I’ve been a fan of old warplanes for as long as I can remember. There are photos of me sitting in a Harvard trainer of 1942 vintage at the age of 2. I’ve made untold dozens of models of my favourite planes, ranging from Spitfires to Mustangs, Zeroes to Messerschmitts and so on. Basically it’s clear to say I had big expectations for this game – and what surprised me was, the game delivered in almost every way.
For a flight simulator, a genre notorious for tricky controls, this is a game which takes no time at all to get comfortable with (on Xbox, anyway). To control the throttle you push the right thumbstick forwards and backwards, and use the left stick to climb, dive and turn. The right trigger fires your main weapon(s), and the left controls your secondary, using the X button to cycle through these (ranging from bombs to rockets and even torpedoes). The A button selects your next target (hold to get a lock-on view), B selects your next objective (again, hold it for a lock-on view) and Y gives you a handy “zoom” mode, allowing you to get a closer look at distant enemies. The directional pad orders your wingmen about the sky, white gives a rear view and holding black button will show your current target in relation to your plane. Finally, clicking in the right thumbstick gives you “warspeed”, a boost function which doubles your speed on every aircraft (except the Catalina flying-boat). For a die-hard “warbird” fan like myself there is a veritable museum worth of great-looking flyable planes. All the favourites are included in this collection of 40 or so fighting planes – fighters like the Corsair, Bearcat, Raiden-Jack and Val to particular oddities like the Me262 and P-80 jets, German Fw190 and Russian Yak-3. Each of these aircraft is recreated in loving graphic detail, with paint schemes based on actual wartime examples and each plane is upgradable. There are four skill levels in Heroes, ranging from the self-explanatory “Rookie” to “Veteran”. I attempted to play the entire game at a single skill setting – “Pilot” – with the intention of going through later at a harder setting. However, on a few occasions I found my self reverting to the easiest setting out of sheer frustration. For those not happy just with the missions, multiplayer over Xbox Live and system link supports up to 8 players. One interesting, but unoriginal feature in this game are the cutscenes used between missions. These attractive mini-cartoons are done in the style of 1940’s comic books with limited animation (planes zooming by in the background, guns firing, bombs exploding etc) accompanied by a very wooden voiceover by William Crowe.
I’ve spent more than 30 hours all up playing this game and finally I’ve finished the campaign mode...only to discover I’ve only unlocked half the planes! This is definitely one for the long-run, with great gameplay which is challenging but not off-putting, and marvellous-looking aircraft which will be a drawcard for any old plane nut. A must-have for any aerial combat fan, providing a much-needed game for a genre starved on the consoles.