Heroes Over Europe is a World War II air combat game that lies firmly in the arcade category. While this means you can jump into a Spitfire and shoot down Nazi planes without having to worry about losing ammunition or stalling your plane, it also results in a game that just isn't rewarding to play. The repetitive missions, terrible voice acting, and shallow difficulty curve all conspire against Heroes Over Europe, which stalls before it even leaves the runway.
You get to play as four different World War II pilots in the single-player campaign. At first, you play as a newbie pilot in the British Royal Air Force patrolling the country's south coast, and later move on to fight with the New Zealand and United States Air Forces with different characters as they take the fight to Germany. Each pilot describes the war in pre-mission cinematics, which adds a personal spin to the overarching theatre of war, but is let down the terrible voice-acting.
The campaign follows a rough chronological structure, as certain missions with the earlier squadrons are only playable once they've been unlocked later on in the game. Each squadron has its own set of airplanes to fly with, and you can unlock more as you progress, especially if you play at the higher difficulty and perform secondary objectives. That said, the single-player game is quite short with only 14 missions, and the overall easy difficulty and frequent checkpoints mean you don't have to retry too many challenges. The greater problem is that the game is just too repetitive. Each mission may take place in a different location, but the challenges all revolve around dogfighting and bombing, which are often repeated many times over in each mission. There are some imaginative objectives, such as staving off a group of bombers while fire engines try to extinguish a blaze--but shooting planes out of the sky and bombing static targets certainly becomes repetitive in this game.
Heroes Over Europe's headline feature is the "ace kill," which effectively means you can become a midair sniper. The game slows down time, zooms in on your target, and highlights key points on the enemy aircraft, such as the engines or the pilot. The longer you hold your aim on the target before activating an ace kill, the more control you have to aim the reticle on these weak spots, allowing you to take an enemy down in a single shot. Sadly, the feature soon becomes repetitive and rather joyless, even with the allure of earning more points for a streak of ace kills. It's slightly more fun to employ standard dogfighting techniques, because enemies often fly in groups and can be taken down with a single pass. However, this means that the dogfighting isn't challenging or rewarding, as enemy pilots do little to evade you, even at the higher difficulty level.
Heroes Over Europe is very much an arcade game, so you can't stall your plane, take a cockpit view, or even issue basic commands to your wingmen. There are two different control schemes: arcade, where the left analog stick banks the plane; and professional, where the stick rolls the plane instead. There's not much difference between the two control schemes, but if you're used to flight sims, you'll want to choose the latter. You can make things slightly more difficult by moving from rookie to pilot or ace for each mission, and the highest difficulty makes the AI slightly more evasive while also removing the aiming-assist reticle.
If you want to take the fight to your friends, there are four game modes, four maps, and support for up to 16 players across both Xbox Live and System Link. The game modes are fairly standard to the genre, with Dogfight and Team Dogfight deathmatch types and Survivor/Team Survivor where the aim is to be the last man standing. The Team Survivor mode is the standout--it's fun and frantic, especially when other players try to take bullets to save teammates. The main problem is that the game just isn't popular online, and we frequently struggled to find anyone to play against.
In terms of presentation, Heroes Over Europe is strong in some areas but weak in many others. The graphics are below average for the genre; the ground objects offer very little detail and are generally out of proportion when compared to the size of the planes. The planes themselves fare better, given that they become riddled with bullet holes and eventually spew fire when damaged, though the game really struggles to maintain a solid frame rate when too many aircraft are onscreen. The menus and cinematics are better, thanks to the war-themed illustrations, period footage and an excellent orchestral soundtrack.
One of the biggest problems with the game is the dialogue, which is badly written and glibly delivered. The radio chatter between you and your wingmen is incessant throughout each mission, and the clangers, such as "Typical bloody Jerry to spoil a day at the beach," come thick and fast. It jars heavily next to the austere war footage used in the cinematics, and if you turn off the speech in the options menu, it also silences the cutscenes--meaning you can't follow the storyline.
Heroes Over Europe is an average World War II flight sim and one that has the misfortune of arriving just after IL-2 Sturmovik, which is a better game that offers a superior arcade experience as well as a hardcore simulation mode. If you like a flight sim where you can jump in a plane and start shooting, then you'll get some enjoyment out of the dogfighting. However, the repetitive gameplay, easy difficulty, and risible dialogue keep this game grounded.