DCS: The Border Campaign

We take a look at the recently released campaign for the DCS: Mi-8MTV2 “Magnificent Eight” module and examine the gameplay as we thump, thump, thump our way across the Caucasus…

The Premise

Set in the border area of Georgia and South Ossetia (remind me not to invest in property there), you assume the role of a Russian Air Force pilot flying the Mi-8MTV2 in various roles over the course of the fifteen mission campaign. Featuring over 200 custom radio transmissions (broadcast in Russian – subtitled in English), the missions unfold at a nice pace as you wage war against terrorist groups that are trying to infiltrate north from Georgia.

Missions are well briefed although they do suffer from some Russian to English translation roughness. Instructions are easy to understand, mission goals are well defined, and the supplementary navigation and communication information is readily available. Briefing maps are perfectly constructed with notations, headings and distances, and defined mission points and operating areas. Some missions contain additional recon images that further specify mission details with illustrations of landing areas or other operational requirements.

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Detailed briefing maps clearly paint the picture of each operation and provide excellent navigation references for the Doppler system.

Much of the campaign (created by Armen) occurs around the border area, with very specific instructions not to cross the border. While you will eventually become familiar with the area of operations, use of the Doppler Inertial System, radio beacons, and instructions from your navigator will play heavily in the conduct of many of the missions. Prior to this campaign, I was completely unfamiliar with the different navigation methods available in the Mi-8, but by the end of the campaign I was an ace when navigating using the onboard systems. Our own EinsteinEP wrote a fantastic article on the Mi-8 Doppler Navigator in THIS article.

Use of the Doppler Navigation system is very helpful in staying on the correct mission flight path.
Many of the campaign missions skirt closely along the border, making map reading, onboard use of the navigation equipment, and familiarity with the AO essential.

The Border campaign differs from some we’ve seen for DCS World in that the missions are mostly “all business” with a very staid, no-nonsense approach to both the unfolding of the campaign and the individual missions. There is no idle chatter, no slang, and no really light or humorous moments. Well, at least I don’t think there are, because I’m simply reading the English text that accompanies the Russian voices that populate the mission. The recordings are of very good quality and even though I don’t understand them, they impart the right feel during the missions. Some other campaigns have included rather intricate back-stories, overall campaign/situational briefings, and/or mission-by-mission back-stories, but this campaign does not include such extras. As well, though the many tasks required of you as the Mi-8 pilot are well broadcast through both the briefings and the in-mission messages, there are large gaps of non-communication between action points where other campaign designers might have filled that void with some non-mission critical dialog. I have yet to meet a pilot that doesn’t talk with his crew about women, pay, or food and alcohol. Maybe these are Mormon Russians. Whatever the case, the missions are varied, intricately designed, and feature a fantastic array of tasks that very much showcase the flexibility that the Mi-8 brings to the battlefield.

Missions

As mentioned, expect a wide array of missions that take advantage of the multiple capabilities of the Mi-8. What I really appreciate about the missions is that they are quite achievable and don’t overwhelm you with unrealistic tasks or excessive (as in “over the top”) combat. They seem quite realistic with a nice balance of navigation, flying skill, and combat. It is also worth mentioning that the campaign really highlights the capabilities of the Mi-8 and demonstrates what a fantastic job Belsimtek did with the modeling of the Mi-8 in their module. Much of the emphasis is on the flying, with precision flying inherent to combat helo operations. Heavy weights, sling loads, icing, instrument failures, and uneven surfaces are among the challenges you’ll run into. The missions are achievable, but not easy, and I’ll admit to taking five tries to complete one mission because I missed a very important component of the helicopter that escaped my attention (feel free to e-mail me if you want to know what it was – but I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone!). Mission length varies from 30 to 60 minutes to complete, with most being toward the upper end of that time period. The author designed the missions with nice variables, some good surprises, and a fantastic feel of linked accomplishments and challenges that provide nice continuity throughout the campaign. By that I mean that each mission blends seamlessly into the next, addressing components from the previous mission, building a narrative as the campaign progresses.

