|System: X360, PS3, PSP, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Gaijin Games / 1C Company||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: 505 Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 8, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-16||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
It can be surprisingly tough to find good World War II air combat simulators on consoles that rival the sheer level of realism found in their PC counterparts, which seems odd since hyper-realistic console racing games have been around for some time. Players can get their virtual high speed kicks behind the steering wheel of a pimped out street car that handles about as close to the real thing as one can imagine. The same can't usually be said for console gamers who prefer being strapped into the seat of a cockpit. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey changes all of that, for better or worse.
Hardcore fighter jockeys might actually be tempted to venture from their PCs for a change to check out how IL-2 Sturmovik fares on consoles. In terms of handling and authenticity, they won't be disappointed. Birds of Prey's scalable flight realism can be toned down for newcomers seeking the arcade-like flying experience found in other flying games or kicked up to insane levels for serious couch pilots seeking a steep challenge. The gameplay itself is also quite strong, though the overall package feels a little skimpy once you've plowed through it.
The extensive historical campaign mode where you'll spend the most time spans the major airborne battles of WWII, from the Battle of Britain in 1940 to the Battle of Berlin that ended the war in 1945. Each major battle contains a series of individual missions and is introduced with actual grainy military stock footage take at the time. The game is narrated by a pleasant British bloke who offers his own perspective on the war, sharing personal stories and talking about his experiences as a fighter pilot in the missions you'll fly through. If you care to listen, it certainly lends a measure of personality and humanity to the military struggle, since the fellow shares stories of home and on-base drinking exploits alongside more grim assessments of the situation. It is war, after all.
Missions are shorter and sweet early on, but they grow longer and more complex the further you delve into the campaign. Some of the more meager challenges involve conducting reconnaissance, taking down squadrons of slow-moving bombers, flying below enemy line of sight undetected, and escorting friendly units to different locations. The excitement kicks in during intense aerial dogfights and lining up effective bombing runs against ground targets. While this is essentially the meat and potatoes of Birds of Prey, both tasks are extremely satisfying and are broken up with additional intermittent challenges.
Other fun objectives that crop-up in mid-mission include flying under a bridge and through a snaking river valley only feet above the water, landing to pickup a downed wingman and taking back off in the heat of battle, and hopping into the tail gunner's seat to fend off a swarm of fighters in hot pursuit. You can choose to pursue secondary missions after your main tasks are completed or simply skip to the next mission. This is a nice option, depending on whether or not you feel like extending the play in any given level. You can also issue orders to your wingmen to attack, follow, and defend. They're helpful on occasion, particularly when facing entire squadrons of fighters. As you'd expect, the situation can get pretty chaotic at times.
The game's default arcade mode realism setting is designed for the average player seeking to pull off crazy maneuvers and blow things out of the sky without having to worry about the trials and tribulations typically associated with trying to keep a giant hunk of metal in the air all-the-while. In this case, the dual thumbstick controls are extremely responsive and most planes you pilot handle easily and with much grace. They way the planes move on-screen in reaction is also very authentic and slick-looking. Ammo and fuel are automatically set to unlimited, though you can switch over to finite presets for a tougher challenge and a more realistic combat experience.