Review: Heroes Over Europe (Microsoft Xbox 360)

coverTitle: Heroes Over Europe
Developer: Transmission Games
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Flight
Release Date: 09/15/09

It’s a good time to be a fan of WW2 dog fighting on the home consoles. You have the recently reviewed IL-2 Sturmovik and you have Heroes Over Europe. Can anything mar this bounty? Well, if the games aren’t very good then who cares how many games there are, right? So let’s take a look at these Heroes.

Story

Heroes over Europe is a sequel to a game I reviewed in 2005, Heroes of the Pacific. Obviously it took a little while for this sequel to hit.

Where Pacific focused on the story of Lt. Crowe, naval aviator extraordinaire, Europe is a more metropolitan affair, giving us the story of 3 pilots. One is an American who lies about being Canadian to join the RAF in its fight against Nazi Germany. Another is an Englishman fighting to save his homeland. And lastly there is a New Zealander who is fighting because the mother country needs help. 3

The story is told through Sly Cooper like animation and in game cinematics. More to the point the story is told through various characters breaking radio discipline and talking to each other. You learn about your squadron mates, what motivates them. Why you are fighting, basically.

I liked it, honestly. It’s a completely different presentation style from IL-2, and it is actually very close to the kind of storytelling I railed against in that review, but it works for this game. It doesn’t insult my intelligence; it merely gives it backhanded compliments.

Graphics

Where IL-2 was a beautiful looking game, the actual planes weren’t always all that pretty. Heroes Over Europe takes the opposite approach, giving the planes a glossy look while having the background be just good enough. Thus while fighting above Dover in IL-2 looked awesome, here it’s only when you are up close with a fighter that things look really good.

That’s not to say Heroes is ugly. In fact that is far from the case. There are battles over both London and Berlin which look really good. You can tell however that it’s a level designed for a videogame as opposed to thinking maybe you’re flying over a map that was imported directly into the game.

The look and feel of the first game has been retained. All of the menus retain the same basic “Propaganda” poster look, only this time it’s the US Army Air Corps and RAF on the posters instead of the US Navy.

Sound

Since the story of the game is told mostly by pilots interacting with each other over the radio, the voice work had better be outstanding. And thankfully the voice actors are up to the task. And unlike Heroes of the Pacific, there is not a peep of the outright racist foreign language voice work to be found. Instead when you hear the various German aces you must shoot down, they sound like real people, not caricatures.

The music too has improved since Heroes of the Pacific. It certainly wasn’t bad before, but now it feels more alive, more interesting. Perhaps the music just suits the action more. Whatever the case, music isn’t a negative for this game.

Control/Gameplay

OK here’s where a game that had up until now been a positive experience falls apart. The game uses a modified version of the controls found in the first Heroes game, a control scheme which I disliked very much. Time however has worn me down on that issue it seems. I don’t like that the developers chose to force me into using the throttle to control my rudder, but as it’s become something of a genre standard by now, I’ve gotten used to it. So it’s not the controls which bother me.
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Actually what bothers me is the camera. For reasons that are beyond me, the developers decided to take the camera and make it into an over the shoulder camera, similar in style to say, Gears of War. Sadly what works for Marcus does not work for air to air combat. Particularly when your plane refuses to maneuver like it should because of that camera angle. For example, assuming the camera is hovering over the right wing: You can roll the plane left and have it happen pretty quickly, or roll it right only for it to take far longer, because the plane is somehow hampered by the camera angle.

A new feature found in Heroes Over Europe is the “Ace Kill” ability. Essentially something of a bullet-time function, it allows you to slow down time and target the weak spots on enemy planes, allowing for quick kills. You are even able to chain Ace Kills together, presuming you can get the “focus” meter to fill completely. This is a difficult task, as you must keep one enemy in your sights long enough to fill the meter while at the same time avoiding anything which might distract you, like say incoming machine gun fire, which will drain your focus meter.

It took me a little while to come around to liking this feature, but if you ever do master the “Ace Kill” focus meter, the game can take on a new life. Battles that might have taken 10 minutes can suddenly be defeated much sooner as you sweep the skies of enemy planes. There are some gripes I have with Ace Kill. Firstly the game does not always start the focus meter when you are in range. I found at times I had to actually shoot at my target before it would begin. This hampers the enjoyment of the mode, as bearing down on enemy planes waiting for the focus meter to start filling so you can shoot them all down in one go, only to realize as they blow past you that the meter never even began to fill is not conducive to making a fun experience. Secondly I feel that getting the ace kill meter to its fullest just takes too long. It’s often just easier to kill a target and move on rather than waiting for the meter to fill.

During one of the early missions I was supposed to shoot down some German dive bombers. They had some really annoying rear gunners that were just chewing me up with their gun fire. My plane started smoking and I realized that my plane had a health meter. That’s not really so unusual, I’ve seen that kind of set up before. What was new to me though was the plane healing itself. Yes, I’m serious. Not only did the developers take the over the shoulder camera set up from Gears of War, they also took the system of healing when not taking damage. It doesn’t happen very quickly, but you can be inches away from being a smoking hole in the ground one moment and then blink and find your paint job is back in pristine condition the next.

Replayability

There are less than 20 missions in the game, and while there is online play even that is limited. There are two difficulty levels but the real reason to ever play this game more than once is to see just how many kills you can get in Ace Kill mode.

Balance

Unlike the first game, where balance suffered because the Japanese Navy never really upgraded their planes beyond the original Zeros, Europe features a campaign where you begin against ME-109s and end by fighting ME-262s and V1s. This allows for a more reasonable difficulty curve.
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Plane upgrades are back, however this time the upgrades are awarded rather than spent, and are more difficult to achieve too. So unlike last game where you could often get a fully upgraded version of an excellent plane fairly fast, this game requires more effort.

There is also a certain amount of balance in multiplayer. The game host is given sets of planes to choose from, ranging from beginner to veteran. These sets contain roughly 5 planes of relatively equal status. It is then up to the players to choose which of the planes they wish to fly.

Originality

Ace Kill mode is pretty unique for a flying game. I don’t recall ever doing bullet time in any of the flying games I’ve played. That’s really all I can claim is very original here.

Addictiveness

Beyond the few levels where Ace Kill really makes sense and is enjoyable even in its current form, the only real reason to keep playing this game until the end is finding out what happens to your pilots and their friends. And once you’ve done that there isn’t much of a reason to play this game over again, unless you have to have all of the planes unlocked.

Appeal

Unlike IL-2, which couldn’t make up its mind about being an Arcade game or a Simulation, there is no such confusion with Heroes Over Europe. If you like your flying games with unlimited ammo, little or no gravity and bullet time induced one shot kills, then Heroes Over Europe is for you.

Miscellaneous

A trench run? Really? REALLY?

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: VERY GOOD
Control: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: POOR
Balance: GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: BELOW AVERAGE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: BAD

Final Score: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

The camera and Ace Kill timing issues kill this game. Had they stuck with even the first game’s flight controls the game would have been this generation’s go to game for propeller heads. Instead it’s not even as good as Blazing Angels.

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