We're not sure why Minnesota-based developer Big John Games Spitfire Heores> Tales of the Royal Air Force, is also from Minnesota. Now, nothing against the developer, or the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but maybe they should have stuck to something a little closer to home. Then we wouldn't have a historically inaccurate, and boring game about another country's military.
This 3D World War II fighter plane title puts the player in control of a RAF pilot through multiple offensive and defensive missions. Players control the plane with the D-pad, using A and B to control speed, and the shoulder button to fire. It's pretty simple controls since your plane can't do much in the way of tricks. There's a barrel roll button, but that's it. The touch screen shows an instrument panel with the throttle lever and radar. It's kind of cool, but unfortunately doesn't allow touch screen controls at all. The controls aren't terrible, but everything does feel pretty slow, even at full throttle. Plus with a system that has proven it can handle great flying games with the touch screen, it seems silly to use the comparatively limited D-pad.
Spitfire Heroes tells the tale of the Royal Air Force, Britain's elite fighter pilots that helped turn the tide of major battles in WWII. Or, at least, it attempts to tell that tale. Historical accuracy isn't the major selling point for the title, since according to Spitfire Heroes, the RAF consisted of one plane. Actual historic battles, like the troop evacuation at Dunkirk are fought with just our lone plane. Where are the other 80 planes that were at that battle?
This single plane motif is carried through the whole game, reducing the Royal Air Force to the Royal Air That Guy. We're not demanding that the developers add AI teammates to do our dirty work, but at least have some in there for filler, to give the illusion of an air force. We're outmatched 30 to one here!
It's even weirder because each level starts off with a pseudo-grainy film reel showing the planes flying into battle. It's actually pretty cool as it blends from black and white to color, but then the level loads and all the other planes are gone, and everything looks like crap.
The draw distance for Spitfire is approximately 12 inches, so anything farther than that becomes either a pixel smudge or completely invisible. Trees, tanks, other planes, even cliff faces do not become recognizable until you're about to plow into them. In contrast the sky looks pretty good with realistic clouds. And on the open sea level we could actually see our bullet splash down into the water as we riddled the ocean with the fury of the entire Royal Air Force.
Everything about the game seems very limiting. The levels look far larger than they are, and oftentimes we would hit the invisible walls and get awkwardly turned around. Plus, every mission is essentially "Shoot those guys." There is an objective to each round (ie. destroy all the tanks) but completing it doesn't mean the player wins. Success is based on a score at the end, with points given for completing the objective, and points deducted for taking too long or dying.
It's hard, too. The difficulty is unforgiving, and even on the easiest mode we found ourselves struggling to pass most of the missions on the first (sometimes third) try. The enemy AI is a big component in the difficulty since the other planes will attack aggressively, and evade skillfully. They weave about and change speed to throw the player off course and then swoop in for the kill. It's not impossible by any means and by learning the attack patterns of the enemies every mission can be beaten.
And once players get a hang of the steep difficulty curve they'll find that there just isn't a lot of game in Spitfire Heroes. There are only a few missions, and they all play out very similar. There are three levels of difficulty so players can go through the campaign again, but there's no incentive to. If playing on harder levels unlocked stuff, like the gallery planes, or multiplayer options we'd be more motivated to tough out the Ace mode.
The multiplayer supports up to four players (each with their own copy of the game) in a battle mode. It's a fun little mode if there are three or four guys to play, but with two it's a snoozefest. The mode is limited, just like the rest of the game. Players only have three levels to choose from, and can't fully customize the game objectives. A cooperative mode would have been great, but hey, that would have required more than one RAF plane in the level.
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