IGN Review of Heroes Over Europe
Before digging into a game that lets you control a complex machine, you've got to know what kind of experience you're looking for. Do you want to be able to fiddle with every flap and check every dial on a plane's dashboard, or just sit back and relax while whizzing around the skies and shooting stuff? Simulation games cater to the more hardcore crowd out there, for the types of people who want to put just as much effort in simply keeping the machine running as they do engaging in the challenges dictated by mission objectives. More casual players tend to be drawn to arcade style game where controls are simple and accessible, letting them instead focus almost entirely on the combat, be it dogfighting in dive bombing ground targets. With Transmission Games' Heroes Over Europe, the focus is most definitely on providing an arcade-style experience, but its thin gameplay and a few other missteps prevent it from becoming a memorable title.
Before soaring into the game's online modes, there's a 14 mission campaign to plow through. The presentation here is low-budget but decent enough, with panning still images and war film serving to introduce missions set in World War II European battle theatres, from over the cliffs of Dover to the skies above Berlin. You'll follow specific pilots through all these conflicts, their characters built through voiceover and personal histories. While at best mildly interesting, the writing tends to be snappy and voice work well done (except for the French accents – yikes), adding a welcome element of personality and wit to the overall tale.
The game doesn't stick to a linear chronological progression, choosing instead to skip between years of the war to tell its story, which can be a little disorienting for anyone trying to follow along. After each mission you'll unlock new planes, some of which are meant for air-to-air combat and some better suited for bombing runs. Mission objectives here should be fairly familiar to anyone experienced with flight games, as you'll need to protect squadrons of bombers, torpedo ships at sea, wipe out AA guns on the ground, eliminate enemy aces from the sky and drop bombs on groups of tanks. You'll also get some even more oddball tasks, such as actually dropping down to street level while flying and weaving between buildings. While that particular building-dodging mission doesn't play very well, considering the style of gameplay Heroes Over Europe is gunning for, it's not all that surprising it was included.
While the mission objectives here are standard for flight combat games, they're unfortunately repeated far too often. Glad you finally wiped out that wave of bombers? Well, prepare yourself; here come two more, followed by an even larger wing of fighters. Relieved you were able to destroy all those searchlights and gun emplacements on that guard tower? Now get ready to do it all over again, only now you're up against two towers instead of one. This type of thing happens regularly throughout the campaign, so it feels as though instead of presenting new and interesting gameplay opportunities the game just throws more of the same stuff at you.
To try to momentarily shake off the sense of tedium that inevitably sets in, there are a few bizarre attack mechanics you can use to clear the skies. By hovering your aiming reticule over a nearby target, a gauge builds up, and when it's halfway full it's possible to enter Ace Kill mode. This zooms the camera in as time slows to a crawl, letting you target your foe's engines, gunner, or pilot, almost like sniping in a first-person shooter. If you hover the reticule long enough and fill the gauge entirely, the Ace Kill mode will stay active after you've made an initial kill, letting you quickly chain together attacks. In this sense it feels more like an attempt at genre fusion, bringing elements like combos from action games and headshots from shooters into an arcade flight combat experience. If that really was the goal here, there's room for improvement.
While I appreciate how this type of thing could be interesting, I found using machine guns to be most effective at shredding a target, making the time-consuming process of initiating the Ace Kill mode generally impractical during a large battle. The same goes for the Energy Attack, where if you dive from above at enemies you'll be granted increased offensive capabilities. Positioning yourself to pull that sort of thing off is more trouble than it's worth considering how many bogeys are roaring around, often chipping away at the life bar of something you're trying to protect. Though you will have friendly wingmates buzzing on all sides, it seems they're incapable of making a kill, requiring you to do all the work yourself. Even with its casual-friendly setup and focus on action, it's not long until in some missions the experience feels tiresome, as though you're a part on an assembly line.
It's also disappointing that there isn't a greater diversity of feel across the various aircraft. When piloting the bulky torpedo bombers, bi-planes, or more agile fighters, they all handle quite similarly, and don't feel like they move with much of a sense of speed. For further control tweaking, there's an arcade and a professional setting. Though both are highly accessible, adjustments can be made with flying on arcade to further simplify controls and prevent your plane from being able to perform a barrel roll, whereas the professional setting lets you directly control the plane's rudder. There's no real limiting factor to your maneuvering in both control modes, so there's nothing like stalls or pilot blackouts if your movements are too erratic. Heroes Over Europe isn't trying to be the all-encompassing experience that IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is; it's an arcade-style flying game with no aspirations of simulation. That's not a bad thing if you're not concerned with the depth of a game's flight controls, but given the issues present here, it's hard to recommend considering the competition that happens to cover the same theatre of war.
Also sprinkled throughout the missions are bonus objectives that, if completed, unlock more planes for your use. Given the issues already mentioned, it's difficult to imagine many players would want to return to any of the missions if bonus objectives aren't completed the first time through. Multiple difficulty settings exist in case you're interested anyway.
It doesn't help that this game isn't particularly attractive. The explosions, damage effects, plane models, and landscapes will fail to impress, and the forgettable background music and sound effects do little to make this a more exciting experience. What the game does do, however, is put plenty of fighters and bombers onscreen at once, which works to generate a sense of excitement and impression that you're part of a huge and chaotic conflict. It's just too bad it all looks so bland.
If this review hasn't dampened your enthusiasm for the product, there are a few multiplayer modes to take part in, including deathmatch and last man standing game types of the free-for-all and team varieties. When creating a game you can pick from plane packs that make available only certain models for a fight, but unfortunately there don't seem to be all that many people playing at the moment.
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