Playing Through Medal of Honor's Apache Helicopter LevelS

Good news and bad news for Medal of Honor fans: Gunfighters, the level shown off at Gamescom that has you controlling a gunner in an Apache helicopter, is a blast to play... but it's also the only one that takes place in the gunship.

Playing through the level earlier today in a behind-closed-doors meeting with the developers, I was reminded of just how much I enjoyed and miss attack helicopter video games.

While there have only been a few such games over the past decade or so, I've always thoroughly enjoyed them. And Medal of Honor's quick dip into the under-served genre is no different.

Gunfighters takes place somewhere well into the game, a game that is, of course, not a helicopter combat title but instead a first-person shooter. But Gunfighters follows a level that has you controlling elite "Tier One Operators" as they mark targets in the mountains of Afghanistan for an Apache attack helicopter assault.

The game does this on occasion, said Medal of Honor product manager Kevin O'Leary.

"There are two types of missions in Medal of Honor," he said. "The first type is scalpel, very quiet, stealthy missions, these missions lead for a sledgehammer mission, that's typical big-army, boots-on-the-ground stuff."

Gunfighters is part of that sledgehammer gameplay.

The mission opens with me in control of the gunner position of the helicopter, staring out the side of the gunship as it hovers across the barren Afghanistan landscape.

The controls are slightly different than what I'm used to. Most importantly, as the gunner I have no control of the helicopter itself. Instead, I control the weapons, using the PlayStation 3's top right trigger to fire the machine gun, the bottom right to fire missiles and the top left trigger to zoom in slightly to help find and pinpoint targets. I can also launch a Hellfire missile at distant targets that have been marked by holding in the bottom left trigger.

Firing the machine gun kicks up a considerable amount of dust and dirt, chewing through whatever I point it at, including people. While ammo doesn't seem to be an issue, you do have to make sure the gun doesn't overheat. The helicopter has hundreds of missiles in it's cache, though it only loads eight at a time. After you shoot those off you need to wait for it to reload.

The mission starts off simply enough, with a bit of training disguised as a weapons check.

I'm impressed by the radio chatter constantly streaming out of the speakers.

O'Leary tells me that the developers worked closely with a real Apache team in creating not only the mission but also that chatter. Every line spoken in the mission was approved by them, he says. I can believe it.

The mission takes the helicopter around the mountains, into a town packed with enemies and then back out across the mountains again on the hunt for mortar positions. Gunning down enemies with such powerful weaponry is satisfying. Spotting the armed men running from craggy cover to craggy cover is rewarding. It's the sort of level I'd like to play again.

And there are ways to die, not by getting shot, but by having your helicopter hit by RPGs, something that can happen with surprising frequency if you're not careful.

After working through the mission, O'Leary leaps to the PlayStation 3 controller to pause the game.

"I don't want the next level to load," he says. "It would spoil the surprise."