This week Ubisoft released Transmission Games' new World War II arcade aircraft title, Heroes Over Europe, and I've been having a play. Some thoughts and aerial battle chatter below.
Arcade (as opposed to simulatory) flying games have always been a peculiar breed. And I always seem to end up playing them. They appear regularly on our gaming release schedules, and the appeal of them never seems to diminish, yet nor does it increase. These are games that land somewhere in the middle of our tastes: they seldom seize greatness, and seem content to be just good enough. Occasionally the designers of these games manage to bring the pace, challenge, and subject matter all into alignment, and create something that is outstanding, but it's a rare conjunction indeed. Somehow the appeal of the flying-about-shooting-in-3D genre never seems to attain much complexity or depth - they're just another manifestation of the shoot 'em gene, only this time in the air. So it is with Heroes Over Europe, which makes excellent propeller noises as it chugs over a not-particularly detailed Europe, and through rather-good clouds.
Mechanically the game is fine and more than enough to convey aerial dog-fights. Fortunately, it plays okay on keyboard, which it defaults to on PC. (Although it supports the 360 pad, other stuff seems to be lacking necessary config options - which is a problem for the game was a whole. Also: no mid-mission save.) The Heroes Over Europe campaign consists of a series of linear missions, each one directed via a series of waypoints, and instructions over the radio. Needless to say, this involves plenty of aerial acrobatics versus German aircraft - shooting down bombers, fighters, and so on - with the odd ground target thrown in.
The extra feature in all this is the "ace" mode, which allows you to target specific areas on an enemy aircraft when you get in close. A bar charges up, and when it tops out you can take stuff out. It's an attempt to jazz up the standard tropes of aerial action with another mode of play, a kind of bullet-time for dog-fighting, except not quite. Heroes Over Europe is turned out beautifully, from the war-era poster menus and loading screens to the white cliffs of Dover, but I can't help feeling that it's a little too lightweight, given how sensible Transmission have been with the design. It doesn't feel like it's taking any creative risks, and it's absolutely ripe for them. Anything could have been more creative, from the writing to that special shooty mode. There's something so functional and basic about a reticle charging up that I just felt like it was thought up over coffee. "Oh we need a new feature..." "Will this do?" It's an extra feature, sure, but like the crazy third-person stunt mode in HAWX, it seldom feels like a vital addition to the standard, perfunctory shooting-at-stuff that makes up the game as a whole. The addition seems like an admission that they didn't have enough game in here, but it ends up being superfluous.
All of which rather diminishes what is otherwise an entirely straightforward flying game, which isn't without a modicum of fun and challenge. As I said, it's competently constructed, it just doesn't feel like there's enough art or ambition in it. If they really wanted to make an impression then Heroes Over Europe needed to make some moves that were out of the ordinary. As it is, this is one of those game that will fade very quickly into the miasma of past experiences, to become indistinguishable from all those other flying, shooting, arcade 3D aircraft games that litters the rambling gaming history that lies in my wake.