I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love.
Flying Heroes is a 3D combat game that mixes science and magic in arena-style combat scenarios. The game brings to mind the air-to-air duels found in games like Sierra’s Red Baron, only instead of a biplane, you ride to battle mounted on top a dragon or other fantastic creatures.
Players start the game by joining one of four leagues that compete in various combat arenas dispersed throughout the known fantasy world. The plot of the game is that the different leagues, each one representing a different people, fight each other to settle political disputes and thus eliminating the need for actual war. But don’t worry about the plot; it’s so thin that it is almost be non-existent. Basically you just move from arena to arena, increasing in power and fame as you go.
At the start of the game you can only join two leagues, with two reserved for more advanced players. I’m not sure why the game does this since in my opinion the lizard people, with their poison weapons, are the most powerful group in the game. Playing for them, I was able to complete all the league levels in about three days of play.
You start out the game, no matter which league you fly for, with the obligatory wimpy ship and tiny weapon. As you shoot down opponents in the arena, you gain cash, plus get big bonuses for placing first, second or third in matches. You can use the cash to upgrade your ship which gives you more hit points and speed, upgrade existing weapons, or purchase new weapons.
The actual combat in the game takes place inside some fairly ingenious 3D arenas, each one reflecting the styles and preferences of the people who designed them. You will find yourself in traditional Coliseum-looking venues, floating cities of air and deep inside mazes of lava tunnels inside the earth.
The graphics are the best part of the game. There is a ton of eye candy in every level, from little houses and flowing water, to automated defenses on castles that will take pot shots at you if you venture too close. It’s fairly easy to control your mount with the keyboard, there are very few keys to memorize, but as with any flight game a joystick is recommended.
In addition to zooming around shooting at your opponents, you also have to pick up ammo, shields and other power-ups that spawn in the arenas. The only problem is that they always spawn in the same place, which can lead to rewards for campers in multiplayer games. Some of the power-ups include invisibility, increased weapon damage, temporary invulnerability, teleportation and speed boosting. The effects can be combined for devastating results on your opponents. You can also find healing if you are injured.
If you get shot down in any of the arenas, you will respawn within a couple of seconds, though without the advantages of any of the power-ups you had collected prior to your demise. Your opponents do the same.
Between league matches you are offered the opportunity to go out on special missions, which can be a lot of fun. The special missions take place in the same arenas as the combat, but involve doing things like eliminating traitors, finding a hidden object, destroying all cannons and fixed defenses, or playing a game of tag with other league players. The side matches can earn you a lot of money, and accepting them is highly recommended.
As you fight you will learn the secrets of defeating your opponents, just like a real fighters – or at least a smart one – would eventually come to know the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents. Especially in the Gold league (the final league you fight in and the toughest of the three) knowing how to attack an opponent is more important almost that raw skill.
For example, the first time I got into the Gold league I kept getting killed by the Hammercraft race, and they kept winning all the matches. Their armored zeppelins would tear my lizard up as I approached them. And although I might get some poison splashed on them, it was never enough to kill and I would be dead before taking multiple shots. Then I realized that all the mechanics of the blimp was under the balloon part of the craft. When you fly above them, they are helpless to stop you. Once I realized this, they became my favorite target because they were slow, huge and could not fight back at me. By the time they gained enough altitude to actually take a shots at me they were normally dead.
There are two areas that caused me great disappointment with the game however. The first is the amount of errors and game glitches that I found. The biggest was that after about three matches, the game would get so sluggish that I had to exit and fully re-boot my computer. Once I had done this, the game was fine for the next three matches. No other game had this problem, so my guess is that there is something wrong with the way it handles memory allocation. On occasion I would run across a special mission that was unplayable too. There was no text describing the mission and you could not enter combat. It’s like the programmers just forgot to finish the game. Thankfully there is a patch to fix this that allows you to skip over the mistake, but does not actually give you access to that phantom mission.
The other disappointment is more of a personal preference than an actual game error. When you finally win in all three leagues, coming in first place each time, you would expect some type of victory parade or a pat on the back or something. Forget it! The razor-thin plot turns ugly. As soon as you complete the final battle in the Gold league, you are told that there is an emergency and that you have to mount your steed and go off and fight.
Your are placed in a crater with no cover whatsoever. In the center of the crater is an alien spaceship with poison and explosive cannons. Little space ships are zooming out of the big ship and also trying to kill you and steal the limited power-ups available in this stupid level. Suddenly you feel like Will Smith in Independence Day – overmatched and very exposed.
If you die the first time you are thrown into the level – and you will – you are given the chance to keep trying until you are able to complete it. I finally killed the ship on the third attempt by flying circles around it and taking out the upper cannons, which gave me some breathing space. Eventually I was able to destroy the underbelly cannons as well.
When you blow up the ship you get a little movie of the alien leader escaping in his emergency pod. That will have to do for your victory parade, cause there is nothing else. No cheering fans. No emperor giving you the key to the city. No watching your opponents bow to your skill. You win. Game over.
You can go back and fight for the previously locked leagues, but they act like they don’t know you and start you at the bottom all over again. And being a pawn after you were king is not much fun. Once you solve the game once, you probably won’t go back.
Flying Heroes is a real rush, though you won’t get much replay value from the title. The game errors and such give it more of a first-effort feel than a solid title from veteran programmers. However, that said, the game is a ton of fun, looks better than any flying sim I’ve ever viewed – and that includes the entire Descent series – and will keep you coming back for more right up to the point where you win. It earns a highly advanced Gold league rating of 4 GiN Gems, with a few points off for the bugs and wacky ending.