Just how many video games have been set during World War II? By now the total figure has to be well into triple digits, and yet still they keep on coming. True enough, WW2 was the decisive conflict of the twentieth century, and it was inevitable that such an important event would have a permanent impact on the face of pop-culture. All the same, the war's continued popularity with game developers is somewhat bewildering. There have been other military struggles, you know. Where's my Trojan War RTS, for pity's sake?
Heroes Over Europe is a game that's more concerned with the iconography of the war than with the gritty reality of the history. That's not to say that Transmission Games has treated their subject in a frivolous manner, merely that this is the kind of game where a single Hawker Hurricane can be tasked with shooting down a fleet of 20 Stuka dive-bombers. As luck would have it, the plane in question is equipped with an infinite bullet supply, recharging health and the power to slow down time - luxuries that were sadly unavailable during 1942.
For all intents and purposes, this is Afterburner: Winston Churchill Commemorative Edition. Players are offered a choice of "arcade" or "professional" control styles - the former simplifies plane handling and limits your ability to roll, while the latter offers complete governance of your aircraft's movements - but whichever you choose, the ensuing action is light and swift-paced. There's a clear emphasis on dog-fighting, and while your immediate mission objectives often require you to protect another unit or location from attack, most assignments will end up with an enormous airborne scrap in which you'll shoot down dozens of German planes.
The core combat in Heroes Over Europe works rather well. Thanks to the fact that your plane regenerates over time, and since the targeting system is rather generous, it's easy to get stuck into the action without being overly cautious. You do have to lead your targets a little (though not as much as in more hardcore sims), and the AI actually puts up a decent fight, but on the whole Heroes is content to let you enjoy the ride. In addition to the standard shooting, the game also offers something called Ace Kills - essentially bullet-time with wings. If you can keep an enemy within range of your guns for a certain period of time, a little red circle begins to fill in around your reticule. Once this is filled you can hit the left bumper to trigger a slow motion sequence where you try to align your crosshair with highlighted targets on the enemy plane. Pull the trigger at the right second, and you'll do significant damage to your victim - plus you'll be allowed to take another shot.
Once you get good at this feature, you'll be able to take out one engine on a German bomber, eliminate the tail gunner and then shoot out the other jet - all in the space of 10 seconds. Indeed, before long you'll be chain-killing several different planes in a row using this method - a practice that the game positively encourages. It's thoroughly ludicrous, of course - but that doesn't stop it from being fun. Now that someone's made bullet-time work in a flight game, I guess it's only a matter of time before someone implements a cover-to-cover system too. I can't wait to see how that works out.