No Cyclist Is Safe: Hands-on with Heroes & Generals [PAX East 2013]

I am the cyclist's scourge. The bicycle's bane. Oh yeah, and the beta's awesome.

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I think I fell in love with Heroes & Generals when I shot the soldier off the bicycle. Actually, I know I did.

Heroes & Generals is a free-to-play online shooter based in World War II; one that I would actually play. And that’s something coming from me. Shooters and I don’t tend to get along well, especially when other human beings are brought into the mix. Being unwilling and often unable to practice, I just don’t find that I have much interest in putting in the time I would need to be good enough to play most shooters in any kind of competitive way. So, when I found myself not just doing a decent job at the game but also enjoying it, I was downright surprised.

Reto-Moto’s Peter Fleckenstein was kind enough to very patiently watch me fail to lob a grenade at a soldier for some time as I learned the ropes of the game. It controls in the same way as most shooters for the PC, but it provides vehicles like tanks and planes as well as anti-aircraft guns to keep things interesting. There was also a nice selection of weapons from the era, helping me feel very immersed in the time. Each gun also made a satisfying crack when fired, creating an almost visceral feedback when you shoot.

If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking about the glut of World War II games from a couple of years ago, you’re selling this game short. When you’re playing on a given map and fighting to win, you’re also joining a greater war effort. Each of the game’s maps takes place somewhere in Europe on the front lines. Each time your team wins a skirmish at one location, that means you have pushed the front lines of the war to a new location. I could go into a map menu and see just where the front line was, watching the press of the axis or allies. At the time the allies were winning, and I could see this from the mass of blue lines and locations pressing up against the red locations of the axis. It was a cool aspect, but also lent victory in the matches a sense of urgency and purpose. If you lose your match your military will get pushed back towards the home country, so it made everything feel more intense than I was used to.

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Don’t expect the fights to always be fair when you’re fighting to push the front lines, either. Heroes & Generals will happily match you up against groups that are well beyond your ability to fight. Should you find yourself staring at several tanks coming up a hill, you can always call for reinforcements to help you out. All this takes is a short message calling for back up, and then other high level players who’ve taken on commanding roles can go into the full map screen and send more soldiers or vehicles your way. I didn’t get to experience this during my short playtime, but I can only imagine how it would feel to hunker down in a building, waiting to die, only to see your own troops cresting a hill to come help you a few minutes after your desperate call.

Other roles for players can be to bring supplies to their army using planes, or to sit tight and watch the skies for any enemy planes bringing in said supplies. Other players could be keeping an eye on the maps, watching for skirmishes that are going poorly so that they can give the order to retreat. There’s a lot of things going on for the player who might be too busy to invest themselves in matches for the night, or even for players who might not even want to play the shooter parts at all. It’s a really cool game that’s trying to cover all sorts of aspects of warfare and not just the shooter elements of it, and so I felt like it was a more complete package than almost any shooter on the market.

If you are interested in shooting folks, though, it’s a great time. There are lots of unlockable weapons and classes to choose from, although I wasn’t shown much of their costs in real world money. There are also tanks, planes, and bicycles to goof off with; although I spent most of my time in the relative safety of my tank. The bike allows for a quick mobility boost when rushing into the fight, but it is also comedy gold to shoot someone who’s on one of them so keep your eyes open. I didn’t get to try a plane, probably something that was for my own good, but the tank was a great time. You can switch between a high explosive or armor piercing shot depending on who you’re fighting, but you’d better line it up just right when firing. I couldn’t just shoot at where the crosshairs pointed, but rather had to zero in my sight by aiming and pressing the space bar when I felt my shot was ready. It made the procedure feel more involved and intricate, making me feel like I was controlling a complex piece of machinery instead of aiming a gun that shot explosives. Again, big points for immersion.

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It’s all free, too. I wasn’t told much of anything about microtransactions for the free-to-play game, but I was told that using money wouldn’t let players break the game. Many of the more expensive guns changed the way you had to play, with few of them showing a noticeable increase in power over the others. On top of that, high-level guns could only be purchased by soldiers with a high rank, so hopefully that will keep some aspects of the game in check. I’m really curious what the impetus will be to buy these weapons if they don’t provide much of an increase in power, though. Given that this game leans more toward being an intricate simulation of World War II and not a twitch shooter, I can see the guns being more something that will increase immersion (through providing era-specific weaponry) than power. I guess I’ll just have to play more of the beta to find out.

If you’re curious about it, there’s lots to do in the beta that’s going on right now. I’m pretty excited to get more into it now, too, as it seems like there’s a little something to do no matter what sort of gaming mood I’m in. Reto-Moto’s Heroes & Generals looks like it will turn out to be huge for the World War II buffs out there, providing an amazing simulation of several aspects while also being a fun online shooter filled with vehicles and varied guns. The microtransactions are still being ironed out, but what I saw looked like you’d get a pretty robust game for free for the most part, one that let you add onto it later if you wanted to thank the developers with a couple of bucks. If you like interesting shooters or are interested in World War II history, you really need to give it a shot.

The beta for Heroes & Generals is live now and free to play.

Joel Couture
Joel Couture
Joel Couture

MASH Veteran

A horror-obsessed gamer, Joel is still spending his days looking for something to scare himself as much as Fatal Frame. Even so, he has ridiculous action games and obscure gems to keep him happy in the meantime. A self-proclaimed aficionado of terrible retro games, he's always looking for a rotten game he hasn't played yet, and may be willing to exchange information for candy.

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