Heroes of the Pacific Hands-On

We take to the skies with work-in-progress PS2 and Xbox versions of this WWII flight sim.

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Currently scheduled for release in November, Heroes of the Pacific is a World War II flight sim that will see you assuming the role of a young US Navy pilot named William Crowe. Starting out at Pearl Harbor, the game's 26 career missions will see you waging war in the skies above no fewer than 10 different locations, including Wake Island, Midway, Marianas, the Philippines, and Iwo Jima. We recently had the opportunity to notch some flying hours with both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of Heroes of the Pacific, and we've found the game to be fast-paced and challenging.

There are a couple of menus you'll need to negotiate before your career as a WWII pilot gets under way, so you'll choose from one of four difficulty levels (rookie, pilot, veteran, or ace) and either an arcade or professional control setup. The latter option effectively doubles the number of difficulty settings to eight, since the professional controls make your chosen plane much harder to maneuver. If you choose to play with the arcade controls, it'll be impossible for you to barrel roll, your plane will right itself anytime you get disoriented, and pushing left and right on your analog stick will steer you in that direction. Playing with the professional controls is a very different experience, since you'll basically be flying your plane the same way you'd have to in real life. So pushing left or right will perform a barrel roll rather than a turn, you'll have to figure out which way is up without any assistance if you get disoriented during a dogfight, and it's basically just a lot harder to get an enemy in your sights and keep him there.

Numerous different objectives will be thrown at you as you attempt to defend Pearl Harbor.

Defending Pearl Harbor from the Japanese naval strike force in your first mission, then, is really as difficult as you want it to be. Like all the Heroes of the Pacific missions we've played through thus far, the mission throws multiple objectives at you on the fly (excuse the pun) and will rarely wait for you to complete your current goal before giving you some more to worry about. While defending an air base or fuel tanks on the ground, for example, you might suddenly be told that you need to intercept a squadron of Japanese bombers headed for your battleships. You'll occasionally be told which objective you should make your priority, but it often boils down to a judgment call, since failing any objective invariably brings your career to an abrupt end. Unsurprisingly, most of your objectives amount to little more than blowing stuff up, but the dogfights, bombing runs, and torpedo attacks on boats are actually quite varied. Escort missions for friendly ground, air, or sea units are also pretty frequent, and you'll occasionally get something completely different to do, such as flying low over the water while attempting to spot the periscope of an enemy submarine.

The gameplay in Heroes of the Pacific is certainly fast-paced, and although we've yet to see anything approaching 150 planes in the sky simultaneously (which, we're assured, is possible), there have been plenty of occasions where we've been spoiled for choice when looking for our next target. There have also been plenty of occasions where we've collided with enemy planes in midair, which will throw you off course quite dramatically, but doesn't appear to cause any significant damage to the planes involved. When your plane does get damaged, you'll be alerted by a number of different visual effects, such as bullet holes or splatters of blood that temporarily appear across your screen.

You'll start your career with just one plane, a P-40C Warhawk, at your disposal, and you'll unlock additional planes as you progress through the game. You'll have nothing but fighter planes to choose from for your early missions, but later objectives will demand that you take controls of a dive-bomber, torpedo bomber, or bomber class plane. In addition to unlocking additional planes, completing certain objectives will award you "upgrade points" that can subsequently be spent on improving your planes' speed, agility, armor, and gun attributes. There are 19 US Navy aircraft and 17 Imperial Japanese Navy planes to unlock, making for a total of 88 different rides, if you count the different skins that come with every upgrade.

The upgrades available for most planes are quite significant, and the new skins don't look bad either.

You'll also be allocated wingmen as you progress through your career, and you'll be able to issue them simple instructions using your D pad. We found that our wingmen were quite effective when we gave them the freedom to attack targets at will or instructed them to defend certain areas. The other pilots didn't seem quite as industrious when we had them flying in formation with us, but it was definitely satisfying to see them following our lead when we took advantage of the game's "look back" feature.

We've enjoyed our time with Heroes of the Pacific's career mode thus far, and we look forward to bringing you more information on the game as its September release closes in. In addition to the career mode, Heroes of the Pacific will boast a number of unlockable historical missions and multiplayer support for either two players via split-screen or eight players online.

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