Admit it: as you've found yourself mired in mud, hunkering down in a fox hole somewhere in Europe trying to avoid the Nazi bullet that has your name on it, you've looked longingly to the skies as wave after wave of pampered Army Air Corp pilots fly over in their shiny, high-powered airborne steeds. “Now that's
the way to fight a war,” you thought to yourself as two of your buddies got blown to bits by an artillery shell, “I've been fighting WWII over and over in dozens of games and it's always the same thing: take point, take out that machine gun nest, grab that panzershreck and take out that tank. Why is it always me
that has to do the tough jobs?? I'd rather be flying!”
Here's your chance!
Transmission Games and Ubisoft have heard your plaintive pleas for a new way to fight in WWII, also apparently known as The Only War Suitable for Video Gaming
. So, yeah, it's the same old era you've fought in over and over and over, but it's from a new perspective this time. Instead of trudging across Europe in cold, worn out boots, in Heroes Over Europe you will get to fly over Europe in a state-of-the-art flying machine. From your seat in the cockpit of famous historical airplanes like the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane, you will finally have your chance to exact revenge on the airborne menace that made your life a living (and often, dying) hell on the battlefields of Europe. No more sleeping for a mere two or three hours a day huddled in a cold puddle of water and mud, surrounded by the detritus of war for you; now you're an aviator – you fly your mission and return to the comfort of your air base. Ah, that's the life!
Well, not so fast, soldier. What you will quickly learn is that the skies over WWII Europe were every bit as deadly as the trenches. In Heroes over Europe, you will regularly find yourself outnumbered by swarms of enemy fighters with their gun sites centered on your fragile aluminum or wood airplane. That in itself would be a daunting prospect, but those fighters will often be on your tail plinking away at you while you're facing withering fire from the front as the rear gunner in the Stuka you're trying to shoot down fights back. With all of that lead coming your way, you'll find that what appeared from the ground to be a cleaner kind of war is anything but. What will
be familiar, though, is the adrenalin you feel during the heat of the battle.
In Heroes over Europe, you will fly for the Allies. Towards the end of the war that was the side to be on, but early in the fight, when Germany appeared to be unbeatable and Britain was on the knife edge of defeat, it was a very tough situation. You start out as a neophyte flier, anxious to get your first kills and start your way down the path to glory. Your mentors are more experienced with the naked truth of war and try to temper some of your fervor with the sage advice that there is more to fighting in the air than guns and glory, but these are lessons that you will have to learn for yourself.
The game sets the ambiance for the early war period with a contemporaneous visual designs patterned after the government posters that were ubiquitously placed in ready rooms and military facilities throughout Britain. News reel films at the beginning of each mission and witty cut scene banter between your character and his wingman also do a very good job of setting an appropriate tone.
The menus are simple and it is a trivial matter to get yourself started in your first campaign. The campaign progression is extremely linear (to a fault, as we will see later) and starts with what should be a quick familiarization flight around the local area. This being war, though, one must be ready for any eventuality; before you can adopt a faux British accent say “never have so many owed so much to so few,” you're in the thick of your first dogfight. It is here that you will be introduced to 'Ace Kill', which could be considered 'bullet time' for dogfights. Ace Kill allows you to zoom in on your target while also slowing time to a crawl. The idea is that you will be able to precisely target a vulnerable area on your opponent's airplane and score a single-shot kill. It's an interesting feature, but with unlimited ammo I often found it easier just to keep spraying bullets in the general vicinity of the guy I was trying to kill and let sheer quantity exhibit a quality all its own.
Unlimited ammo may seem to be an unrealistic thing at first glance, but it rapidly becomes apparent why you need it. How else would you stop what at times feels like an unlimited amount of airplanes parading towards you in their attack on your beloved England? In that aspect, Heroes over Europe defines itself as an arcade-like game, rather than a more realism based simulator. This arcade feel carries through all facets of the experience. For example, anyone that has actually flown an airplane will find himself at a distinct disadvantage if he tries to apply real world flight characteristics to the flying he will be doing in the game. The only nod to reality is the firmness and finality of flying straight into the ground, an event that's not quite as rare as one would think if you allow yourself to fixate on targets like diving Stukas. It's not that there's anything wrong with an arcade feel; on a console with the limited control fidelity offered up by the standard controllers, it's actually a feature. Just know what to expect going in and you won't be disappointed.
What may end up being a disappointment is the rigid nature of the campaigns. You are required to fly the next mission in line, and you are required to successfully complete it before moving on to the next. That doesn't sound all that bad at first glance, but it can become very frustrating when you find yourself stuck on a mission, and after trying dozens of times to get through it wanting just throw your hands in the air and say “enough!” As early as the second mission, I ran into an objective that I just could not get through, even after dozens of tries. And while there are checkpoints in missions that you can restart from if you end up getting shot down or, as in my case, keep flying into the ocean, there is no way to save your progress in the (more likely than I would want to admit) situation where you need to turn off the game when you get kicked off of the TV so the family can watch Lost or Medium or Bones or.... whatever. That can be very, very frustrating.
If you have the time and devotion to get past that, though, shooting down massive numbers of German fighters and bombers in epic aerial battles over topologies as diverse as London burning at night or a dogfight with dozens of planes swirling over the white cliffs of Dover can be very entertaining. The radio chatter from other pilots in your squadron and the sounds of the guns and roaring engines combine to create an exciting and compelling military environment, while the clouds and attractive cities and landscapes lend a reasonable feeling of flight. You certainly won't learn much about how a real airplane behaves in the thick of a do-or-die dogfight, but that's not really the point of the game anyway. Rather, Heroes over Europe lets you forget about all of the details about angle of attack, stall speed, or even whether or not you still have any bullets in your guns and concentrate on just shooting down airplanes.
And, if you make it through another bloody day, at least you have a warm cot waiting for you back at base.
Great arcade fun, but the rigid mission structure and the absence of a good save game function can be frustrating when playing lengthy or difficult missions.