Ubisoft certainly likes its World War II fighter pilot games. While Blazing Angels was developed internally at Ubisoft Bucharest, Heroes Over Europe is in development at Transmission Games and was originally due to be published by Atari. We recently got our hands on a very solid preview build of the game and took to the skies to defend our nation from the invading Nazi forces. Despite a slightly shaky development history we were impressed by what we saw.
Being less than skilled in the business of flying aeroplanes I hopped into a Hurricane Mk. I for the game's opening mission and made sure I was using the Arcade control system. Pro and Arcade will be on offer, with the latter essentially making the planes handle like airborne cars, turning left and right by simply moving the left analogue stick in your desired direction. Pro mode will require far more skilful use of the plane's controls. Combined with three difficulty levels there should be a combination here to suit most players who have an interest in aerial combat, no matter what their level of expertise.
The first mission, Phoney War, set in the Western Alps, France, during June 1940, is the traditional tutorial level and does a good job at running through the core gameplay mechanics. There's nothing all that new about the basics (you're in a plane that can take off, land and shoot things), but there are a few in-air abilities that will make Heroes stand out from the crowd. These centre on the Ace Kill move. By hovering your targeting reticule over an enemy plane the reticule starts to fill. Once you've got enough juice you can activate a slow motion zoomed in view that allows you to take out enemies with a single shot of your guns. By entering the Zone and gaining more time through hitting hard to hit weak spots you can chain together Ace kills, making you something of a mid-air hotshot.
The second mission saw our fighter pilot being called into action to defend a series of key locations in Dover. After flying to an RDF station, the Dover docks and a shipping convoy to check all was well, a final trip to the Coogan RDF station was interrupted by a sudden attack on the shipping convoy. After taking out the enemy fighters, another wave started to attack oil tanks, with the typical health bar system in place to show how close to being destroyed the tanks were. Finally the convoy had sailed into the path of some mines, so they needed to be taken out before any damage was done.
From what we've played the combat on offer here is high on action, if not exactly high on realism - it's the perfect fit for a console aerial combat game though. Enemy planes even have a handy red dot ahead of them, showing you where to aim your machine gun fire in order to hit the moving target. It's unlikely to please hardcore flight sim buffs, but Heroes Over Europe isn't trying to muscle in on that market. With a campaign that appears to cover numerous fighter squadrons and a multiplayer mode that we're yet to test out, Heroes Over Europe looks to have a lot going for it.
Flight combat games tend to suffer in the visual department when you need to get up close to the ground, but from what we've played of Heroes developer Transmission Games has done a good job of delivering an impressive looking game whether you're flying high above the clouds or over a small village. There's some decent in-game storytelling too, with the various pilots you're flying with chatting about their lives and the ongoing war. So far we've yet to see how the story of pilot Tom Forester plays out, but his intention is to make a name for himself in the RAF's 79th squadron, and we don't doubt he'll do it.
Aerial combat games certainly occupy a niche portion of the video game market, but Ubisoft's latest once again appears to be targeting the average console gamer rather than the hardcore sim fan. The gameplay mechanics are simple to pick up, the missions packed full with action, and it looks pretty good too. Heroes Over Europe is unlikely to set pulses racing on its release, but we'd be surprised if it's anything other than an extremely solid, enjoyable aerial romp.
Heroes Over Europe is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in September.