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Heroes Over Europe


Nathan Zachary and his fortune hunters still rule the arcade skies.
The Premise

"Heroes Over Europe" had some bad luck on more than one level. First and foremost it was a sequel to a last-gen game titled "Heroes of the Pacific" which was an enjoyable WWII, arcade air combat game. Unfortunately, nearly every game of this genre is at some point going to be compared to the cream of that genre’s crop, "Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge." Four years after HotP, "Heroes Over Europe" takes a crack at the arcade air combat genre, but one week following the release of "IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey." While being a far more simulation based style game, fans of the genre, are likely going to have to make a choice between the titles.

From the takeoff, Heroes Over Europe shows some promise, despite the sparse number of missions featured (14, compared to the 50 boasted by IL-2). The missions are divided amongst three pilots, an American, a New Zealander, and a cocky Brit. Unfortunately, the initially promising in-game chatter between your characters and co-pilots, quickly becomes dull as obvious filler between mid-air encounters. The big picture is almost non-existent with each mission consisting of you taking to the skies either to handle some recon and inevitably encounter a German air raid, or sometimes the middleman is cut out and you are thrown straight into the fight. I don’t ask for a lot in terms of plot and didn’t expect anything like the quite strong, fun pulp serial story of “Crimson Skies,” but when a competitor to this game boasts 50 missions that are based in actual history, and the few missions here appear to have been cobbled from some classic melodrama, then the gameplay ends up having to come through in a huge way to salvage things.


Gameplay

Controls are fortunately, easy to pick up, despite the camera feeling a bit too rigidly locked behind your rudder. There is a ‘professional mode’ control scheme which makes the controls a little more complicated, but these ended up feeling like an afterthought by the developers, so I stuck with the ‘arcade’ control scheme. Since this is an air combat game, you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting, and as the game progresses, the developers decide to up the difficulty by throwing a lot more opponents at you.

In its most hectic moments, Heroes Over Europe does display some serious shortcomings. Nothing is more frustrating when a secondary enemy is pelting you with heavy fire and you have to struggle to disengage a primary target. The game’s big gimmick can often help to get out of these situations; ‘Ace Kill’ is just a fancy name for WWII bullet time. If you can keep a target locked in your crosshairs for a short period of time, you can activate the ‘Ace Kill’ mode, which slows down gameplay and zooms onto the target at hand. From here you can target individual sections of the plane including, wings, engines, cockpits, or even the ammo box. Score a kill in this mode and if there are any other nearby enemies, you can chain the mode straight into another kill. The drawback though is two-fold. One, you can easily find yourself relying on the gimmick more than you should, which results in it feeling very cheap, and before you reach the 25% mark, you’ll have seen every kill animation, several times over.

Once you complete the single player campaign, you have the option of replaying missions; at this point you’ll have unlocked a plethora of additional planes (40 plus), but the majority are filler and merely upgraded versions (i.e. same plane, but more speed or maneuverability). This leaves multiplayer as the element that is going to determine whether the game is worthy of purchase, as the entire campaign can easily be completed in a standard rental period.

If there was one area where Heroes Over Europe stood side-by-side with Crimson Skies it was multiplayer…when I could actually find someone playing. Fortunately I got a couple of friend requests from other players and was able to play a decent amount of multiplayer. Your options are limited to dogfight (i.e. Deathmatch), team dogfight, survivor (i.e. Last Man Standing), and team survivor. I never go the feeling any player had a huge advantage over another based solely on their choice of plane, it came to down to skill, which is the way things are supposed to go. As time goes on though, it’s more likely the sparse online community will eventually evaporate completely.


Graphics and Sound

While the gameplay is by and large, an average experience, the same can’t be said for the A/V quality. You’ll mostly spend your time looking at your plane, which is easily the best in-game model, while enemies will be viewed from afar as if you aren’t using Ace Kills. Everything else, is blah, and I mean last-gen blah. Even compared to last-gen's games, the graphics fail to impress. The ground textures are generic and repetitive and if you buzz any cities, especially those countryside villages, it will make you wonder if someone entirely different was in charge of level design and they never had access to the plane models for size reference. It kills what little atmosphere is left when your plane dwarfs a castle, despite being only a fraction of an inch (on-screen) above it. When you’re let loose over London, things are a bit better as everything is shrouded in darkness, fog, flames, or any combination of the three. I’m not saying they had to break the bank when it comes environmental design, but at least deliver average current-gen graphics.

Sounds design is more pleasing, with tolerable voice acting, generic, but rousing music, and plenty of gunfire. Again it’s nothing revolutionary, but at least it’s done at a level that salvages some suspension of disbelief and manages to keep the atmosphere the game advertises partially anchored.


Closing Thoughts

Heroes Over Europe managed to keep me entertained for a short amount of time, once I was able to accept the fact it wasn’t the second coming of Crimson Skies. Unfortunately, with an unstable online community, it loses the majority of its selling power. Heap on top of that, a thin plot that gives up shortly after takeoff, graphics more haggard than London after a blitz, and some occasionally frustrating controls, and a recommendation can’t be given with a clear conscience. Heroes Over Europe misses the mark; and with Crimson Skies being backwards compatible and readily available for download on-demand (or better yet, obtainable for a few bucks used at your local game store), those looking to have some fun arcade style air combat, should head in that avenue. Skip It.