World War II airplanes have always fascinated me; I have Steven Spielberg's 1941 to blame for that. Ubisoft has released another way for me to experience combat flying in WWII without actually having to be a part of it. Heroes Over Europe features some of the most beautiful scenery imagined for a WWII simulator. The question is: Could it actually have more than that?
Come fly with me.
Pull back to take off
The most important part of a flight simulator (be it combat or not) is the controls that it sports. If players don't hit it off immediately with the controls then you can kiss the game goodbye. Heroes Over Europe has some of the easiest controls that you'll have the pleasure of learning in five quick minutes. It's everything that an arcade shooter of its type should sport and it's a credit to the developers. Now, with that said, the controls get more complicated depending on how you play the game. You have two choices: Arcade and Professional. I have as much fun as a guy throwing rocks into the ocean with the 'professional' mode which asks why too much of my attention span to give it a go, so throughout the majority of this review I used the 'arcade' mode to test the game out. Before I leave the 'professional' topic please allow me to explain what it entails. The controls are a lot more sensitive and demanding in this mode. If you've had the pleasure of trying out IL-2 Sturmovik it's basically the same scheme. You have to do more with your flight and decision making to execute maneuvers. I think it's great to give players that choice, but honestly I'd rather have fun with a game. Since I don't have a flight stick, I don't have any hours in the air and I don't make corny jokes to passengers, I'll stick with 'arcade'. The 'arcade' mode allows you to play the game loosely and dangerously. The controls are simplified so that you don't have to think much when you're fighting. You use the left analog stick to move the plane (banking), while the right helps you perform rolls in the air. It's quite simple and it takes a lot of work out of flying the plane.
As for the combat controls in the game, it is what you would expect with the addition of one minor detail. The 'Ace Kill' is something that Ubisoft added to the game. I can only compare it to the slow-mo kill from Fallout 3 where you can basically slow down time/space and focus your guns on a particular portion of the enemy's plane. If you aim for the body of their plane it is almost an instant kill. Anything other than the body and you run the risk of nicking or missing them. The Ace Kill is activated when you have a steady target on your enemy. The crosshair on the guns will change to a circular meter that goes from yellow to red. When it runs in the red that means that you have an almost definite lock on your enemies. Anything less can perform an Ace Kill, but the results will vary. Yes, I'm very aware that realism is completely thrown out the cockpit with this move, but you have to ask yourself if you prefer something different or the same when it comes to WWII sims. I appreciate Transmission's efforts by adding this wonderfully unique feature to the combat, but honestly speaking it's very much out of place. It would be like someone showing up with an F-16 during fighting. I like the idea, but simply hate how it fits into the scheme of things with this game.
Speaking of fighting, my big complaint with Heroes Over Europe is how repetitive the game can get. It's nice that there was a wonderful attempt at breaking up the monotony by telling three pilot's stories, but basically the game asks you to go out, patrol and shoot down planes. It's a wash, rinse, and repeat sort of style of gaming. What else do you expect from the game, though? Personally, I enjoy battle and enjoy moving on into different battle terrain. You get put into different scenarios from defending ships in an ocean to helping bring down the Germans and preventing England from getting destroyed. There are plenty of different places and smaller stories to make it interesting, but it's still ultimately more of the same throughout the entire game. I guess that's the point where you have to ask yourself if this is the game you want? Do you mind flying into scenarios to take down the enemy over and over again? There's not a lot more this type of game can do. Flight simulators are notoriously repetitive in nature. Just thank your lucky stars that this isn't Microsoft's Flight Simulator and me explaining how exciting it is to fly from New York to Denver. If you have ever had the unlucky chance to get excite about Flight Simulator (which is a niche game), then you'll appreciate your plane sporting guns and kicking ass. This lone memory of boredom helped me to look beyond some of the repetitive nature of Heroes Over Europe. I knew going into this game that this was going to be the case, but I'm still enjoying the game.
