Heliborne by JetCat Games
JetCat Games is a small development team – just four strong – but that hasn’t stopped them from taking on the mammoth task of reviving the helicopter action game and creating a detailed, multi-layered chopper combat experience. Heliborne features an array of military helicopters ranging from the 1950s to modern day, and it presents them in an action game that feels delicately balanced between light simulation and arcade fun.
Heliborne is a daunting game, at first; my first attempt to fly one of its many helicopters had me careening into a nearby hill. It is not eager to handhold, and it has several menus to navigate in order to get battle-ready. Thankfully, the apparent opaqueness of Heliborne’s many systems is mostly an illusion, and it didn’t take long for me to get to grips with what turned out to be an intuitive set of menus and options.
Aside from the two main game modes, Heliborne has four menu tabs to navigate. The hangar is where you can examine each chopper in detail, swapping out weapon load-outs and other aspects of your set-up. The progression page is for spending in-game currency to unlock new helicopters (these are split between US and Soviet vehicles). The career tab is a simple overview of your progress in Heliborne. Finally, the squadron tab allows for the creation of three-helicopter battle groups for taking into matches. I found these menus to be well designed, for the most part, although they are sometimes a little unresponsive when loading.
The aforementioned game modes are single player/co-op and battle, the latter of which is PvP. Both modes are split across four tiers, which determine which helicopters and maps are available. The single-player/co-op mode has various settings that can be tweaked. It generally involves completing several randomly selected objectives across the map. These range from capturing territory to eliminating specific targets within a time limit. They can become a bit repetitive after a while, but the challenge is relatively sound and makes for a far more relaxing experience than the PvP mode.
Chop ’em Up
Battle is far more intense, and it feels like this is where Heliborne’s core experience is based. Two teams (US and Soviet) wrestle over a network of linked bases across the various maps. Points are gained by capturing bases and pushing toward enemy territory. Heliborne manages to feel somewhat strategic thanks to the nature of this mode; focusing on taking out enemy choppers isn’t enough if the other team is capturing more terrain. You can land choppers to offload troops to the ground in order to capture areas (and man anti-aircraft turrets).
The options available in terms of tactics are impressive, and these matches are intense bouts when the teams are balanced. Unfortunately, I have encountered more than a few matches where the number of players on one team outweighed the other, but this is to be expected as the community grows. Hopefully as more players become involved it will be easier to find fully populated matches.
The sheer customization available for the choppers really comes into play during battles. Weapons can be modified and the troops being carried can be tweaked; I was impressed to find that I could ditch my standard foot soldiers for rocket launcher-wielding troops. These can’t be used to capture bases like normal soldiers, but they can be deployed anywhere on the map to harass enemy choppers. This kind of customization goes a long way towards deepening Heliborne’s tactical options and providing more varied action.
Get to the Chopper!
Visually, Heliborne does a good job of portraying the helicopters and their devastating weaponry. It’s rarely beautiful, but it does enough to create an immersive and realistic feeling world. The sound is excellent, with the various weapons each having distinctive effects that make them instantly recognizable. This is all underscored by an energetic soundtrack that feels tonally appropriate for the chopper combat style.
Heliborne is an excellent multiplayer action game that would be even more enticing if there was a little more to do in single-player matches. Currently its community is still growing, and it feels like the game itself could do with more content to bolster its solid beginnings into a broader experience. Thankfully, the content that is already present is unlockable at a steady pace – a welcome relief from the often onerous task of unlocking content in games that attempt to monetize the process with micro-transactions – and it isn’t long before you have a decent squadron to play with.
Heliborne is enjoyable both in its moment-to-moment action and its deeper tactical customization options. If the developers continue to expand on their excellent work, then this could grow into a superb competitive game with a strong single-player/co-op offering to back it up.
Heliborne is available via Steam.
Watch the official Heliborne trailer below: