High-flying action hits a ceiling in World War II.
When I first got my hands on Heroes Over Europe, I was quick to single out its defining characteristic based solely on the box art. HOE is a World War II game, like so many games before it. Quick, gather the pals, it’s another World War II game, I can’t believe they’re still making these! Of course, I have a job to do, so I did my best to put those overused assumptions behind me and just play the game. Unfortunately, the World War II label is stuck right on the aft-side, and the gameplay is too shallow to shake it off.
[image1]Heroes Over Europe thrusts you into the cockpit of a fighter pilot and has you endlessly dogfight your way through wave after wave of enemy fighters and bombers. They might even have you sink a battleship or two, but nothing ever seems to get past that strict lather-rinse-repeat mentality. Haven’t we seen this theater of combat before?
There’s a campaign mode and loads of different fighters to choose from, but it doesn’t really matter who you are, what your role is, or why you’re even fighting… except maybe to stay awake through the rest of the war, or at least through a cutscene. It’s obvious that developer Transmission Games put a lot of thought into the aesthetic and personality of the characters, but they just don’t translate when the only thing the player sees during parts they actually control are the endless waves of the German army. Even Starfox 64 managed to accomplish a deeper connection with your fellow fighter pilots, and that game made players care enough about an inept toad to save him. That was two console generations ago…. let’s move forward.
The campaign is split into four different sections, revolving around three different player characters: Tom Forrester, a cookie-cutter American pilot who’s volunteered to fly for Great Britain through the Canadian forces; Danny Miller, the homegrown British pilot; and Will West, a New Zealander whose copilot is the most annoying kiwi in the world. Your first playthrough of the campaign will have you skipping back and forth between these three characters all over the European theater.
[image2]While traveling around the globe (a very small part of it, mind you) might sound exotic, the mission structure isn’t interesting. It doesn’t help that the difficulty ramps up in an unbalanced manner, either. About two-thirds of the way through the game, at about the same point Will West shows up with just about the worst backseat driving ever, I continuously died over and over again. My fighter jet continuously rammed into any structure the Germans could build fast enough. In fact, it was exactly like that.
The developers also hurt the difficulty slider by including German "Aces" as sort-of boss battles. I call them "sort-of" boss battles because they’re more frustrating than challenging. Half of the time, the Ace would just ram my plane into oblivion as I tried to chase him down. Who knew German Ace pilots were so cheap? All of these things come together to give the title a really budget-y feeling. Is it worth your $60 during the holiday season with so many big-name games coming out?
There are a few design points that fly a bit higher than the rest. Heroes Over Europe employs a great engine and everything looks about as good as you can expect things to. If you’ve taken a lot of damage, your plane will show it, with holes and tears flapping away. The overall landscape of the maps look good too, so long as you’re up in the air. Unfortunately, missions frequently require flying near the ground, close enough to see all of the imperfections.
[image3]The controls are also extremely solid whether you’re playing in Arcade or Pro handling. They’re responsive and you can feel the weight and speed of each plane. Transmission has kept every battlefield fairly crowded as well and that helps in both of these areas.
I also loved the Ace Kill technique. When you get in behind an enemy fighter, a gauge starts to fill. When it hits a certain point, you can enter slow motion, in which the enemy will try to avoid you as you attempt to line up your sights on a vital part of the enemy craft. You can blow up engines, snipe individual pilots, or target an ammo box. If your timing is right, you can line up several Ace Kills while you’re still "in the zone". I know it sounds unfair, but when it works it’s about as satisfying as backstabbing several enemies as a Spy in Team Fortress 2.
If Transmission Games had put a little bit more effort into the title and taken it out of WWII and into a world of their own design, they could have been more creative with the story, style, weapons, and gameplay. But they didn’t (or maybe they weren’t allowed). It’s probably a safe bet to skip this and retreat, before you’re forced back into the history that video games can”t seem to let you forget.