GAME NAME: Birds of Steel
DEVELOPER(S): Gaijin Entertainment
RELEASE DATE(S): 15 March 2012
Birds of Steel is the latest offering from Gaijin Entertainment, the Russian developers behind IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey. Their latest offering is something unique to the genre in that it is not a pick-up-and-play arcade flight title. There is no flying like Maverick from Top Gun here. If you try fly upside down 10 meters from the ground the game will punish you horribly but that’s not a bad thing.
The campaign is made up of 20 historical missions, all based on actual missions throughout the Pacific theatre, and players can opt for either the USA or Japan. Regardless of the side you choose, the action kicks off with the attack on Pearl Harbour and goes on to other famous battles like Wake Island and the Battle of Midway. The levels are not easy, even on the simplified difficulty, and bombing ships will take some getting used to. You will feel tempted to just kamikaze your planes into battleships to sink them. It is pretty effective and if one of your planes goes down you can switch to another plane in your squadron. That is not say the game is too hard, it simply has a little bit of a learning curve. But once you get it, it is rewarding to change the course of a battle using your newly learned skills.
Visually the game looks the part. Enemy planes will burn and smoulder long after they were shot down. Bits of plane will be shredded off enemies as you tear through them with your machine guns. Oil and other vital fluids will sprinkle up on your screen, blinding you for a few seconds. Lighting looks great, with god rays and day/night cycles making appearances. The detail of planes is spot-on when compared to their real life counter parts and there are just over 100 of them to play with. Sound is fantastic with every zip of enemy fire past your cockpit making you twitch in fear, leaving you hoping that the next round doesn’t find its target. The rush of wind around your aircraft as you plummet towards the earth feels realistic and visceral and the musical score seems to have been ripped straight from Saving Private Ryan.
Birds of Steel isn’t for hardcore flight simulation fans only, it tries to cater to the casual player that just wants to shoot down everything in sight without worrying about what a stall is. The difficulty ranges from simplified to simulation. They don’t call it simulation to sound fancy. BoS is a true flight simulator, one of the first to be seen on the consoles, and hopefully not the last we’ll see. Takeoffs and landing will have you crashing more than a few times. You can use a flight stick with the game, so for simulation mode it makes sense to fly with your favourite stick to give you the full experience
The multiplayer offering is not a tacked-on afterthought. Everything can be played in 4 player co-op except for the main campaign. You can even design custom levels in the mission editor to take to the skies with friends. If you want to turn up the heat a bit there is also 16 player online multiplayer with three main modes similar to what you have seen in other multiplayer offerings, like Domination mode where you have to hold specific zones. If there are not enough players out AI fills the slots so there’s always someone to play with, even if they don’t have a pulse. Players earn XP that unlocks better aircraft, so prepare to lose a few early rounds until you get the better planes.
Birds of Steel is a fantastic package with tons to do and lots look at long after the campaign is finished. To call this game the Gran Turismo of WWII flying games on the console would not be exaggerating and this is a must-buy for anyone that is looking for a flying experience that has usually been confined to the PC until now.