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The Firing Line: Hands-on with Heroes & Generals

Jef Reahard

During the first 10 minutes of my time with Heroes & Generals, I killed once, died twice, and drove a tank, a jeep, a half-track, and a bicycle (not necessarily in that order). I also rode shotgun on said tank and said jeep, manning a nifty vehicle-mounted machine gun in the process.

I marveled at the visuals, took way too many screenshots of my squadmates looking at the blow-away badass in-game map (it's the little things, amirite?), and generally had a helluva good time. Did I mention that all of this happened in a browser?

When Reto-Moto contacted Massively and asked whether we'd be interested in previewing its new Heroes & Generals World War II action-strategy mash-up, I quickly raised my hand. I mean, it's (partly) a shooter, and this is The Firing Line. It's also got 1940s-era airplanes, so, enough said.

As I mentioned, though, it's a browser game, a fact that escaped my notice during a cursory scan of the press materials and the game's website. This bears mentioning because usually browser games are quite horrific, and prior to Heroes & Generals, I'd never met one that came close to convincing me that they're worth the time it takes to boot one up. Simply put, Heroes & Generals blows that theory out of the water.

Heroes & Generals - Jeep at night
My first clue was the load-in music that got me appropriately psyched up for some combat action while I was deciphering the initial campaign screen. Wow, this is damn good, I thought to myself, and after a bit of research I came to find that of course it's damn good -- it's the work of one Jesper Kyd.

Kyd isn't yet a gamer household name like Jeremy Soule, but if you've played any of the slick-sounding Assassin's Creed titles, you know his stuff.

My next clue was the campaign screen itself. There are so many things going on here that it would take the rest of this initial impression piece to properly describe them all to you. Suffice it to say that Heroes & Generals gives you the option to experience World War II from the trenches (or the cockpits) as well as through the eyes of a general in charge of troop movements, supply lines, and all manner of logistical concerns that play out in real-time over the length and breadth of the title's persistent maps.

Heroes & Generals - bike
I know what some of you are thinking. This sounds a lot like World War II Online (otherwise known as Battleground Europe). And you're right, it does. Unlike Cornered Rat's long-running simulation, though, Heroes & Generals places a premium on action and accessibility. Sure, you can dive deep into the nitty-gritty of the game's resource management half, and plenty of players will probably make an EVE Online-style metagame out of it. Just as many, though, will do what I did: load up the action half of the game for some quick-hitting combat that looks (and plays) like a million bucks.

The game is still in closed beta, but even now it's hard to be unimpressed by the responsive feel of the foot soldier mechanics and the adrenaline rush of flooring an Army jeep and slip-sliding it around the bend of a curving dirt road with a gaggle of Germans firing machine guns in your general direction.

Heroes & Generals - half track
Heroes & Generals' ground vehicles are an absolute blast, and I spent almost as much time gawking at the detailed first-person interiors and the way you can swing your view around and look at the players hitching a ride as I did driving to the next capture point. All this is old hat in the Battlefields and Call of Duties of the world, but in an MMO browser title? Not so much.

Aerial vehicles are a bit rougher, at least in the beta build that I've been playing this week. I've loaded into both a C-47 transport and a P-38 fighter, neither of which was particularly well-behaved when paired with WASD and my mouse. The potential here is gangbusters, though, as you can switch to bomb view and follow the payload as it free-falls away from your fork-tailed Lightning, or you can jump out of the Skytrain in full paratrooper gear and float down to join your mates (or surprise your enemies) on one of the expansive battle maps.

The worst thing I can say about Heroes & Generals is that I suck at it. I died so many times that it must have set some kind of world record, and because this is a shooter, I frequently ran into those savant types who put a bullet in my head before I brought my vehicle to a full stop and grabbed my M1.

Heroes & Generals - in-game map
Mechanically, Heroes & Generals resembles any number of other lobby-based team actioners. The controls are stock shooter stuff. There are capture points, classes, and squad-based assault/defend missions. The difference is that these play into the larger strategic game, and lengthy persistent campaigns are won and lost based on the results of these individual skirmishes.

There's also a character progression component, though in the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I haven't checked that out yet since I made use of the free-to-play base characters for the duration of my play sessions this week. It's also worth noting that while much of the game relies on aiming skill and team tactics, you can also upgrade or modify your equipment via triggers, barrels, and sights that modify damage, range, recoil, rate of fire, and other stats.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, and unfortunately there's only so much I can tell you in 1000-odd words. The long and short of it is that Reto-Moto has a fantastic game on its hands, and it's one that I'm having a hard time putting down. Look for more Heroes & Generals impressions in The Firing Line going forward, and if you haven't signed up for the beta yet, it's well worth your time.

Heroes & Generals - rifleman
The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing him, and you'll be armed.

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