Heroes Over Europe Review
Flight games are few and far between these days so when they do arrive, I always want to hit the not-so-friendly skies and light up the baddies. Heroes Over Europe has just arrived and just in time to do battle with IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey (you’ll see our analysis on the competition later this week), and after winging around the German-infested skies over Europe, I come away somewhat satisfied and with a very minor touch of vertigo; I spent the last 15 minutes flipping around and flying on my back, which shouldn’t be that easy, but it’s not if you select the Professional control option. We’ll talk about that later but for now, suffice it to say that Heroes Over Europe is an entertaining and nicely presented title that gets a little too repetitive and lacks a little in the impact/explosive department. Perhaps it’s only a matter of personal preference, but the experience is that much more invigorating if you select to fly unrealistically with those Arcade controls.
The graphics consist of sweeping landscapes that roll out from beneath your plane, gentle waves breaking on the ocean, well designed cities and quaint little towns, and intimidating night effects complete with billowing smoke and crackling fire. This all sounds wonderful and some of it kinda is, but there isn’t as much polish and refinement as I expected; nothing is nearly as impressive when up close and personal. I also wanted more destruction effects. It’s nice to see pieces of a wing or a plane caught in a death spiral, but I had seen just about everything there was to offer in the effects department in the first hour. But I never tired of the scenery, which not only fit the atmosphere but it was clear the designers went out of their way to add extra detail to what lies beneath you. This is most evident when engaging in battles over the city of London, which are arguably some of the most intense encounters in the game. Heroes Over Europe looks good on the whole but it probably won’t win any awards.
The sound is decent as well, as everything from the weapon fire to the final deadly impact is both clear and striking. When winging around up there, you’ll be listening to the standard engine and propeller noise and those machine guns will be going almost nonstop, but you’ll also have other pilots on the radio and the unfortunately generic soundtrack. For some reason, the music in flight games has never really stood out in my ears; maybe it’s just because they have to use tracks from the era in question, but the classical selections never seem to enhance and amplify the action. It also doesn’t help that the effects always override the music so the latter is constantly in the background. The voiceovers are fine, the cries, comments and orders come through the onboard radio crisply and audibly, and the final explosion of an enemy plane is always loud and fulfilling. But more could’ve been done during the especially insane firefights; much like the gameplay, the sound also gets a bit repetitive as time goes on. All in all, though, the technical aspects of this production are solid.
You will participate in a variety of engagements over European soil and also as a member of various flight factions. The storyline is peppered with what we can only assume is real World War II footage and a series of cut-scenes that feature drawn pictures, ala comic book style (only more like fake photographs). Of course, we always have that WWII style, from the music to the voices to the grainy 1940s TV-style presentation. But all of that, while appropriate, is merely cosmetic; if we don’t have any fun flying our planes, the entire game crashes and burns. Thankfully, once you have the controls set according to your preference, you will find that control is relatively easy to come by and won’t cause you to continually fight the gamepad. If you like, you can choose the aforementioned Professional control scheme that makes the flight experience that much more challenging; controls are more sensitive and it’s a whole lot easier to end up a flaming wreck on the ground.
But even the Pro controls aren’t exactly “simulated,” so the difference isn’t that drastic. That being the case, I opted to stick with the Arcade controls, which immediately allowed me to sample more of what this title has to offer, and it also ramped up the overall speed and entertainment factor. Being a fan of Warhawk, it didn’t take long to adapt to these controls (although they are a little different, of course), and I found that eliminating enemies was as easy as having a steady hand on both analog sticks. You control your altitude and direction with the left analog and the right analog handles your roll (in Arcade mode) and throttle. On the surface, it may seem complicated to combine the two but it doesn’t take much effort: for example, if you want to make a tighter turn, just turn in the requisite direction with the left analog and throttle down (down on the right analog). And when you climb, you should throttle up because you need the extra speed. Oh, and when coming at an enemy, it might be best to lower your speed so as to increase your stability and aiming accuracy.
There isn’t much more to the controls and while the camera does faithfully keep up with the action – even when you’re upside down at top speed – there’s some frame rate hitching when coming in close with other planes. The screen will jump a bit here and there and although it’s not a severe problem, it did pop up on a routine basis. Furthermore, the enemy AI was never all that intelligent; I can’t count how many times I simply flew in behind approaching squadrons and roasted them without any issue. Heck, they didn’t even move. I understand they’re bombers on a run but even so, you would think evasive maneuvers might be necessary, as slow as those maneuvers might be. Even enemies in agile fighters aren’t overly competent, and I could never tell if my allies were doing anything at all. The good news is that you won’t die too easily so you can truly be the ace of the skies for an entire mission if you’re both skilled and careful. And speaking of “aces,” we should definitely talk about the lone feature that sets this flight title apart…even if it’s not as cool as the developers probably intended.
It’s called an “Ace Kill,” and it’s performed by keeping your aiming reticle over a foe until a special gauge starts to fill up around the target. You then press L1 to engage the Ace “zoom” mode where time slows and your reticle is fixed on the opposing plane. You can target the weak points and if you do it in time and the gauge turns yellow, simply press R1 and it becomes a one-shot kill accompanied with a nice little animation (that sadly always looks the same). Perhaps one of the most satisfying moments of my game time was boosting up to an enemy fighter – R3 gives you a big speed boost – zeroing in on a foe tailing one of my buddies, and eliminating him with a well-timed blast from my guns. But as time went on, I realized this feature wasn’t overly effective, just because I could score a kill in less time simply by using the regular aiming and firing, and I could also quickly turn my attention to multiple targets; the enemy likes to stay grouped together a lot.
And in the end, all you really do in most of the missions is fly around and shoot stuff. This isn’t surprising (one could make the same argument with most games, like FPSs) but it started to feel a little dry and bland after a few hours. Sure, you will have plenty of different objectives that could include nailing ground targets, protecting certain allied installations, and taking out especially problematic bombing squadrons, but it all seems to run together after a while. Lastly, I must say that despite the available planes, I couldn’t really see a reason for getting in several of them, as they were clearly inferior. In fact, I think I could probably do most all the missions with the default Hurricane fighter, which detracts from the balance and variety. Still, all this aside, I almost always had a blast up there: I never felt overmatched even when facing stiff odds, I could quickly and reliably pull off most any maneuver I needed to execute, and the sensation of speed and height was usually excellent. So at the very least, this one is quite entertaining.
Heroes Over Europe is a capable flight production that is high on fun factor but a little low on flash and lasting appeal. Things do get a bit repetitive and while the fun can last for quite a while, it just seems like we needed a bit more… It’s hard to put my finger on what, exactly, but I’m sure you get my meaning. The online multiplayer works very well and while we did experience some lag, it’s not really worth mentioning. If you’ve been looking for a decent flight game, this will probably fit the bill but you might want to wait until we’ve weighed in on IL-2 Sturmovik.
P.S. When you go to the controls and make your selection for Invert-Y axis (Yes or No), you have to realize that this is a flight game. Hence, the default is already inverted so if you change it to “Yes,” you’ll switch to “up is up” and “down is down.” I’m willing to bet the developers had a nice little chuckle about this.
9/22/2009 Ben Dutka