Sling load missions are included, which was my first encounter with sling load operations in DCS World. The last time I had visited the Mi-8, the sling-load capability had not yet been added, so exploring it in the context of the campaign was great fun, but required looking up some specific sling-load control inputs. The sling load visualizer aid is fantastic, and the Mi-8 has a great “auto-unhook” switch that you can arm to drop the load once the weight on the cable starts to lower (ostensibly because you put the cargo in the drop zone).

Do you know what all these switches do? You might want to know!

Missions have a nice flow to them and there is a heavy reliance on the F10 “extra” communications menu to make decisions, contact outposts, troop commanders, accompanying flights, and other entities. Often you will work in conjunction with other Mi-8s, Mi-24s, and ground troops. Radio communications weigh heavily into each mission and you will spend some time swapping frequencies to accomplish different phases of some missions, so familiarity with the radios is highly recommended. One criticism I would have is that the missions are a bit devoid of activity outside of the orbit of the mission itself – for instance, there is not a lot other action going on around the FARPs, bases, or areas of operation. It would be nice to see some unrelated actions going on in the AO to give a sense of a larger operation unfolding. When working in conjunction with other helicopter groups (Mi-24 or Mi-8), the operations are very well coordinated and blend well with the goals of the mission.

Missions unfold with great timing and precision, but I did encounter a few instances of triggers that had perhaps a bit too tight of tolerances. For instance, in one case I landed near an objective, but apparently I wasn’t within the locus of the mission advance trigger, so repositioning a few dozen meters to the other side of the LZ smoke did advance the mission. In another instance, landing at a FARP pad did not trigger a mission ending, but moving to another pad did. While these are not huge errors given the entire scope of the hundreds of trigger items that work perfectly, moving from one hover location to another can prove disastrous for certain (cough) inept Mi-8 pilots, so the risk is very real. A slight widening of a couple of the trigger zones might be useful.

Night missions are moody and fraught with potential disaster.

The Mi-8 Module

An obvious requirement to fly The Border campaign is the Mi-8 module itself (currently $49.99, though it occasionally goes on sale). Though I had futzed around with the Mi-8 within the first few months of release, it had been a long time since I had revisited it. The aforementioned sling-loading capability is just enormous fun, and a great challenge for precision flying aficionados. With the capability to mount rockets and gun pods, the Mi-8 makes for a fairly potent gunship as well – and in The Border you’ll find some instances where you mix up roles in the same mission: providing both gun and lift support during the same sortie. The Mi-8 is definitely a module for stick and rudder pilots (well, cyclic, collective, and anti-torque pedals) and the finesse required to complete some of the missions results in a great feeling of accomplishment. I can’t tell you how many times vortex ring state kicked my butt during this campaign. Haste and cutting corners does not benefit your blood pressure when you’ve invested nearly an hour into a mission only to crash because you got reckless on the last landing at a FARP or outpost. Though the initial familiarization with the Mi-8 cockpit and procedures can be daunting, just running through the tutorial missions included with the Mi-8 module are sufficient to get you up to a proficiency level that will allow you to tackle The Border campaign. A bit of practice with the sling-loading using a single mission or just using the editor to create your own sling-loading mission would be recommended however.

Conclusion

For those people that are predominantly offline players of DCS World, the tutorials, single missions, and campaigns included with modules are essential to deriving the most from each purchase. It is worth mentioning that the included “Spring Tension” campaign that ships with the Mi-8 is fantastic (you can read an AAR from one of those missions HERE), but it is always encouraging to see both user created single missions and pay DLC populating the available content list for modules. With fifteen well constructed missions, The Border is a pretty good value for time spent versus the investment. Normally priced at $9.99, the campaign does occasionally go on sale for $4.99 (the price point at which I picked it up). Even at the higher price, you get great value with a solid 15-20 hours of gameplay – perhaps more if you end up crashing as many times as I did and having to replay missions. The campaign tilts toward precision flying enthusiasts with some nice combat action thrown in, but don’t expect to be faced with hoards of enemies or impossible goals. As a helo enthusiast, I very much enjoyed the campaign and hope that more campaigns (free and DLC) are released for all of the DCS modules.

Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth

 

Notable Replies

  1. PS - We are aware that the image galleries are no longer loading as "galleries" and rather clicking images only brings up the single image - not sure why that is happening.

  2. Still a NICE read.

  3. Fridge says:

    Nice article!

    I plan on giving the campaign a try in a few months ... when I have more time. That happens right? The list gets shorter and you can add something to it. Right?

  4. Great read @BeachAV8R and something I think I'd enjoy playing.

    The gallery snafu has been fixed and gerbils disciplined.

  5. Gorgeous pics and very nice read.
    One of these days I'll have to learn what all these switches do :dizzy_face:

  6. It would help if I fed and watered them once in awhile...PETA would disapprove of my gerbil management..

  7. dvdlpt says:

    Excellent read. Thanks. The campaigns are really looking good.

  8. I agree: Great read. Great screenies.

    I bought the campaign inspired by the prequel Beach wrote a week prior to this article. It's been fun but honestly I could easily have written more immersive missions on my own. It just doesn't have the quality and finish that we should expect from paid DLC. But I've learned a lot about the Mi8 and especially the need to manage radios. I've done worse with $10.

  9. What's wrong/lacking ?

  10. Looks fun! How does it compare to the default Mi-8 campaign that plays in the same area?

  11. It is fairly sterile in that there isn't much "story" background, there isn't any idle chatter, and the tasks and missions unfold in a very no-nonsense way with very little "emotion" so to speak. The flying is pretty good, and the tasks are good, but it isn't quite as developed as some other campaigns.

  12. I think the default campaign is better. But it is something else to do. At $5 (the sale price), I was pretty happy with the purchase. At $10, I would still be OK with it, but probably wish I’d paid $5. LOL

  13. Right. I think part of the problem is that the English localization is partial. I feel like I am missing some key information. And don't get me wrong, its not bad. For $10, this was a great way to learn one of the most iconic flying machines in history. I'll relate a couple of niggling frustrations: 1) We have a navigator who is more than happy to give an initial heading and distance--but who seems obliged to keep his trap shut as we fly over the Georgian border to our certain harm. The triggering should be sophisticated enough so that he at least provides a little warning (as in, "Dude, aren't we uncomfortably close to the border!"). Instead, 30 minutes of flying abruptly ends with a frame freeze and failure message. Another representative frustration is where we are tasked with landing next to a house and quickly scrambled to destroy it. (You will appreciate this spoiler). If you are inside 500 meters when you hit it with rockets your helicopter blows up. No explanation other than boom. Only later after rerunning the mission did I discover that there was an ammo cache in the joint and it is the secondary explosion that takes us out as collateral. (Shoot from afar). A little subtle hint like "we suspect that the bad-guys might be storing explosives here" would have saved a pointless repeat. So yeah, a little testing and refinement would have made the experience more polished and less sterile and haphazard.

  14. Those are all great points, you should suggest those edits on the ED page. Stuff like this is good feedback. I agree that more info the better, I think when you are making a mission you forget that people playing it doesnt have all the knowledge the builder has.

  15. Freak says:

    Good ideas, @smokinhole ; also, congrats on your cakeday!

  16. @smokinhole 500 meters is already a tad close to fire anything from the Mi-8 anyway, I think you are to break the run earlier!

  17. True. But that doesn't normally kill you (in the game at least).

  18. Aaah, fair point. Consider it shrapnel damage :wink:

  19. LOL..I was just scrambling to get away from that house. I ended up flying up the valley, then coming back around to destroy it with rockets I think - or did I order the Mi-24s to destroy it (?) (I'll have to check my screens). Whatever the case, I wasn't close enough to get "killt"...

  20. Have you tried any of this in VR @BeachAV8R?

    I'm thinking I might try the A10C Red Flag in VR, but wondering if I'll need something to see PDFs etc. I should probably set up the kneeboard materials, as the kneeboard works great in VR.

  21. I haven't - but not because I haven't wanted to, but mostly because I can't capture really good screens to go along with articles :smile:

    The A-10C in Red Flag might be pretty daunting - that campaign is fairly hard..well, maybe not for someone more proficient. I'm thinking about giving Operation Piercing Fury a whirl (for the A-10C) - I picked that up during the last sale along with some of the BFT training ones.

