Ever since MiG-29 Fulcrum was released in 1998, I have had a taste for combat flight simulator games. The sheer intensity, realism, and scale has the ability to fully immerse you into a supersonic world of chaos.
IL-2 Sturmovik was released solely for Windows way back in 2001. It received rave reviews, and fans of the genre have been waiting almost a decade for its sequel. Now that Birds of Prey has arrived on the scene, will the devotees be pleased with the result, or will they simply be left scratching their heads, wondering why it isn’t available on PC?
To be blunt: its the latter. Despite the incredible popularity of the console market, flight simulators have been unable to fully succeed without a PC alternative. For those unfamiliar with this genre, simply think of it as playing Guitar Hero with your controller.
In spite of this, true fans of the IL-2 franchise should have no trouble overlooking this downfall. I must admit that after a few hours of mastering the controls, I was pleased with how well the plane responded to my commands. If you are able to push through the learning barrier, you will have no problem adjusting to the simplicity of a console controller.
When you first start up the game, you may feel like you have just jumped into a mishmash of Medal of Honor, Battlefield: 1942, and Call of Duty combined. However, if you haven’t already realized that this is a WWII-based title, you probably shouldn’t be playing any sort of game.
Gaijin Entertainment appreciates the fact that a diverse range of gamers will be playing their title, and they have molded the gaming system around it. A compulsory tutorial will be your first foray into the world of IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, with the opening three missions teaching you the basics of flying, attacking, and following objectives. For completionists, there are several optional tutorials that will allow you to master taking off, landing, and carrying out bombing runs.
Once you have earned your stripes, you will be thrown straight into the thick of battle. Beginning in the Summer of 1940, you will play your part in several epic battles right through Hitler’s death on April 30, 1945. You will journey back in time to make your mark on important historical events, including the Battle of Britain, Stalingrad, and the Korsun Pocket, with 20 missions in total.
There is an emphasis on storyline here, with some brilliant historical footage, and a narrator’s voice that could melt butter. But as the game progresses, the intermittent historical facts, and excerpts from your player’s war diaries begin to feel contrived, taking away from the realism of the game. However, if you are a simply looking to get into the action, you won’t have any trouble skipping past the cutscenes and lengthy monologues.
From the moment you take control of one of the many birds of prey, you will be hard-pressed to concentrate on anything other than the beauty of the virtual world around you. The view distance is spectacular, and Gaijin hasn’t skimped on the details. Flying low across the cities of Germany, Italy, and Russia looks just as remarkable as when you are engaged in a dogfight 18,000 feet above the ground. There is no question that Birds of Prey is intended to be a gamer’s simulation dream.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where developers went wrong. Instead of targeting a specific market of gamers, whether they be flight realism nuts or simply the mainstream gamer, Gaijin attempted to please both crowds. And while I can understand their thought process, even applaud their attempt to broaden the market of this somewhat niche market, they have ultimately created a mixed bag.
While I can recommend this title to fans of HAWX and Ace Combat 6 for its intricate story and arcade-style dogfights, the sheer depth of its history and steep learning curve for any difficulty, other than Arcade mode, may very well have them hitting the off button before the Battle of the Bulge has even begun.
There is nothing quite like World War II aerial combat, and IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey mixes realism with flexibility perfectly. The HUD is handy – despite its penchant for becoming cluttered in the middle of battle – and the objectives and enemies are clearly marked for your convenience: victory is almost too easy.
While the Arcade difficulty can become monotonously easy at times, all you need to do is pump up the settings to Hardcore or Simulation mode, and revel in the sight of your bird plummeting towards the ground in a ball of flames.
I have to say that after finishing Birds of Prey, I was almost convinced that this game was a rent-first, buy-if-you-like title. I enjoyed my time spent in the game, even if the campaign mode had been rather short, and I never truly felt compelled to go back for another round. However, once I booted up online multiplayer, my excitement level did a complete one-eighty.
Granted, you will need to play online when there are plenty of other gamers around, as a match against only two or three fighters can draw out for quite a while; but strap yourself into Airfield mode, and you won’t be leaving the confines of your sweaty, pleather couch any time soon. Think Battlefield: 1942 – except everyone has a plane.
Your mission is to capture your enemy’s runway; to do this, you will need to land in enemy territory, and stay alive for as long as possible. Believe me, this is no simple task. No sooner will you have landed than a bombardment of insane, kamikaze fighter pilots will attempt to take you to hell with them. This sort of jovial, ridiculous, and ultimately exhilarating form of gameplay more than makes up for a sometimes-bland campaign.
It has to be said: IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is not for everyone. It is by no means a perfect flight simulator, and there are points in the single player missions where you may want to tear your hair out at the sheer stupidity of enemy AI. However, what Birds of Prey does achieve is a stunning landscape, deep storyline, and arguably the best combat flight multiplayer ever created for a console.
Some of the most intricate detail ever seen in a combat flight simulator, Birds of Prey will have you drooling like a child over the realistic landscapes and planes.
|How does our scoring system work?|
There is something incredibly rewarding about accomplishing missions in a great war (however, virtual it may be) and feeling as if you have in some small way contributed to the success of your country. It does contain several flaws, but the general flow of the game is simply riveting.
While Jeremy Soule’s soundtrack may initially have you standing at attention, filled with a sense of misplaced patriotism. After a few hours, you won’t want to hear another bugle for as long as you live. However, brilliant casting and some snappy British banter from your superior officers and fellow pilots will help ease the pain.
Unfortunately, the single player campaign will only take an average gamer five hours, maximum, to complete. Bumping up the difficulty will certainly increase the length of the game, but it is more likely to cause a stroke than give you a sense of achievement. Even incredible multiplayer can’t conceal a short game.
Any fan of combat flight simulators needs to pick up IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey before I finish the following sentence: it is without a doubt the finest World War II game of its genre. However, the average gamer may have a hard time appreciating what Gaijin has tried to achieve.