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PlayStation 3 Review: Heroes Over Europe

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The first few moments after picking up a controller and starting the first mission in Heroes Over Europe, the WWII fighter sequel to Heroes of the Pacific, are heady times indeed.  One gets to kick up the throttle and can almost feel the plane get pulled up into the air as the stick is pulled back.  The first training exercise is to do a flyby of a village to see how low the player can get to the roofs without actual scraping them.  It's as though one is Maverick's grandfather, pushing for the Lamarckian notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.  It all sounds and feels so good, but much like Lamarck's ideas, the game is all too quickly debunked.

Heroes Over Europe is an arcade-style game, meaning that while one can crash into buildings and bridges and water, and that will end a mission, crashing into another plane head-on at maximum velocity only causes a momentarily loss of control and slight damage.  The game does allow for two different flying styles, one "Arcade" and one "Professional," which may feature more realistic controls, like adding a yaw control, but doesn't seem to make the flying more realistic (one won't stall the engine when going straight up).  The game also lacks an altimeter, though a handy red alert light does appear if one is flying awfully low.

To set the mood, the game features what appears to be old newsreel footage from the war as well as great WWII-style promotional posters and various drawings.  The story, as such, is a minimalistic one, with the player taking on various characters, but the game does roughly progresses from the start of the war through the end of it.  The interstitials, while not the best part of the game, are the only part that have no negatives whatsoever – they are fun, engrossing, and well-made, perfectly setting the time period and giving just enough information on the war, missions, and characters.

The game does come alive with its dofighting, which is incredibly intense.  Dozens of planes can fill the sky, swooping, barrel-rolling, looping about, and generally trying to get a bead on the enemy while making sure the enemy doesn't get one on them.  It is exhilarating… right up until the point when one realizes that the targeting system is less than adequate.  The player's objectives get a handy-dandy hollow yellow-outlined triangle, the selected object (plane, boat, building, etc.) has their yellow-outlined triangle filled in with red.  Easy enough, but one shouldn't even bother trying to target a plane firing upon them if said plane isn't one of the mission objectives – they can't be selected.  Nothing is more frustrating than only being allowed to target a plane trying to escape a battle that is well outside of range while another squadron of plane's is following and blasting away at you.

The game features more than just aerial dogfights, over the course of the various campaigns, one will have to bomb targets on land as well as take out various forms of watercraft.  To allow for all these different missions, various planes get unlocked over the course of the game as well (and more are unlocked for meeting bonus objectives, and competing on harder difficulty levels).

Heroes Over Europe has also included something called "Ace Kills."  By targeting an enemy long enough at close enough range, players can press a button, zoom in on a target and highlight various sections of it to blast at.  While it is an unnecessary and unwelcome complication on most levels – it takes far longer than simply blowing the enemy out of the sky and can be difficult to execute – there are missions where completing an Ace Kill is required.  Ace Kills are clearly the game's attempt at differentiating its fighting style from that of other WWII aerial combat games, but it's an addition that the game would have been better off without.  

Graphically, as pretty as and detailed as the individual planes are, backgrounds leave a lot to be desired.  Where the effort has been made to create individual structures – particularly well-known landmarks – they look good, but cities in general look very non-descript, repetitive, and unimpressive.  Water, sky, and land are all very minimalist, and the White Cliffs of Dover are particularly disappointing.

At its best, Heroes Over Europe contains great dogfighting sequences which test a player's mettle (are really daring enough to go under Tower Bridge's span to escape your foe?).  Even without an altimeter and other cockpit doodads, the game is immersive and thrilling.  At its worst, the game forces players into nonsensical Death Star runs through the maze-like streets of Berlin, in which one doubles back repeatedly in order to escape the city, when simply flying due West probably do the job a lot faster.

One can play the game via the PlayStation Network, with ranked and unranked matches in either dogfight or survivor modes (both available as team and non-team).  These matches all play out very well, especially as all enemies are actually targetable and, unlike some of the AI bombers in regular missions, generally the human opponents care if you try to kill them.

While the game's barebones plot works without issue, it seems as though the developers have tried to make up for a perceived lack there by adding unnecessary elements like the "Ace Kill" and foolish mission assignments.

 

Heroes Over Europe is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for language, use of tobacco, and violence. This game can also be found on: PC, Xbox 360.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.