Some days you just want to eject
Now, with game controls and some gameplay aside, there are some irritating factors to HoE. Occasionally, you will find yourself in irritatingly stupid missions. For example, right from the get go, after destroying a bunch of German fighters, I was asked to clear some mines in the ocean for ships trying to make it into an English harbor. Sounds easy, right? I'm assuming the game wanted me to drop bombs on these mines to clear them, but I chose to use my guns. Why would I choose to use my guns? Well, the bombs were incredibly difficult to line-up with the mines. Using the guns was wasteful, but certainly gave me a better chance to hit these floating annoyances. After about six to seven restarts (because the damn game cannot accept failure if a ship hits one of those mines) I noticed something illogical about all of this. First, couldn't the ships simply turn away from the mines that had been pointed out to me, the pilot? Certainly it's easier for a ship to avoid mines than to run into them. Second, couldn't a smaller ship go out there and detonate the mines, while the bigger ships waited patiently? That certainly seemed logical. Finally, how in the world did the mines get there? The mines are far too heavy for a German plane to plant them, so their placement and existence is questionable to begin with. Throughout the game you will run into one of these moments and you simply want to kick yourself in the (bleep) trying to figure out the best route. It's quite irritating to begin with and a bit of a turn-off and mood killer for a fast paced game like Heroes Over Europe.
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 appreciate the longevity of the experience that Transmission Games has created, but this should not have been the case in the game. I realize that the 'arcade' experience probably prompted such an option, but you simply can't do this. If the plane is on fire and you're about to bite it, you shouldn't be able to go Wing Commander on this and fly out of battle, heal and come back in. That possibility shouldn't be an option. Regretfully it is and it takes away from the experience.
These are my two biggest complaints about the game.
To your left you'll see some of the most beautifully detailed environments in a game
Shifting gears, complaints aside, the view from above in HoE is nothing short of breath taking. The environments are enormous and the field of depth in the game is nearly endless. Climbing 5400+ feet will eventually have the game turn you downward, but seeing the world shrink and the clouds float by as you speed back towards the earth is nothing short of heavenly. HoE has a lot of things going for it when it comes to visual detail. The world is huge, unique and deep. Simply put, the environments will have your jaw permanently fighting with gravity.
As for the details on the planes, it's frightening. If you move the flaps you see them move. If you get shot in the wing you see the damage. If your engine starts to smoke then your view will be hindered. You get the idea? Each plane is uniquely built for your visual pleasure and says a lot about how good a flight simulator can look on a next generation system. Gaining and unlocking planes is a treat, as you want to instantly see how good your plane looks in action. I know that it's certainly a lot of motivation for someone like me when it comes to getting through repetitive missions. Don't kid yourself about the game, its big selling point are the visuals.
Now with all this said, is the game fun? Well, again, I love having a nice beefy set of unlockables. Obtaining new planes and flying them in missions is worth the price for me. I think for more mature flight sim nuts out there this won't even remotely be enough to wet their appetites. 505 Games has IL-2 Sturmovik waiting for you and your skills. For the rest of us schmoes, this might be more fun than we hoped for. The fact that you can jump into the game with little or no tutorial and just begin fighting is a huge plus. I don't want to have to go through a flight school to prepare for fun; I simply want the fun to be there. With that said, the game does come up shallow in the choice department.
There are two ways to play: Campaign and Multiplayer. There is nothing more than those choices. I've already told you about the campaign, but the multiplayer is a bit more fun. To be honest, I was only able to find three other folks on the HoE server to play the game with me, but what I saw is no lag and damn good fun. You have different levels to select with a whole slew of planes to choose from. Each plane has its pros/cons and depending on which you choose it will determine your fate. I played a 10-minute game online and it was quick and easy. The fact that you can play up to 16 people at a time, with probably no lag (I only had three other folks, so I'm not sure what 16 feels like), is a belly warming option. The levels are just as big as the campaign's levels, so there is plenty of room to fly in. The way you shoot down other planes is exactly the same in multiplayer as it is in campaign. This means that there is continuity to the game and helps translate your skills from single to multiplayer almost flawlessly. It's fun and easy, much like the single player game.