With past Air Hogs that I’ve reviewed the challenge has always been to try and fly as long as possible and navigate around the room without crashing. The Battle Tracker changes that completely and actually redefines the entire approach seen by most remote control helicopters. Instead of just trying to fly you are also now fighting for your life against a robot that is 3-4 times the size of your helicopter.
This isn’t the first Air Hogs helicopter to have weapons. The Sharp Shooter being once recent example, where you had missiles you could fire and cardboard cut outs to shoot down. It was fun but it didn’t really match up to the fun of playing against another friend in another helicopter. Thankfully the Battle Tracker doesn’t require you to own two helicopters for two player fun – although admittedly it does cost around the same price as two helicopters.
Despite the price of around £100 it does offer something genuinely different that goes beyond just a quick gimmick. Alongside a disk firing helicopter (more on that later) it also includes an "Automated Robotic Turret" (or A.R.T as the creators have lovingly dubbed him). A.R.T is a robot that can rotate 360 degrees left and right and around 90 degrees up and down. This gives him a good range of movement especially if you position him on a flat surface in the middle of a room which will allow him to aim pretty much anywhere.
Not that A.R.T needs much of an advantage. He has a giant gun either side of him, each of which houses six foam rockets. There’s also a further six rockets included in the box in case you lose these. With A.R.T loaded with missiles and your helicopter loaded with seven foam disks the aim is to stop each other. A.R.T has to hit the helicopter, and the Air Hogs player has to hit a radar grid positioned at the top of A.R.T. You can then act out this scenario with one or two players.
If you chose two player mode then one player can unfurl a wired controller from A.R.T which has a four way directional pad and a fire button. As it’s wired there’s barely any delay between pressing a button and firing. The downside is that the wire is connected to the back of the turret so if you do a few 360 degree rotations it gets wrapped around it. It’s unlikely to stop the flow of most games but it seemed odd not to have the cable come from the base which doesn't rotate.
In two player games I found playing as the A.R.T gave me a real sense of power, especially with almost double the firepower of the helicopter. I was worried I’d be quite exposed thanks to the large hit area at the top of A.R.T but thanks to being quick to move it’s possible to angle yourself away from non front on attacks.
Playing with A.R.T carries a learning curve much like the helicopter as you still have to learn the arc of the missiles and the best way to aim them so they hit their target. It’s certainly easier for new players to learn how to control the turret rather than the helicopter although there are good challenges in both.
Where A.R.T really comes in to its own is in auto mode. I was blown away by this mode and didn’t expect it to be anywhere near this good. In auto mode A.R.T will angle himself to follow your helicopter as you move around the room. We tried this with real beginners playing and even then as the helicopter moved very unpredictably the A.R.T still caught up with it and hit the target. He may not be as nimble as a helicopter but it doesn’t really show in auto mode. When A.R.T hits you it lets out a menacing laugh which is a nice touch.
For those piloting the helicopter I found it really easy to hover and found downwards and upwards motion the best in any of the Air Hogs product I’ve tried. You can fix trim on the go in midair if you find the helicopter goes around in circles too much and again it’s another reason to be thankful that it’s relatively easy to hover.
Another great feature is that the control sticks feel bigger than on the Sharp Shooter both in size and the range of motion they have, making them easier to move and offering more subtle movement. Very handy if you are trying to take out A.R.T and are on your last disk.
If you do run out of disks there’s a slot in the back of the controller for you to store a few so you can land and do a quick reload. You can actually reload in mid air if you have a steady aim and a brave friend as the slot to insert disks is always open so that’s pretty handy. Disks are fired by hitting a trigger on the top of the controller so you don’t have to remove your focus from controlling the helicopter.
Whichever side you choose – A.R.T’s missiles or Air Hogs disks, both projectiles have some force behind them and can easily travel half way across a medium sized room, so much so that finding them after a firefight is always a challenge. They’re soft so it’s unlikely they’d break anything – which is handy because when controlling the A.R.T it’s quite good fun to try and shoot the person controlling the helicopter – and even in auto mode it’s quite funny how often this happens.
As for which machine has the upper hand it’s definitely A.R.T when in auto mode and probably Air Hogs in manual mode if you are an experienced player. There’s fun to be had on both sides of the battle whether than be in multi player or in single player with the helicopter. A great use of Air Hogs technology and by far the most fun remote control helicopter set I’ve ever tried.