Birds of Steel

Birds of Steel

A WWII pilot simulator that boasts about how realistic it is... Wait, come back!

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Birds of Steel may not have the most tantalisingly sexy premise of all time - and certainly not the most original concept - but buried within that uninteresting impression is a flight simulator that stands amongst the best on current consoles.

Developed by Gaijin Entertainment - who have plenty of previous work in the genre with the well regarded Il-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey - Birds of Steel wastes no time in establishing it's wide-eyed attention to detail. As the main menu slowly pans over plane after plane, it's hard not to be impressed by the team's dedication to authenticity.

This commitment to reality stretches to almost every aspect of the game, with levels designed from satellite photos of iconic battles, as well as intros for each single player mission that inform you of the tactics and context for the missions. Even Stephen Fry turns up to narrate some black and white stock footage, for some added class that only the QI host could provide.

Birds of Steel
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It also translates to the gameplay, where the emphasis is placed on piloting a plane properly. There's none of that Ace Combat, high-speed nonsense here; this is good ol' fashioned simulator county. Fortunately, the game offers up three levels of difficulty that opens the gameplay for all players.

However, these difficulties aren't designed to make the game merely easier or harder, but each give the game a different feel. Simplified manages to mix in enough forgiving touches - for example, the inability to go into a spin - that the action is faster and more immediate, a satisfying mix of realism and arcade style combat.

Harder difficulties, meanwhile, like Realistic and Simulator force you into paying more attention to external factors, making missions feel more like tactical micro-management in what can be achieved with what you have.

So it's immensely frustrating that the single player campaign is so inconsistent in delivering on the gameplay's huge promise.

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Birds of Steel

The Historic Campaign - the one with Stephen Fry narration, fact fans - chucks you into some of the major battles between the US and Japanese forces. Classic battles like Midway, Guadalcanal and Pearl Harbour all make an appearance, but problems with the campaign start to emerge early on.

Missions follow a fairly rigid structure of take off, go to point A, fight planes/ships, fly back to base. While some missions tend to mix this up with either a point B or maybe an ambush, nothing really stands out as being a great shake up of a formula that gets old by the fourth mission.

It's also in the single player where the graphics and sound stand out for the wrong reasons.

While the planes benefit from a slavishly devoted attention to detail, the rest of the environments suffer in comparison. Levels may be accurate and modelled on satellite photos, but they lack a polish that leaves the locations looking duller than a ration book.

While the soundtrack has a pleasingly heroic swell to it, the majority of missions force you to listen to excessively crackly commands being dished out. It would have been a nice touch if you could actually hear what was being said, instead of having to wait for the objective to scroll across the bottom of the screen.

Birds of Steel

It's not a total waste of time however, as some missions can offer moments of real exhilaration. Early US missions involving Wake Island stand out, pitting you against swarms of Japanese fighters, compelling you to desperately thin their numbers, intently aware that you are vastly out-gunned by the waves of planes descending on you. These moments offer a glimpse of just how good the campaign could have been, but they also highlight the strengths of the gameplay.

It's a relief then that the campaign doesn't make up a significant portion of the game, with that pleasure being taken by the multiplayer. There's a choice between 4-player co-op - which definitely benefits from real friends rather than Xbox designated ones - and 16-player skirmishes. Deathmatches are the quickest way to earn XP to unlock new planes, but the real fun isn't in collecting the 100 planes littered in the unlocks, but fizzing through the air and taking down real-life opponents.

Birds of Steel

On top of the usual offerings, there is also a Dynamic Campaign, which allows you to re-write the history of key battles. History fans will get a thrill from tinkering with past, while these levels offer up a lot more than the bite-sized single player missions. The fact you can play with friends helps an enormous amount as well.

When you're flying through the thick smoke of a fighter you've crippled, watching them slowly spiral to the ground while you're trying to get just a glimpse of sunlight through the oil splashed cockpit, Birds of Steel is peerless, managing to hit the tricky mix of excitement and simulation.

Yet the lack of polish in enough key areas makes it hard to fully recommend. As it stands, this has the potential to both thrill and frustrate, but when it clicks, it absolutely soars.

07 Gamereactor UK
7 / 10
+ Accessible Difficulty + Staggering attention to details + Generous amount of content + Stephen Fry
- Mudane SP campaign - Lacklustre presentation - Not enough Stephen Fry
overall score
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Birds of Steel

REVIEW. Written by Ben Tyrer

"As it stands, this has the potential to both thrill and frustrate, but when it clicks, it absolutely soars."

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