    Are there any other Nevada map campaigns other than the A-10C and F-15C ones?

  22. The FC3 campaigns might be worth a shot too, I found the A-10A campaign to be quite fun!

  23. I'm really hoping to get an Su-33 with the PFM or AFM or whatever it is called and a new campaign for that at some point. One with A2A and A2G...

  24. ..and..to be honest, I would really like a low intensity conflict type of thing for the C-101CC (?) whenever we get that. Something against guerillas or something like that. Oh..this video is from nearly a year ago...I want sooooo bad!

    https://www.facebook.com/Aviodev/videos/827203074074830/

  25. I will so be all over that plane when it's fully released with a campaign!

  26. Fridge says:

    @BeachAV8R, what would you say are the top 5 skills you need to that campaign?

    1. General Helicopter handling;
    2. Doppler (and general) navigation w/ radios;
    3. Weapons;
    4. Sling Loading;
    5. ....

    ie: What would these be the skills you would recommend practicing before playing.

  27. All of em Fridge. The Mi-8 is a fantastic nimble machine once you get to feel it's edge! But it is massive, and overpowered. So, light but determined control is very important.

    The Doppler system is explained on this very website but the glorious @EinsteinEP.

    The weapons... Well, I would recommend getting a feel for activating them and how to achieve the firing parameters. Flying by the book when doing weapon employment is very important.

    Sling loading is easy, but do remember that slowing down ought to be done slowly, and the weight change when the cable is tensioned is something you will feel.

    TL:DR, JUST FLYYYYYYY

  28. I think you have it in order - also (perhaps under General Helicopter) would be the cold start if you are so inclined to not use the LeftWin+Home technique. Technically, you could probably even fly the whole campaign using the F10 map for reference and/or labels, so that would eliminate the need for the Doppler, but the Doppler is so much fun to use (and actually quite easy), that would be a shame to eliminate that.

    With regards to weapons - you don’t use them much, and you can get away with just learning the rockets or the gun pods, but it is important to know all the switches you have to throw to get them to be active and armed.

    Sling loading is awesome fun in my opinion.

    Your biggest enemy in this campaign is impatience. Impatience killed me multiple times when I was trying to “hurry” up a landing or approach and ended up getting sloppy and entering VRS. This is extremely frustrating if you are thirty or forty minutes into a mission and you crash because you couldn’t take the extra couple of minutes to properly set up for your landing.

  29. BOOOO

  30. I knew that Doppler comment would bounce right back at him.

  31. My opinion on the matter is definitely shifting...

  32. Sryan says:

    yes

  33. Cool - I'll definitely pick it up..but it looks to be A2A - I really hope we can see some A2G and helo campaigns coming down the pipe..

  34. Sryan says:

    About that, Chris. Weren't you a Ka-50 buff? Did you ever try the Republic campaign?

    We've also got that upcoming UH-1H campaign and some stuff for the A-10 wich is being made by @Baltic_Dragon.

  35. Hey Chris, the A-10 one is still in the making and progressing slowly, but if you'd like to have a look at it we'd appreciate your feedback (not talking about an article, just info what you think)! I guess it is different to anything that is out there at the moment.

  36. Hey, it’s Baltic Dragon!

    awwww :frowning:

  37. If I had to prioritize the skills needed, number one, the one I failed spectacularly several times, is navigation. The Doppler system is helpful. But more importantly is a solid understanding of the ARC-UD and specifically how the 828 couples with it. The step I didn't understand, but which is necessary, is to press the little tune button after setting the frequency on the 828.

    I feel like it trolled this thread a bit in my posts from a few days ago. This campaign has taught me a great deal.

  38. Go wash your mouth out with soap. Turning in circles of various radii until you can smash other aircraft is the true way to fly.

    Found one for you. Of course we all expect a review article without delay.

    http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=838571324

  39. Looks...uh..interesting..

  40. I'm usually more like "oh heck..why aren't my rockets firing..oh..I forgot that switch..!"

  41. Or a guitar!

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