Heroes of the Pacific E3 2004 Hands-On Impressions

Encore showed off its multiplatform World War II flight sim for the first time.

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We tried out an early version of Heroes of the Pacific, Encore's upcoming World War II flight sim, at E3. As the title suggests, the game will be a close-quarters combat flight game, set in the Pacific theater of WWII between the United States and imperial Japan.

Heroes' single-player campaign will put you in the shoes of an American fighter jock as he makes his way through the war in the Pacific. You'll start out trying to fend off the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, and then follow the path of war as it happened historically. Wake Island, Midway, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima are among the 25 battles included in the primary campaign. You won't just be dogfighting in Heroes of the Pacific. Bombing and torpedo missions against naval targets are included, as well as ground support missions and combat air patrol. On other missions you'll be escorting bombers or even infiltrating enemy bases to steal aircraft. You'll also be able to unlock five historical bonus missions, one of which will have you participating in the assassination of Admiral Yamamoto, the mastermind behind the Pearl Harbor attack.

Heroes will include 25 planes that you can fly--15 from the US side and 10 from the Axis side. These include the F4F Wildcat, F4U Corsair, F6F Hellcat, P-38 Lightning, Dauntless SBD dive bomber, B-25 Mitchell, and Japanese craft like the infamous Zero, Val, and Betty. Experimental jet craft like the Me 262 and Lockheed Shooting Star will also make cameo appearances in the game. We tried out the Wildcat and Lightning on the E3 floor and noticed quite a difference; the latter's powerful twin engines and superior maneuverability made combat a lot easier.

The game's graphics engine will allow for upward of 300 planes within a single battle, though the early demo we played on a PlayStation 2 allowed for about 70. Even at this early stage, Heroes of the Pacific offered some impressive visuals, with realistic, moving clouds that actually serve a useful purpose; they can be used for cover while dogfighting or flying in formation toward a target. Shooting down planes also offered some nice detail. Fatally wounded craft would catch fire and spiral down toward the sea, trailing black smoke.

There will be two flight models included in Heroes of the Pacific. One is an arcade-style model that will make the game feel pretty familiar to those who played Crimson Skies on the Xbox. Using arcade style, the game will always level you out after you make a turn, and it's not possible to stall out your craft. The simulation mode will allow you to roll and do more-complex maneuvers, but you'll also have to be aware of your power and avoid stalling out your engines on climbs. From our brief play time, the simulation style did seem markedly more challenging than arcade mode (we certainly racked up a lot fewer kills), but hardcore grognards still won't mistake this game for something on the level of IL-2 Sturmovik.

Heroes of the Pacific is currently about 40 percent complete, but already we're seeing attention to small details that give us a lot of encouragement about how the final product will turn out. The menu screens, for example, use the stylish propaganda art from the war. Choosing your aircraft feels a lot like flipping through actual advertisements from Lockheed or Chance-Vought.

There's still some work to be done on the game, such as delivering on the promised 300 planes in the sky at once and hashing out the game's squadron command interface, which wasn't available at E3. But Heroes of the Pacific certainly looks promising already. Multiplayer fans won't be left out either; the game will ship with multiplayer options on all three platforms: PC, PS2, and Xbox. Console versions will have eight players online, while the PC version will have 16. Five game modes will ship with the game, including regular dogfighting and team dogfighting, capture the flag, and cooperative missions. Those who enjoy combat flight games should definitely keep an eye on Heroes of the Pacific, which is expected to ship in the winter of 2004.

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