I don’t usually start a discussion of a game by analyzing its trailer, but I do feel that’s appropriate here. Put simply, if you’re looking for the fast-action, charge-into-the-fray, bullets-be-damned, Call of Duty-esque experience seen above, you’ll be disappointed with Heroes and Generals, which hit Steam a couple weeks ago. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s always good to set your expectations appropriately.
What Heroes & Generals offers is a gritty, arena-based World War II simulation with a muted color palette and plausibly realistic action. Your soldier’s not going to be some superman (or Übermensch if he’s German), and bullets actually hurt. Sometimes you’ll feel like a hero, fighting for America and apple pie or the Fatherland, and at other times you’ll feel like just another insignificant smear on the bloodstained battlegrounds of war.
There are actually two types of game modes, appropriately named “Heroes” and “Generals.” Heroes mode is the usual PvP battleground we’re all used to. Generals mode is a little more like an RTS, with you maneuvering your troops around the western European battlefield. That might be worth its own review at a later point, but for now we’ll concentrate on the Heroes portion of the game.
You’ll start by choosing your side – Axis or Allies – and naming your soldier. You can continue to use this character throughout your campaign, and he’ll gain experience as he goes, offering him access to more weapons, vehicles, and various perks that he can equip to increase his capabilities. Once you’ve unlocked the ability to get a new item, you still have to buy it using in-game currency, but if you’re in a rush, you can buy them with real-money currency before achieving the proper rank. You’ll earn a little of that currency as you play, but it won’t be enough to buy anything substantial; the most you’ll probably be able to do is refill your ammo or buy accessories for your weapons.
As your soldier gains XP, he’ll also be offered the option to transfer from the infantry to a tank or air career. Battles consist of all three phases of warfare, offering an integrated experience that fans of World of Tanks and War Thunder have been asking for for years. If you want the excitement of dodging tank rounds while ducking under cover to avoid an air strike, Heroes and Generals offers that thrill. And, as a formerly browser-based game, it’s easy on your computer.
As you’ve already probably discerned, Heroes and Generals approximates realism fairly well – maybe too well, in some cases. Historically, tanks were noisy, cramped affairs with very little visibility, and this is accurately depicted in H&G. When driving, your field of view is extremely small, reduced to a narrow viewing slit at the front of your vehicle. You can pop the hatch for a better view, but that leaves you vulnerable to small-arms fire. In my opinion, the tanking experience was so inconvenient as to be unappealing, and I preferred to play as a foot soldier. I suppose it’s a balance issue, to make it so tanks don’t dominate the battlefield, but it’s still annoying.
(As a side note, if you’re interested in what WWII soldiers really thought of their tanks, watch this.)
The only other point that rankled me was the combat badges. As you progress, you’ll unlock various badges, which you can equip to increase your soldier’s capabilities. The problem is, a free player can only use one badge while a paid player can use two. The advantages aren’t insignificant; at their highest levels, badges decrease the damage you take by 15% or reduce the spray of your automatic weapons by 50%. Giving players access to an advantage that can only be acquired by paying money is pretty much the definition of pay-to-win. OK, maybe it’s less “pay-to-win” and more “pay-to-get-a-little-better,” but it’s still unpleasant to see.
Even with all that, and without being able to sample the Generals experience, the game was still plenty of fun. If you’re looking for something a bit more down-to-earth than your typical run-and-gun shooter, give Heroes & Generals a try. It’s got its faults, but it’s a solid entry on the field of battle.