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This budget simulation lands players in-country, armed with guns and rockets.

The experience of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, in 1965 in Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley is different 

from what many civilians who have seen Oliver Stone’s Platoon think of. Chronicled in the book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young and the similarly named movie, the action featured fierce fighting between regulars of the U.S. and North Vietnamese armies on the open battlefield, unlike the clashes between the Americans and Viet Cong guerrillas elsewhere in the conflict.

Whirlwind Over Vietnam ($30, requires Microsoft Windows XP, 2Ghz processor, 512MB RAM, 2GB hard drive space, 64MB video card, DVD-ROM drive, Evolved Games, is based on helicopter action in battles in the Ia Drang Valley, and like the book and its story, the simulation is somewhat atypical of the budget market it targets. It is a true flight simulation, configured for a realistic flight model—not the arcadelike experience you’d expect from a low-priced title catering to the masses. It is not as solid in its modeling as some of the better helicopter simulations, but it is definitely not a simple game that lacks respect for gravity and physics.

As a part of a helicopter gunship crew, the player participates in sorties inspired by real missions from the conflict. Early missions, for example, have the player’s helicopter escorting troop carriers as they fly to deliver soldiers to the battlefield. These early sorties are where the game shines. The player becomes a witness to history, flying over Vietnam’s terrain in a convoy of helicopters and seeing troops dismounting in what is essentially a re-creation of Vietnam’s quintessential war-era image. At the player’s disposal are guns and rockets mounted on the gunship. Gamers who want a break from piloting can also choose to command the co-pilot’s seat or either of the door gunner positions and let the autopilot fly the mission for them.

Whirlwind Over Vietnam can’t uphold the promising first impression it makes. It sports decent vehicle and terrain graphics but mediocre special effects and sound. It comes with only one single-player campaign of a meager 10 missions. It lacks multiplayer support and doesn’t offer tutorials, stand-alone missions or a free-flight mode. The package offers a good variety of configurable features to customize the realism of the flight model, but despite what appears to be a sizable number of control options, I found setting up joysticks problematic. And a joystick is a must-have for helicopter simulations.

The game’s missions can also be repetitive, and they also end automatically, before the player has a chance to fly back to base. There is an online manual but little other documentation in the game and only brief historical notes in the mission briefings. Players will hear some interesting radio traffic overheard that makes reference to events taking place on the ground, but it’s clearly scripted and doesn’t quite deliver an authentic historical feel.

Like the battles that inspired it, Whirlwind Over Vietnam isn’t always characteristic of its peers at large. Its flaws are hard for novice players to overcome and could try the patience of even more advanced gamers. Those itching for a gritty Vietnam-era helicopter simulation will find only short-lived relief here.


Originally published in the September 2007 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.