I wonder what it means when the best part of an air combat game is its story.
Okay, okay, that's not exactly true. Heroes Over Europe doesn't have a particularly unique story - it's a World War II game, for cryin' out loud! - and there's plenty to like about the game. But what is noteworthy about Heroes is its presentation: For relating the same tales of heroism and valor that we've seen in a hundred different games and movies by now, it manages to sell itself rather competently.
Heroes follows three pilots - American-pretending-to-be-Canadian Tom Forester, British RAF pilot Danny Miller, and New Zealander Will West - in four different campaigns across the course of the war, from France, to Dover, to London, and then to striking at the heart of the Reich. Before every mission, a propaganda newsreel video (spliced in with actual footage) does a good job at setting the stage, and little graphic novel sequences let us get to know the pilots better.
The presentation perfectly nails the feel of the period's propaganda art, from the posters on its opening screen to the little tips and tricks on every loading menu. The narration and voice acting is also pretty decent, and the radio chatter between pilots during missions is enjoyable and though occasionally repetitive, it's not often enough to really become a bother.
That's a good thing, because the rest of Heroes Over Europe is hardly outstanding. We've seen most of this stuff before: It's an arcade-style air combat game (hooray for infinite ammo, limited-regeneration health, and steadily refilling bomb supplies) that turns you into the Ace of Aces as you singlehandedly shoot down hundreds of Axis aircraft. The controls are fine, and though the choice to use the right thumbstick as a throttle instead of mapping it to the camera feels odd at first, it quickly becomes natural.
You go from mission to mission, you complete your objectives - which pretty much all fall into the range from "Fly here," to "Shoot down these enemy aircraft," to "Don't let these enemy aircraft destroy Target X" - and you earn additional planes to fly, and different models thereof. With the exception of the lone Swordfish torpedo bomber mission, it gets kind of repetitious.
Heroes Over Europe does bring a few new things to the genre. There are "Ace Kills," which let your pilot go into a pseudo bullet-time tunnel vision mode and slowly pick apart an enemy craft in a single burst of gunfire, and "Energy Kills," which are more powerful attacks made while diving from above at top speed. These are fun tricks to pull off, but will rarely make or break a dogfight for you.
When you have your target selected, you can just hold a button to make the camera stick to that target no matter what. It results in some cool looking action shots as you circle around to get on your enemy's tail, and is handy for keeping things oriented in the midst of heavy fighting above London, but there's an unfortunate side-effect as well: No matter what, you can't target anything that isn't part of your primary objective, so if you're being harassed by some Nazi pilot as you're trying to take down the bombers, you're stuck either trying to take him out manually or just trying to outfly him. Granted, this is probably more historically accurate (can't let your bombers get through), but it's also very, very frustrating.
Despite these gripes, Heroes Over Europe manages to be a solid game that'll keep you entertained for a few hours. The scenery is nice (though not fantastic), the combat is fun (though familiar), and the presentation is actually very well-done. No, it's not going to spark a World War of its own, but you could really do a whole lot worse.
Bottom Line: Heroes Over Europe is a competent arcade flight combat game, and it doesn't try to reinvent the genre in the slightest. It has a few new features that are cool though hardly selling points, and a surprisingly good presentation of stories we've seen time and time again bolstered by an above-average cast of actors (with accents that sound spot on - at least to this untrained American ear).
Recommendation: It'll probably give you a few hours of fun - but rent it first.
John Funk thinks WW2-era air combat was so much cooler than what we have today.