can sink your teeth into. The control scheme on the other hand is a mix of simul-lite (or simulation lite) and arcade flight model which aims to make players experience a simulation type control scheme but still have the markings of an arcade stream lined control system.
Currently, Heliborne has around 40 helicopters in its roster. The designs range from as early as the Vietnam War era and go as modern as the 2000s. Each helicopter in the roster can get their loadouts updated to as close to historical accuracy as possible, or so JetCat claims. One of the more glaring liberties JetCat takes, which I personally have no complaints with, is the amount of rockets these copters can bring. Under normal circumstances I don’t think that the helicopters, even the modern ones, can bring around 300+ rockets in its loadout.
Heliborne classifies the helicopters into three different types: attack, assault, and recon/scout classes. Each helicopter category has its own use in battles. In fact, you need to have at least one of each in your squadron so that you can be as flexible as possible during the heat of battle. Since the game doesn’t allow you to edit your loadouts while in battle, you have to go out of the match, change your loadout, and then re-enter.
Helicopters are also classified into classes starting from class I, which are mostly the earlier older helicopters, up to the IV class where you’ll finally be able to use the more familiar modern helicopters. Matches are categorized by copter class so that there’s no imbalance happening between teams. Aside from the default loadout, you can research and upgrade the capabilities of your helicopters to suit your needs.
Meanwhile, battles in Heliborne are slow, deliberate matches that take around 45 minutes of your time at most, depending on the game mode, team composition, and strategy. Matches can be frantic with exhilarating changes, or slow slogs that feel like they’ll take forever to end.
I love that squadron battles in Heliborne require you to coordinate with your teammates and the way you choose your helicopters to use. Fragging in game isn’t just reliant on air-to-air helicopter battles. You have to also consider troop deployment either by dropping RPGs or anti-air infantry as you capture forward bases,which is the best way for you to earn research points and win matches. Forward bases can also be reinforced by vehicles that provide anti-air installations, making it harder for opposing teams in taking their bases over.
I’ve had matches where the proper placement of troops along with a good team play allowed us to maintain the lead from the start of the game to finish. I’ve also had matches where the enemies would snowball hard, especially if we were outnumbered, outplayed and outgunned – which happens frequently, even in battles I started myself.
Thankfully, I can just jump out of battles and still get the research points that I earned during the battle. At least this makes you feel like matches aren’t something you are required to finish if things don’t go your way.
My biggest problem with Heliborne is the lack of team balancing in battles. I do understand this though, since the game isn’t as popular, and in fact just launched recently so the player base isn’t large. I just hope that JetCat will be able to fix this later on.
Heliborne is a game that answers the helicopter gaming itch that I never really thought I had. It’s not a game that you can easily jump into unless you watch the tutorial videos. In fact, I hoped that JetCat included a starting tutorial on the game but what they provide are just videos by streamers and content creators. If you’re one of the special snowflake gamers out there I’m sure you would drop the game because of this, however, it’s going to be your loss if you do so.
It’s a game that I’d really see myself getting into (up to the point that I’d even stream and play it), the game has a lot of potential. With the game still in its early stages, Heliborne is a seriously enjoyable game just as long as you have the patience to go past the first hour or so of trying to figure things out.
For its price, there are a lot of games that won’t meet the quality of gaming Heliborne provides. So if you’re looking to challenge yourself and still have fun, Heliborne is one of the games that is top on my list.
Overall: 4/5 – Lack of proper native tutorial system can turn off people, matches can be brutal for titled players, but overall a robust and fun experience.