There have been nearly as many WWII flying games as there have been first-person shooters. There is no question the genre is a bit crowded. Ubisoft brings their latest entry to the fray with Heroes Over Europe, and while it retains a lot of what makes these games so cliché, it also brings a sense of dissension by severing most of the realism and accuracy in favor of more accessibility. What we get is a game that seems to have somewhat of an identity crisis as it neither feels casual enough for arcade fans, and certainly not sim enough for aficionados, however the end result still turns out to be quite enjoyable at times.
It is obvious from the get go that Heroes does little to hide the fact that it is not in contention for flight sim of the year. The narrative is delivered through witty banter between pilots during missions, and all cut scenes are handled through newsreel footage lifted from events during the war. The presentation is slick and entertaining, but never a cause to be taken seriously. The chitchat between pilots was the highlight of the game. There is so much back-story and humor squeezed into these tidbits of dialogue; you cannot help but pay attention to them. The game follows four main characters and progresses on a straight line of linearity, but it does keep you interested thanks to the above-average voice acting.
As mentioned the campaign follows four characters that you will switch between at various times to keep your interest piqued. Missions do range from typical dog fighting to more specific objectives such as protecting areas, but the majority of your time is spent taking down other planes. What I found most disturbing, and this is the case for a lot of flying games, was the length of missions. There is nothing wrong with getting bang for your buck, but when checkpoints are few and far between, one stupid crash into the ocean can cost you precious minutes of repetition. Having to repeat large-scale battles because of flying into an enemy plane is annoying, and for someone like me who likes to live dangerously, mistakes are not forgiving.
This is only troublesome because the game feels like it is confused with what it wants to be. The controls and atmosphere feel unequivocally arcade in nature, while the punishing difficulty will test even the most dedicated gamers’ patience. I found myself wanting to like the game the more I played it, but also found it harder to love thanks to the abusive difficulty. I can forgive the historical inaccuracies, the confusing mission structure and even the lopsided narrative, but when a game gives off the impression it is meant for casual flying game fans, it would be nice for it to follow through.
Sticking with the idea that the game is designed with fast-paced action in mind are the controls. You have the traditional options but also an arcade mode that takes the twin stick approach, making things much more simplified. Your plane also has a boost that allows you to catch up to enemy planes and a generous targeting system that keeps bullets from straying too far from your target as long as your reticule remains red. These are all things that I loved about the game. Simplifying a complex battle system makes it more appealing to someone like me who is not into the mechanics of flight combat, but even I was amazed when mid-air collisions did not result in instant death. It is such a heartbreak to think that a game with so much potential to be a great brainless combat game is marred by its inability to let go of some core simulation aspects.
The other feature that developer Transmission Games has added is called Hot Spot Targeting. Think of this as almost like bullet time in a game like Max Payne. If you keep an enemy in your sights for a period of time you build up a meter. Once the meter fills you can tap a button and zoom in on the action and attempt to take precision shots on key areas of the plane. This can result in one or two hit kills, and changes the dynamics of certain aerial encounters. The ability to spam this makes earlier battles a bit easier, but once you get towards the end it is obligatory to master this ability, as it is the only thing that can save you in intense battles.
Graphically the game stands out thanks mostly to the presentation. The slides shown during loading screens, after game stats, and newsreel cut scenes really do a nice job of creating the atmosphere. The in-game visuals are good, but nothing fantastic. Plane models look decent and the environments are varied enough to keep things interesting, but not as detailed as other titles in the genre. The lack of a cockpit camera is the most notable omission though; not being able to take down enemies from the first-hand perspective really drags you out of the experience at times. The audio is impressive with outstanding voice work and a soundtrack that really draws your attention. Explosions and gun sound effects are also top-notch.
Outside of the single-player campaign you also have a 16-player online mode that runs the gamut of traditional. The usual modes make their presence known and the locales are ripped straight from the single-player game. For what it is it works. There is a lot of fun to be had when you can hop online with 15 other players and have a knockdown, drag out dogfight. Unfortunately games are hard to come by, and it doesn’t appear to be increasing anytime soon. However, if you can find some stable players it really does add to the mix.
Heroes Over Europe is a game suffering from an identity crisis, there is no simple way to put it. The game shines in a lot of areas, but never really settles in on what it is trying to accomplish. The humorous dialogue and quirky cut scenes are enough to keep you entertained, but the steep learning curve and frustrating checkpoints will kill the arcade vibe. I wanted to like the game more than I did, but the ambiguous gameplay left me torn. The game is fun, and flight junkies will find plenty to enjoy, but the lack of stable direction really draws you out at times.