Heroes of the Pacific Hands-On Preview

We climb into Heroes of the Pacific and discover that it's a stylish blend of Crimson Skies and Michael Bay's <i>Pearl Harbor</i>.

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Aside from Microsoft and its iconic flight simulator, the only other major publisher turning out flight sims these days is Ubisoft. Heroes of the Pacific represents the latest of these efforts, and this World War II-themed flight sim is definitely geared toward everyday gamers and not the hardcore flight sim contingent. Heroes of the Pacific easily falls into the "flight sim lite" category, because it's the kind of game where shooting down planes and blowing up things on the ground are far more important than realistic aerodynamics or the number of gauges in the cockpit. We've been playing around with the PC version of this multiplatform game to see how it'll appeal to the stick-and-rudder crowd.

Get ready to roll into some bandits, because Pearl Harbor is on the line!
Get ready to roll into some bandits, because Pearl Harbor is on the line!

The easiest way to think of Heroes of the Pacific is to imagine a combination of Crimson Skies with Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor. In the single-player game, you follow the career of US Navy pilot William Crowe, who is out to avenge the death of his brother, who was on board the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor on that fateful day in December. As such, you'll participate in aerial battles across the width of the Pacific, starting with Pearl Harbor, before going on to Wake Island, Coral Sea, Midway, and beyond. The mission structure is familiar if you've played any action-heavy flight combat game. Instead of taking off and flying for long periods to get to a certain spot, all you have to do is fly around for a few seconds before the next wave of enemy planes comes into range, or until you receive new orders on the radio to take out something else. The emphasis in Heroes of the Pacific is definitely on action.

As expected, you have a figurative hangar full of different aircraft to fly in the game, including the F4F Hellcat and F6F Wildcat, the SBD Dauntless, the P-40 Warhawk, and the F4U Corsair. One of the features in Heroes of the Pacific is that you can earn upgrade points for your performance in missions. Between missions, you can take those upgrade points and, well, upgrade your plane. You can also go into the workshop before a mission and tweak various settings on the plane, such as the gun elevation and gun harmonization (which determines at what range the bullets from the guns converge at the same spot.) Once that's all set, you'll drop into the mission to fly and fight your way to victory.

There are several different camera angles to choose from in the game, including a first-person cockpit view, but Heroes of the Pacific is meant to be played mainly from the third-person perspective, like Crimson Skies. This affords you a nice view of the plane and the surrounding action. In contrast, the cockpit view is a bit restrictive, as you have virtually no peripheral vision whatsoever.

Heroes of the Pacific is also being developed for the PS2 and Xbox, so it makes sense that the control scheme is fairly simple. In fact, the PC version is completely playable using just the mouse and keyboard. Then again, it probably has to be, since it seems that fewer PC gamers nowadays have a gamepad, let alone a joystick. However, if you do have a joystick, then there is a setting in the PC version that will appeal to you. The PC version actually offers two different control options. The arcade-style controls are geared toward the keyboard and mouse, whereas the professional-style controls are ideal if you have a joystick. The difference between the two is startling, as there's much more a sense of "momentum" in the professional controls.

Fly over the tropical side of the Pacific, but there's no time to sightsee.
Fly over the tropical side of the Pacific, but there's no time to sightsee.

The game itself is bright and colorful, and it has a distinctly cool art style throughout the main menu, one that hearkens back to the stylish propaganda posters of World War II, as well as the happy-go-lucky art style of the 1940s. The graphics themselves are fairly colorful, and the graphics engine (based on Renderware) does a good job of creating interesting locales. Fly over Pearl Harbor and you'll be buffeted by flak bursts, and you'll also see the guns on the battleships below blazing away. Don't expect historical accuracy in the levels, either, as this is more of an action game and less of a history lesson. But you'll still find the presence and flavor of historical authenticity. And while Heroes of the Pacific doesn't push the graphical envelope, it should still look nice and run well on a wide array of systems.

Heroes of the Pacific should be a solid and engaging flight combat game, and it's exactly what the flight sim genre needs more of to grow its audience. This isn't a complex game to pick up, and it's full of the sort of cool dogfighting moments that people have come to expect. The game looks like it's nearly complete at this stage, and it should be good to go for its expected October takeoff date.

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