LHX was released both on PC and the Sega Genesis, with some differences between the two versions. The PC version is very straightforward, all missions are available at start and there's nothing to unlock, in the Genesis version there is a linear progression where the player unlocks the next mission using passwords. Missions vary from search-and-destroy enemy targets, escorting other helicopters, transporting troops, making supply drops or picking up wounded soldiers, P.O.W.'s or other operatives from the battlefield.
Each mission begins at a friendly airfield and are intended to be ended either at the same or a designated other. Success means a simple text briefing, a medal if warranted, and the opportunity to move to the next mission. Medals persist through play sessions.
Four Helicopters are available to the player:
The game's Blackhawk can fire TOW missiles, unguided Rockets, or two fixed machine guns. The TOWs lacked power, are hard to use in flight, and cannot catch the faster enemy jets, but when in the right circumstances could down a target without exposing the helicopter to return fire. Rugged, slow, but agile and able to fly low.
The Apache could fire Hellfire Missiles, unguided rockets, Sidewinder missiles, or a turret-mounted 30mm cannon. The Hellfires and cannon can shoot anything in the player's view once lock-on is achieved, allowing the player to engage targets on the move. Very durable and agile, but slow and less effective in the air-to-air role than the LHX.
The Osprey, making possibly its first appearance in a video game, was a huge and fast transport. Armed with a turret-mounted gun, TOW missiles, additional (fixed) guns, or unguided rockets the Osprey was amazingly well armed and fairly durable.
The titular aircraft of the game, the Light Helicopter Experimental was based on the never-built Bell-McDonell Douglas prototype from the 1980s. Incredibly fast for a helicopter and supremely agile, the LHX features a turret-mounted 20mm Cannon and a large Stinger and TOW or Hellfire armament.
Helicopter selection is left up to the player, with the only restriction being for missions which required picking up or dropping off something, in which case only the Osprey and Blackhawk transports are available. Each helicopter has a unique cockpit, slightly different weapons load-out, and handles in their own way. But they all share similar systems, either displayed on an instrument panel or available as various options for Multi-Function Displays:
- Radar - A black field with dots representing ground and airborne threats as well as incoming missiles and objectives.
- Weapon Status - A display of current weapon stores remaining.
- RD/IR warning - A series of lights indicating whether the player is being tracked by enemy Radar or Infrared sensors and how strongly. Will flash a warning about incoming missiles.
- Nav Display - Shows way-points and the distance to them.
- Mechanicals - Displays throttle setting, fuel remaining, and indicates damage to oil or hydraulic systems.
- Gun Camera - Shows a zoomed view of whatever the player has locked onto.
- HUD - The Heads Up Display above the instrument panel shows a virtual compass, target reticule, and flight information.
Flight is straightforward for the most part: throttle up makes the helicopter ascend, down makes it descend, and a certain setting allows it to maintain altitude. To move forward, the player simply tilts the helicopter forward and it accelerates, the tilt stops at a predetermined point. Turning is achieved by rotating the helicopter, strafing is also possible. To fly more radically, a "stunt" key can be pressed which removes the stop point and allows more dramatic maneuvering, but the game isn't made to be flown this way for extended periods and attempting to do so invariably makes the aircraft un-flyable. The Osprey has an airplane mode, pressing a button rotates the engine nacelles forward and the aircraft flies like an airplane. Landing this way is possible with enough practice, but takeoffs must be done in helicopter mode.
Engaging the enemy is as simple as getting a lock and firing for some weapons such as the turreted guns. The unguided guns and rockets require that the player aim the whole aircraft and fire. The Hellfire will loose lock and miss if the player doesn't keep the target locked the whole time. The TOW is a bit unique, as the player's control will switch from their aircraft to the missile for its flight. The camera view jumps to the missile, and the player must guide it into the target. The downside is that the player cannot control their aircraft during this time; if its not hovering, landed, or locked into a heading it may crash.
To avoid missiles, the player can also fire off flares to defeat IR missiles, and Chaff to defeat radar missiles and radar-guided guns. There is a limited supply of both and neither is guaranteed to defeat incoming fire. The player must fly evasively, low to the ground and around terrain, to mask their movement as well as use the aircraft's weapons to take out threats.
Damage from enemy fire is represented by the screen shaking and a few polygons exploding from the impact. There's no damage "meter," has the aircraft is hit more it will lose systems to an unusable "damaged" state or begins losing critical fluids to leaks. The pilot can be wounded, represented by holes in the windscreen. After enough damage the aircraft will explode into a fireball which crashes uncontrollably, but before that it may lose enough critical systems to lose control and crash, or the pilot may be killed (resulting in a crash). If the player makes an emergency landing and survives, but is unable to continue to the objective, they can choose to end the mission. Depending on where they land, this can have different results. Landing in friendly territory will often earn a mission complete, but if the pilot has been wounded he may die of his injuries. Landing in enemy territory could result in any of a number of scenarios: captured by the enemy (and later traded on a POW exchange or escaping, simply walking out) picked up by friendlies, or being found and killed.
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