It’s an incredibly depressing state of affairs when a World War 2 game feels fresh. Half a decade ago they were ten a penny, peppering every system with dozens of titles about shooting, exploding, stabbing or otherwise initiating the death of scores of soldiers of the Third Reich. After five years of running around dusty environments with grenade launchers and helicopters though, Heroes and Generals offers an interesting new take on the genre – and best of all, it’s currently free.
The main part of the game consists of a first-person multiplayer action game centred around control point capture and a lives system. Rather than aimlessly charging around spraying weapons everywhere, the Allied and Axis squads must work to take or defend a series of objective points like churches and police stations, from which their comrades can respawn and, more importantly, their enemies cannot. This usually has the result of an almighty ruck taking place somewhere in the middle of the impressively large and well realised maps , with a great deal of deaths on both side before attrition ultimately turns a few lucky kills into a satisfying rout.
The bulk of the action gameplay takes place in the shoes of an infantryman, who begins each account with standard equipment. The gun sights are accurate and the surprisingly well designed environments make for some interesting cover use and stealth tactics, but this early play isn’t without issues. For example, it’s remarkable hard to fight indoors with manual and semi-automatic rifles that are the default for each team, and the combat can quickly descend into a messy, inaccurate knife and grenade brawl; this problem also appears in larger outdoors maps, where knives and grenades become all but useless as rifles and machine guns become the main tools of destruction.
However, as each player completes battles they earn points that can be spent on purchasing new equipment, from submachine guns to facilitate indoor combat to weapons for an anti-tank role like the Panzerfaust. The weapon additions come alongside sidearm and grenade options for quite a variable infantry game. Players can also customise a great deal of their weapon characteristics, each variation of which has an advantage and a disadvantage. For instance, different triggers might increase the firing rate while also increasing recoil, whereas others might give a boost to accuracy but seriously impact the firing rate.
However, infantry isn’t the only discipline to be mastered – players can also take control of tanks, tank destroyers and aircraft to round out the combat and add interest new loadout options for the infantry that help them blow up tanks or bring down planes.
So far, so Battlefield. But what differentiates Heroes and Generals from its stablemate is the inclusion of a second gameplay mode – the strategy game. Each server engages in a ‘war’ every few days. This mode, instead of being about action, gives the player control of Assault Squads, groups composed of infantry, tanks etc., which can be moved around a map of Europe to attempt the capture of one of several hundred towns and cities. The ultimate goal is to capture enough territory and manoeuvre successfully enough that all the players on one team can launch an assault on the enemy capital – when it is taken, the war ends.
Units battling on the strategy screen fight in real time to secure supplies and territory, and the mode is an excellent addition that allows the less action-inclined players to find an engaging strategy game while giving the players on the ground an incentive to fight, a reason for being there: something many modern games lack, and it’s nice to see such a great attempt at immersion.
The map screen is clear and concise, but the main area of graphical quality is the action game, which genuinely looks very nice. Textures are high quality, and while it sometimes slows down when things get busy it’ll usually run quite smoothly on any decently powered machine. The music disappoints slightly – it’s generic and dull, not really bringing anything new to the table and ultimately might give new players the impression that the game is uninteresting – something that’s certainly undeserved.
The game is still in beta, so at the moment there are a few server issues and a lack of players, but the beta status also means it’s currently free, so head to the website and sign up to receive a beta key – you won’t regret it.
Heroes and Generals is an excellent attempt at merging two very different genres and should be applauded for its effort. If you want an arcade style shooter with a great upgrading system and a worthwhile strategy element, you should definitely give it a play. 8.5/10.