Gamers get a chance to take the skies once more in Heroes of the Pacific from Ubisoft.
As the title would suggest the skies being contested over are those above the Pacific ocean during the bout of worldwide insanity known as the second world war.
In Heroes you climb into the cockpit as William Crowe, a US Air Force pilot with an unfortunate history involving his family having fallen on hard times, he then has the misfortune to be caught up in the attack on Pearl Harbor which is where the games Campaign mode begins.
Controlling your plane in Heroes is nice and easy whether you choose to use the 'Arcade' control system or the 'Professional' one, the major differences being that the left analogue stick will turn the plane in arcade but roll the plane in professional and it's a little harder to stay up in the air in professional, either way its really quite easy to fly the planes using the right stick to control your speed and the left stick to manoeuvre, even in professional mode the game is very arcade like in terms of handling which may disappoint hardcore simulation fans but that is not who this game appears to be aimed at.
Your guns and secondary weapons can be used via the R and L shoulder buttons while X and Circle take care of locating things for you to destroy with them by allowing you to cycle through targets and objectives and handily you can choose to lock onto the closest object in either category by holding down the relevant button.
The wide variety of WW2 aircraft are recreated nicely with a simple stats display for each one detailing the quality of the handling, guns, armour etc of each plane on a 'star' rating scale, the planes really do vary in their performance and you will certainly notice this as you get more powerful machines, these will be handed out to you as you make progress through the campaign story mode.
As seems to be the norm in videogames these days you may upgrade the stats by spending upgrade points that you earn by playing well.
Simply flying around blasting won't always be enough though and you will be called upon to perform dive bombing runs and torpedo drops, both of these events are handled nicely in what comes across as an on-the-fly minigame in which onscreen indicators appear and will change colour to green when the plane is in the correct position for the weapons to be used, with dive bombing it's a case of angle and speed where as dropping a torpedo into the water successfully depends on careful adjustment of your height and speed.
Where used these alternate weapons break up the action quite well and provide a welcome distraction from the monotonous dogfighting which is handled in exactly the same way as in any other flying sim where you line up a targeting crosshair with the enemy plane (adjusting for the fact that the target is moving and your shots have flight time) then get within range and begin blasting away.
You will need to take care obviously for enemy return fire although in strict accordance with videogame physics you are somehow magically able to sustain very much more damage than the opposition, in fact if it were possible to share out the amount of damage the enemy need to inflict on you to kill you equally amongst the enemy planes it would likely clear whole waves of them instantly.
Again turning to videogame physics we learn that planes which collide in mid air simply bounce off of each other as if made of rubber while taking only minor damage, this is a good thing though as it is in keeping with the arcade styled way the game plays.
As you make progress in each mission you will reach checkpoints, these as you would expect are points in the mission from which you may restart if things don't quite go as planned, the only gripe I have with this and it is admittedly a minor gripe is that you are notified of reaching a checkpoint by a completely opaque banner appearing on the screen which temporarily blocks your view of a small area of the screen, this has gotten in the way for me a few times.
Flying alongside you on some missions will be your wingmen, these behave exactly as in many other airborne combat games and you can issue them all the usual commands of (all together now) attack freely, attack players target, defend allied units and make formation.
The wingmen do certainly help you out and what can seem at first like a daunting wall of enemy planes can be brought crashing down to earth in flames with their assistance and good command issuing.
As is also the norm for flying combat sims you will hear the chatter of your wingmen and allied units over your radio as the battle goes on, the variety in the dialog helps to keep you within the storyline and makes the missions seem more varied by making it seem like different events are going on although you are essentially doing the same things over and over at times.
Presentation and Graphics
Heroes of the Pacific is excellently presented at the front end, a period theme is used across all of the games front end menus and screens and it looks really classy, each screen from the options menu to the plane select are amazingly well presented with WW2 era lettering and artistic styles throughout, the mission briefings for campaign mode take on the form of military documents with animated sequences or WW2 film footage with voiceovers from your hero Mr Crowe and his commanding officers and thankfully the voice acting is good. One criticism I would level at the front end of the game is that you tend to spend a lot of time staring at loading screens.
Graphically the game doesn't disappoint but it won't have your eyes out on stalks either, I would have thought that as there is a lot less happening onscreen in a flying game compared with other genres that the graphical quality could be greatly increased but this never seems to be the case, still Heroes does have some alluring graphical touches like the way smoke billows from damaged planes and the way the explosions hang momentarily in the air as smoking debris falls down.
Aside from the campaign you have the Instant action mode which does exactly as you'd think by doing away with the story and putting you up against waves of enemies one after another, Historical Battles mode which recreates some real life situations that aren't featured in the campaign and an online mode where you can fly planes that have been unlocked by the host of the game in a deathmatch mode, a basic capture the flag but airborne mode and another mode where two teams try to destroy each others aircraft carrier while defending their own.
Fans of flying games appear to fall into two categories, there are ones who like the in game planes to handle as realistically as possible with full simulation controls and then there are those who just want a pick up and play blast, Heroes will appeal more to the latter.
This is a solid enough title which is genuine fun to play and pulls off the arcade style very well, there is no steep learning curve and a quick blast through the training mode will equip you with all the necessary skills needed to play just fine.
If this sounds like the kind of experience you want from a flying game then you should definitely enjoy Heroes of the Pacific.