Let's face it: When it comes to World War II-based games, it's easy to skimp on plot. All you need are two words: "Kill Nazis" – there you go, instant storyline.
Heroes Over Europe pretty much falls into that category. The arcade-style air combat game loosely strings together 14 missions from the perspectives of three airmen – an American, a Brit and a New Zealander. However, aside from the overarching theme of beating back Hitler's forces, the missions form no real coherent narrative. They're just excuses to fly around shooting at stuff – and, sorry to say, not great excuses, at that.
Breaks Between Dogfighting: I found I enjoyed the game most when I was given something else to do besides chasing around yet another wave of Nazi fighter planes. For example, one mission puts you in a Mosquito, a twin-engine British bomber made of wood, and sends you out to disrupt celebratory Nazi festivities in Berlin. The mission ends with a very low-altitude escape through the streets of Berlin, like a Death Star run, Nazi-style. Another mission has you in a Swordfish bi-plane, using torpedoes to take out enemy warships. Unfortunately, though, there weren't enough such diversions.
Ace Kills: When dogfighting, getting close to a target – and keeping him in your sights – initiates the chance for an "ace kill." In close range, a bar around the reticule will charge, and, when ready, pressing a button slows down time for a few seconds and gives a zoomed-in view of the enemy plane. Most times, hitting the yellow weak spots gives you an instant kill. Although I didn't use the feature that much – often it was easier to take the extra time to fire away from afar than to work my way up close, making the maneuver more a novelty than necessity – I'm placing it in the "Loved" category simply because, after about the 10th time trying to shoot down the final German ace pilot (an end-level boss who has about four times as much health as other enemies), I finally got him with an ace kill, ending his misery and mine.
Repetition: I enjoy hack-and-slash games, but not the kind where you face seemingly endless onslaughts of enemies over and over again. There were plenty of times when Heroes Over Europe felt like that, only in a plane. I would think I'd reached the end of a mission, only to hear someone say something to the effect of, "Hey, look! More bandits!" Moreover, there were times when I would complete an objective without shooting down all the enemy fighters; those that I didn't kill would hound me in the next objective, which would have been fine, except that the game wouldn't let me target the leftover fighters, so I couldn't tell who was shooting at me.
Useless Wingmen: While I would see my wingmen pursuing enemy aircraft, I don't think they ever actually shot anyone down (and there's no way to command them to). During missions, I also could've done without the endless chatter – mostly comprising cheesy zingers and one-liners that only served to further the stereotype that all fighter pilots talk like Iceman and Maverick.
The Invisible Wall: I understand that, although the sky looks limitless on screen, it's actually not – fly too far in one direction and you're told to circle back while your plane automatically turns around. That's fair. However, at a key point in one mission, in which I needed to kill off German fighters that were hounding a group of bombers I was escorting, the bombers and lone remaining Nazi plane were allowed to progress past the "invisible wall," preventing me from following and completing the objective. This happened to me multiple times, forcing me to purposely crash or restart from the last checkpoint to finish the mission.
Cutscenes: The graphics overall were unremarkable, but the cutscenes – basically, a camera zooming in on hand-drawn stills with melodramatic voiceovers from the various pilot characters – looked to me about the quality of what you'd find on the Nintendo DS. There were also scenes taken from old black-and-white newsreel footage, but they seemed fairly superfluous.
Online: Hello? Is this thing on? To be honest, I didn't play this one online – the times I tried to, there was no one else on Xbox Live playing it. That can't be good.
I'm not sure if there was much anticipation for the release of Heroes Over Europe, so perhaps there's not too much disappointment that the result is a big, tall glass of "meh." With just 14 missions – and checkpoints that are frequent enough that you won't lose much progress during do-overs – the single-player mode is short enough that you can get through the game in a few days. With a severe lack of interest online, though, the replay factor is pretty low.
If you're desperate for an arcade-style air-combat game, Heroes Over Europe is bland, but not unplayable. For anyone else, there are far better options.
Heroes Above Europe was developed by Transmission Games and published by Ubisoft for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on Sept. 15 and for Windows PC on Sept. 22. Retails for $49.99 USD and $39.99 USD for the PC version. Played entire single-player campaign mode on medium difficulty. Tested hard difficulty. Was unable to find anyone to play against online.
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