Ever since Crimson Skies rat-tat-tatted its way across Xbox like a stylised Saturday morning matinee, there hasn't been another cloud-buster quite like it. For the sheer uptiddly-up-up, and down-tiddly-down-downness of it all, nothing has come close. Until this.
Heroes of the Pacific is what Crimson Skies would have been if it had been set not in a fictional world of Frontier America, but during the very real Pacific campaigns of WWII. It's horribly American, with its whoop-ass, gung-ho "nobody suckerpunches the United States and gets away with it!" soundbites - but beneath the Yankee-doodle dialogue the engine just purrs.
Four classes of plane - combat, torpedo, dive and heavy bombers - are available for missions ranging from multi-plane dogfights or one-man suicide missions. You'll spend equal time with each of them, whether you're tumbling through clouds with bogeys on your tail, or skimming in low under a blanket of fire to blast a torp into the bow of a diving submarine.
The planes handle well, and for the most part do precisely what's asked of them, but for sheer acrobatic ability, they're way behind Crimson Skies. Turning circles are wide and slow, especially in earlier models of plane, dogfights aren't as sharp or as rewarding as they should be, and some lifesaving manoeuvres we hoped to see just weren't there. The missions can be bastard hard to grasp too - going head-to-head against a battle cruiser when half your rudder is missing and black smoke is belching from your engine is nigh-on impossible. Still, it becomes that much sweeter once it's beaten.
Missions can get confusing though, the often misleading radar causing you to fail missions when it's not always clear what the most vital objectives are. Often it's a case of turning off your navigation computer Skywalker-style and/or playing through each level a few times to get the feel of things. Having said that, nothing quite matches the sheer scale of Heroes. At one point we thought we were flying toward a flock of migrating birds, that turned out to be a squadron of 30 or 40 enemy planes. It's these surprises, and the frantic, desperate battles that ensue, that ultimately make Heroes.
The unwieldy mission structure and wonky planes take the edge off it a little, but this is ruthless, seat-of-the-pants stuff all the same, packed to bursting with breathtaking missions, throwing you into no-win situations with your plane half battered, forcing you to fight that little bit harder to survive. For all its faults, Heroes of the Pacific is packed with proper, old-fashioned plane-based fun.
A ballsy, no-nonsense airborne brawler, but with a few too many confusing missions and underperforming aircraft.