Heroes of the Pacific puts the player into the shoes of Lieutenant William Crowe, a young pilot just out of flight school, whose first post places him at Hickam Field in Pearl Harbor. Crowe is there when the Japanese attack, and participates in the defense of Pearl Harbor. As the game progresses, and the United States enters World War 2 against the Japanese, Crowe finds himself participating in many of the significant historical battles of the war in the Pacific theater such as Midway, Wake Island, and Guadalcanal.
The most notable graphical presentation in Heroes of the Pacific is the artistic decision to make parts of the game look and feel like a piece of entertainment media from the World War II era. The main menu, loading screens, and other incidental scenes were styled similarly to comic book covers, recruitment and movie posters, and what I assume to be newspaper headlines from that time, albeit animated. Many of the screens also had the effect of an old film, with celluloid artifacts such as burns, scratches, and lines. Wartime footage from historical archives is also used in the game that adds to the feel. I also noticed that a lot of the coloration is muted to give it a faded look. It’s a motley bit of artistic stylings that might clash together in any other medium, but overall it’s not a bad effect for a video game.
The in-game graphics, on the other hand, have not been touched up in the same way. It’s pretty standard fare as far as things look, though the detail levels seem to be notched down a bit. The graphics engine makes the game run pretty clean, and even with dozens of planes and flak exploding all around, there isn’t any noticable slowdown, and the particle effects for smoke, clouds, and flame make for decent touches. I’m not too knowledgeable on planes myself, but I don’t doubt the accuracy of the designs used in the game, and I can appreciate the motion of the flaps and rudders when you bank and turn the plane.
Split-screen mode in two player multiplayer is actually rather well-done, as the widescreen plane for each player actually gives a wide peripheral visual range without sacrificing too much on the vertical plane. It’s difficult to make out altitude and airspeed, but everything else seems fairly clear.
One thing that caught my attention, if only because it is the kind of thing that breaks any suspension of disbelief, was the weird clipping errors I’d get whenever I dropped bombs. There were several times when I’d release one, and it would pop up through the top of a wing before it started falling.
For any sort of flight and war simulator, the sound effects for the game are important to maintain the immersive atmosphere of the game. The game does a good job of emulating those efects to keep me engaged in the action. I wouldn’t be able to tell you if each individual engine buzz or machine gun blast was how it should really sound, but it sounded good enough to me.
I did find some fault with the quality of some of the voice acting in the game. Most of the principal voices performed fine, but some of the incidentals sounded flat and emotionless, and didn’t carry with it the kind of strength and desperation that you might expect from people fighting for their lives. There’s a great deal of radio chatter that goes on throughout a mission, so mediocre performances tend to stand out more in my mind once AI barks start repeating themselves.
The music seemed to mostly take a back seat to the sound effects in game. Yes, the audio could be adjusted, but at default levels, it was barely audible while it was mixed in with all of the engine noise, explosions, and dialogue. Only the main theme managed to stand out when it played in the main menu. Overall, though what little music I could hear sounded nice, not only were the themes not very memorable, but they simply did not stand out in the game.
There are two options given to the player for the flight control scheme: Arcade and professional style. It did not take me too long to get a feel for the arcade style controls (except for the one exception that I make note of below), but once I got used to it, I had a difficult time trying to figure out professional mode since the analog sticks behave differently between the two modes. It’s probably best to learn one method and stick with it throughout the course of the game.
You do need to take your planes through takeoff and a pseudo-landing. Rather than wrestle the controls to try to bring a plane in, I truly appreciated the game using rings that you could fly your plane through to handle landings.
There are four types of planes that you learn to fly throughout the game: fighters, torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and regular bombers. Each one handles quite differently, and the torpedo and dive bombers each have a separate, special attack mode for their respective payloads. This does increase the challenge rating a bit, but at least the controls operate similarly for each type.
What I feel hurts this game a bit may seem like a little thing since it’s only for one specific occurance, but it made the training missions, of all things, extremely frustrating for a first-time player. Normally, the camera stares at the back of the plane in third-person view, and the camera and nose are pointed in the same direction. However, if the plane ever stalls out, the camera angle and the nose of the plane go their separate ways. The camera continues to point in the direction of the plane’s inertial movement, whereas the nose could be pointed anywhere. What’s not made obvious is that if you throttle up to try to recover, your direction of acceleration is not where the nose is pointed, but where the camera is pointed. I’ve soared into the ground more times than I’d like to think about because of this confusion. Except for one short line in the game manual, the game doesn’t really teach you what you need to do — you have to learn it yourself the hard way. I don’t think pilots during that time had that luxury.
The action in the game can be quite fast and furious, and I never got bored with dogfighting against Zeros. With the different types of planes that you can fly, your mission objectives can be handled slightly differently depending on your selection of plane as well, though only a few missions actually offer the ability to select from multiple types. There are plenty of ground and sea-based targets to attack besides planes, so the gameplay can be wide and varied.
In most missions, you have wingmen accompanying you, and since they practically shoot at everything that moves, you generally don’t have to worry about them much once you give them one of four orders: form up, break off, defend, and attack. They aren’t aces, but they are at least competant and do provide help.
I found a great deal of amusement in sniping fighters with the 75mm Stand Off Cannon on the Catalina. Aside from that, the weapons in the game are fairly assorted: machine guns, cannons, dumb-fire rockets, bombs, and torpedos. With so much going on in the game though, it’s difficult to make out the difference in combat effectiveness between the different calibres of machine guns and cannons. One of the interesting features is that you can adjust the mounting of your plane’s machine guns to direct its spread and elevation for different attack strategies.
What I found most annoying in the entire game was the inconvenient timing and placement of mission notices and certain cut scenes. Mission notifications would pop up smack dab in the center of the screen right over the targeting reticle, and they would at times appear in the middle of a dogfight, at least too often for comfort. It was a rather obnoxious distraction, to say the least. Also, during reconnaisance missions where photographs needed to be taken, the game would stop and the photo would pop up for several seconds, even if you were trying to evade enemy gunfire and AA flak at the time — another unwelcome distraction.
There was one occassion where the timing of success in one objective and the failure of a second happened close enough together that the game saved a checkpoint right before the mission failure notice popped up. There was nothing that I could do to recover from that, so I was forced to restart the multi-part mission from the beginning, instead of getting the opportunity to restart from a checkpoint.
Gameplay aside, cutscenes and intermissions between the game’s campaign missions give an excellent summary of significant dates and events that occur throughout World War 2, post-Pearl Harbor. By itself, I believe the bits of historical trivia that can be picked up from the game give its inherent value a big boost. I’m easily thirty hours into the game already, just from going through campaign mode and quick missions, and I’m not even halfway done unlocking everything that’s available. Anything that offers gameplay of over 25 hours is already a decent value in my book.
There are a lot of unlockable missions and planes in the game, and plenty more opportunities to upgrade each plane. With split-screen two-player and online multiplayer capability and several different modes of play, there’s a plethora of reasons to replay the game. If I ever feel like mindlessly flying around and shooting down enemy aircraft, this is probably the first game I’d look for.
However, because of the problems I’ve noted in the other sections of the game, the break-in period for the game could be more trying to less-patient gamers. I believe that it could be quite possible for someone to become frustrated enough to abandon the game before it starts getting into the fun stuff. That possibility there keeps me from awarding a higher score.