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London's burning

If flight combat games take one of two stances; the simulation which strives for realism or the arcade that is more concerned with action and accessibility, then Heroes Over Europe epitomises the latter. The sequel to Heroes of the Pacific takes the series to Europe and gets the player into the cockpit of the iconic WWII allied dog fighters to down ludicrous numbers of Jerries from (over) the white cliffs of Dover to Berlin.

The single player campaign follows the stories of three pilots: an American, an Englishman and a New Zealander (insert punchline). Interestingly the story and the player's control switches between the pilots without an obvious chronological order, but this keeps things moving and the narrative sequences that develop the characters are interesting and believable. An American poses as a Canadian to follow in his father's footsteps as an Allied pilot talks solemnly of his fear of death (justifiably) and a gruff, Jason-Statham-esque, cockney lad quips in the face of danger.

Menu and loading screens are in a 1940s propaganda-poster-style art and levels are interspersed with archive WWII footage, all of which helps get you into the wartime fighting spirit – stiff upper lip and all that. Completing certain RAF missions sees you greeted with a picture of Churchill; cigar in mouth, throwing up victory Vs. Nice.

Clearly Heroes Over Europe is not aimed at the flight simulation end of the market. Highly detailed physics, controls and attempted realism have been sacrificed for arcade fashion accessibility and some slightly gimmicky but ultimately pleasing special attacks have been thrown in to add some cinematic excitement to the action. Either arcade or professional mode can be selected to tailor the experience but either way you need not fear engine stalls or any flight simulator technicalities and soon enough you will testing the manoeuvrability of your chosen aircraft which can easily perform loops and incredibly tight turning circles.

In a valiant attempt to spice up the genre Heroes has included the all new 'ace kill mode'. Get an enemy close in your sights, hold off the trigger for long enough whilst a meter charges and you are able to enter (fanfare) ace kill mode. Now your view zooms into your target and venerable areas such as engines, wing tips, and crew are highlighted in yellow whilst time is slowed to a crawl and camera effects distort your peripheral vision. Train your sight and successfully hit one of the regions to get more ace kill time, but if you miss it's straight back to normal mode. It's possible to chain these types of kills together and the short cinematic animations of successful take downs are a nice touch although it is not always clear when you are able to charge the meter and in the heat of battle, ultimately shredding enemies with bursts from machine guns is easier.

After choosing the level of realism three difficulties levels are available, the easier rookie mode is extremely generous in determining if your shots have hit your target but, and you may be thankful of this as regardless of the difficultly, waves upon waves of enemy aircraft have to be destroyed to progress. Although exciting at first, the swarms of opposition that have to be swatted out of the air on some levels is excessive and becomes a chore. This is the biggest and most unforgivable flaw of Heroes over Europe; the repetition of the level design.

Missions are broken down into frequent checkpoints that generally speaking do well to avoid that frustrating feeling of having to repeat easy sections. Objectives change during the course of missions including interesting and feasible tasks such as defending radio towers, Allied air bases, escorting navel ships and in one case protecting fire engines in a blazing central London. The method by which you go about this, however, lacks variety and soon becomes formulaic. Kill three waves of approaching bombers, kill two waves of enemy fighters, don't die, don't let them blow up X, Y or Z. Instead of varying the challenges they just seem to throw more and more opponents at you.

Sometimes the fighting is broken-up with a bit of sight-seeing, and in all fairness the environments look very nice indeed. Flying high in the clouds, over the white cliffs of Dover on a sunny day is a sight to behold. The recreation of London during the blitz is well detailed and atmospheric with the recognisable, real-life locations of St Paul's Cathedral and Tower Bridge amidst the chaos of air raid sirens blaring and beams from searchlights. System requirements for Heroes Over Europe are not too demanding and performance held up perfectly well on a standard rig. The only drop in frame rate was when there were around 20-plus aircraft in one area, but it was only slight and did not effect gameplay.

Replications of real-world WWII aircraft are featured and probably look accurate if you are into that sort of thing; further aircraft are unlocked by completing bonus missions objectives. The option of selecting an aircraft isn't exciting as they don't handle realistically and from a gameplay perspective don't differ enormously from one another.

Quality of voice acting has clearly been taken seriously in Heroes and is uncharacteristically good for the genre. Radio chatter does well to avoid over-repetition and includes the usual “chocks away!” material as well as some more memorable moments such as in a mission defending London a pilot exclaims “Bloody hell! Look what they've done to Clapham” and after spotting the enemy the unusual, but amusing “Good eyes there... You got owls on ya mother's side?”.

Up to sixteen player LAN and online multiplayer modes are supported with dog fight, team dog fight and survivor modes but I don't think I will ever see them. At time of review, there are very few gamers on the servers.

After getting the often neglected superficial elements and presentation so right and doing well to inject character into a sometimes blandly presented genre; Heroes Over Europe is off the mark with its mission design. The core of this game is a solid, unfussy arcade shooter with nice visuals but repetition of the campaign fails to keep player interest throughout.

Throw 'em up Winston