This bird is missing its joystick, sir.
The first thing you’ll notice about HoE is it’s convoluted control scheme. You do have the option of a “professional” control scheme which is nothing more than giving the player the option to control the rudder (which is next to impossible using the keyboard and mouse setup with the default settings). For the sake of this review, I’ll be using “Arcade mode” as playing with “professional” on was just too hard. As of the writing of this review I as with many other gamers cannot get their game-pads and joysticks to work with HoE. So, this reviewer was forced to use the keyboard and mouse setup as to every joystick and game-pad I had to my name wasn’t recognized, even with the latest patch. You can use the mouse to steer the plane over the WASD Keys, but the mouse is nowhere near sensitive enough to give you the tight turns you would get using the WASD keys. Thinking there would be some customization to up the sensitivity of the mouse, there simply isn’t an option to do so. You’re allowed to re-map buttons, but that’s the extent of the control customization. It’s very rare to find a PC game that doesn’t allow this type of customization. Not only do you not get options to mess around with the controls, you can only customize the video settings by a separate application in the HoE folder opposed to giving you video options in game. When it comes to the shoddy customization it becomes blatantly apparent that the HoE was designed first and foremost for console players while the PC port was mainly rushed out the door. I did have the honors of playing the PS3 version over at Nathan’s house, and I had no problem with the control scheme setup for the PS3 leaving me to think that Ubisoft and Transmission do not care about PC gamers at all. What really irked me is that you can look to the left, to the right and even behind your plane but there is no option for a cockpit view. I find it strange that a flying game lacks a cockpit view.
HoE features an auto-save feature for campaign mode, and you cannot save while in missions. While missions do have check points, you can’t save your progress and pick it up again later. I know this is carry over from the console as well but only being allowed to save once you’ve beaten a mission doesn’t sit well for many PC gamers.
Up, up and away.
When you get your control scheme the way you like it and your bird up in the air it can be very fun, but the fun is short lived. You do as what you would expect to do in WW2 flying game – shoot down bogies and bomb targets. I know a lot of reviewers around the ‘net have blasted the game for this, but what else do you put in a game that deals with WW2 when you’re a fighter pilot? When it comes to shooting down bogies, you have unlimited ammo and an “ace kill meter”. The ace kill meter is a circular indicator that appears around your cross hair that you have to charge up by keeping your cross-hair on the target within a certain distance. Once the indicator turns red, you can press a button to enter ace kill mode which is reminiscent of V.A.T.S. mode from Fallout 3. You can target the pilot, engines and gunner once in ace mode. With each successful called shot you make in ace mode, you can charge up your ace kill time a bit more allowing you to chain attacks. I didn’t find using the ace kill feature all that alluring since it’s difficult to do and easier to just shoot down bogies at a distance. and the only time I ever use ace kill is to take down enemies when it was required in campaign mode. It’s interesting to note you have unlimited ammo and ordinance. Your machine guns will over heat if you spam them too much but there is no indicator how hot your guns are getting before they over-heat. When it comes to bombs and missiles it only takes a couple of seconds for the bombs to reload. A really bizarre factor is that your plane will heal over time, once you killed an enemy and even when you reach a checkpoint in HoE. I know it’s a way of rewarding the player for reaching an objective, but it breaks the verisimilitude of having a plane being repaired in mid air. As Nathan put it in his review for the PS3 version:
“My other big complaint about the game is the lack of realism during battle. No, the actual battle itself is very realistic, as you’ll find it incredibly easy to get shot down. My complaint is around ‘self-healing’ planes. While the invention of R2D2 might be active in a galaxy far, far away, the WWII planes shouldn’t repair themselves and magically stop smoking after getting hit over and over by German fighters.”
I couldn’t have said it any better.
Single player wise, there are 14 missions that follow the story of 3 allied pilots (American, New Zealander and British) in a non linear fashion with three difficulty modes. As I mentioned before, most people will probably have issues with the monotony of doing the same thing over and over again, but the thing that struck me as the strangest was the “Party Crashers” mission. In this mission, you fly in solo to disrupt the 10th anniversary of the Nazi party by shooting up the air show and bombing solider formations on the ground. Throughout most of this mission you meet little resistance, which is strange given that the celebration is a demonstration of military might. Eventually flak cannons light up the sky, forcing you to fly below roof level and literally “drive” down through the streets of Berlin with a timer while being shot from behind by the Germans. I thought this was a flying game, not a racing game, why did the developers think this would be a good idea to break the tedium when at the end a cut scene has you flying through flak explosions anyhow? This isn’t a isolated incident of a mission not making sense, in the second mission “Defense of the realm” there’s incoming freighters that are heading to port that has been littered with mines that you have to detonate with your guns before the freighters run into them. This raises the question, who let the Germans put the mines so close to port? Way to go his majesties royal navy. Why not tell the freighters to stop while someone goes out to take care of the mines? I know it’s just a game and I shouldn’t question such things since it’s a game but moments like this do arise from time to time.
I did have fun playing through the single player missions, but there really is no re-play value unless you want to unlock all 40 airplanes. Unfortunately, I doubt many gamers will be wanting to unlock all of them as most of the planes handle the same and you’ll be bored of the game long before you’ve unlocked half of them.
Red leader checking in…
I would have liked to play all the modes multi-player had to offer, but no one seems to be playing. There’s “Dogfight” (everyone vs. everyone with a time limit) “Team dogfight” (8 vs. 8 with a time limit) and “Survivor” which I presume is a last man standing mode. Like I said, I would have liked to give online mode a try to see if this could save the game but every time I’ve checked no one is playing.
The window seat and the roar of the engines.
The attention to detail is pretty good. Some people say the game looks dated, but I think that was on purpose to the sheer amount of enemies to take down, especially in the later missions. The textures of the planes look amazing, even when they’re shot up and on fire. Even small details like watching people bail out of the planes is a plus when you’ve shot them down. The music is really good, and has the militaristic beat and feel to it to draw you in. The voice-overs are really good and the banter between the British forces is hilarious. One of my favorite lines is when Tom (the American) says “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” ground control replies by saying “Tell that to the Trojans!” Got to love that British wit! A hallmark of great writing, but it’s sad the bits of good writing doesn’t do anything to help the game-play.