By Joseph Luster
There are countless ways to take to the skies in fighter jets and other similarly designed aircraft in the world of war games, but helicopters are an oft-overlooked focal point. Sure, you may hop in the chopper from time to time depending on what kind of game you’re playing, but publisher Klabater and developer JetCat Games have cooked up something more specific with Heliborne, a helicopter combat game that recently made its way to PC via Steam. The results, while rough in some areas, are definitely worth checking out for anyone who wants something different out of their aerial action.
Helicopter action games used to be way more prevalent back in the day. From 2D arcade and console classics like Tiger Heli, Cobra Command, Twin Cobra, and even somewhat modern shoot ‘em ups like Zero Gunner 2, to more strategic action offerings like the Desert Strike series, there was no shortage of blade-spinning ballistic excitement. While there are still a handful of outliers today, these games certainly aren’t as common as they used to be, which makes for a nice niche Heliborne is hoping to fill.
It does so pretty well for the most part, too. Players can choose from a wide array of helicopters from the 1950s through 2000—more than 40 in total—with five key maps making up the majority of the real-world-based locales. At the time of this writing the mission maps consist of Kosovo, Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province and Khost Region, and Vietnam’s Operation Nguyen Hue and the Gulf of Tonkin. There’s also a straight-up polygonal training map that offers up a good opportunity for getting a grip on the controls. While you won’t be controlling them yourself, there are a few AI-powered ground units interspersed throughout the missions, as well, including troop carriers, anti-aircraft vehicles, and tanks, with more planned for the future.
As for the specific types of helicopters, there are three classes overall. Reconnaissance-focused scout choppers, for instance, are known for being small and swift and can carry a few troops. Attack helicopters are all about taking on enemies both in the air and on the ground, and Air-assault helicopters handle multiple functions and carry troops of their own. The helicopters that do carry soldiers can deploy them anywhere on the map, whether they’re mortar troops or RPG-firing units. This adds an additional layer of strategy to the battles, which can get pretty hectic.
The main multiplayer game modes you can take part in are Domination and Frontline. The former is a capture-the-flag style competitive mode, while the latter allows for convoy-spawning base capturing and fortification across the map. As of now, both modes are just active across certain maps, but hopefully that will change as JetCat Games continues to provide support and expand Heliborne over the coming months and years.
Heliborne certainly has some growing to do, but what’s there right now is a good time in the making. We’ll have to reserve judgment for the full release, though. In the meantime, there’s a solid combination of arcade action and flight simulation at play. Heliborne walks the line between the two control types just tightly enough, and it’s going to be fun to see how they build upon this skeleton in the future. If you’ve been longing for a new take on the helicopter subgenre of war games, hop on Steam and see if this looks like it fits the bill well enough.