Games of yore #6: Hind
Revisiting my memories of Wing Commander IV reminded me of another flight sim from my gaming childhood. While WC4 was my introduction to space combat in the cockpit, Digital Integration’s Hind was my introduction to just how daunting and convoluted flying can be in real life. For that was one of its key selling points: brutal realism.
A contemporary of WC4, Hind put you in the pilot’s seat of the titular Soviet attack chopper – perhaps the most dreaded Commie war machine of the late Cold War. As the game’s richly detailed manual notes, the Mi-24 Hind was something NATO forces of the era had never dealt with: a helicopter built specifically for dishing out death, instead of conveying troops and supplies. They dubbed it the ‘bogeyman’ for its fearsome appearance and firepower. But as everybody knows, it’s not the weapon but the wielder – which makes you the real bogeyman.
(Happily, it’s available on GOG, and so is dat manual!)
The first thing you need to know about playing a game of Hind is that it had realism modes. Opting for full realism exposed you to a smorgasbord of accurately reproduced real-life dangers, practically all of which stem from less than stellar handling of the controls. This was dead serious. Push the stick too far forward during take-off? Your chopper would nosedive into the tarmac. Caught in a vortex ring? Take immediate action or crash. A what ring, you say? Lrn2read the manual.
Needless to say, the kid I was enjoyed the dumbed-down version far too much to bother with anal things like that. Oh, I read the manual. Loved it, still have it, even managed to understand a great deal of it. But did I want ‘vortex rings’ and ‘retreating blade stalling’ and all that headache in my game? Nope. I preferred to land my chopper the way Ace Ventura parks his car, thanks.
Another of Hind‘s key selling points was its multiplayer – which, of course, I never got to experience, since where I’m from, back in the day, it was probably easier to find flocks of white crows than a crowd that played obscure games like this. Hind had a unique co-op mode where Player 1 flew the chopper and Player 2 controlled the weapons systems, just like what I used to do with my dad at the keyboard in Incoming. (I haven’t played flight sims since the 20th century, so correct me if this has since become standard fare.)
I imagine this would have made for a rather different experience than today’s ‘gang up’ co-op. When both players share the same ‘body’, well, teamwork takes on new meaning!
Plus, according to the manual, players could even face the titular chopper of Hind‘s predecessor, Apache Longbow, in a rare case of cross-game multiplayer. I say rare because I’m sure I haven’t heard of any other such case – it’d be like Modern Warfare 3 players being able to join Black Ops servers, MW3 weapons and all.
Aside from the fun of piloting a flying Commie death machine, the two things about Hind that have stuck with me the most are the VO and the single-player missions. Maybe a true-blue Russian can tell me if the comrade the devs hired to narrate is true-blue or not, but boy, did he kill it – I can still hear some of those lines in my head more than 15 years on. Here’s a sample.
As for the missions, supposedly based on real Soviet operations in Afghanistan, Korea, and the like, they would have been like any other combat sim if not for the ability to manipulate the flightplans. It took me a while to notice, but as my handler droned on during briefing, I found out I could drag and drop waypoints on the map to customize mission objectives. As a test, I put the destination and the takeoff point together, and once in the field, simply lifted off and then touched back down. Mission accomplished! I remember how I chuckled, watching the rest of the squadron fly off towards the front lines. Best army ever. Talk about a fast-track to an Order of Lenin.
Of course, I did fly out to strafe me some mujahideen and capitalist pigs, and it was here that kids used to unlimited ammunition and a complete absence of combat systems management got a wake-up call. In the cockpit of the Mi-24, every other hit you took was a hard blow. Every time the chopper rocked, you lost functionality in some subsystem or other – night vision would break, radar would flatline, engines would catch fire, and that’s just scratching the surface. You weren’t an invincible war hero gunning down enemy fodder. You were very, very vulnerable, and running out of ammo meant an ignoble retreat, not pressing a panic button to summon a supply drop.
Perhaps that’s why I didn’t spend too much time in Hind. In fact, I remember more of the screwing around I did on the airbase (nothing like seeding the parade grounds with anti-personnel mines and watching toy soldiers drop!) than the flying in the field. I was young, and I wanted something different from my games. Brutal realism in a flight sim is great – it did give me plenty to think about – but ultimately, that sort of game is for a particular niche. One I didn’t see myself fitting in, and still don’t.