Review by DandyQuackShot
"The Memphis Belle of WW2 Console Flight Games"
Over one hundred planes, twenty historical missions up through the 1942, multiple levels of game play, custom levels, custom planes, online dogfighting, events and tournaments, and the fate of the Pacific Theater of World War Two right in your hands...did I leave anything out? Birds of Prey was a great game but Birds of Steel takes the cake with everything you ever wanted out of a World War Two flight simulator minus the flight stick and awesome flight jacket of course. A game like this has been a long time coming to the console. Games like Microsoft Combat Flight Simulalotr 1 and 2 totally owned this genre of games in the PC gaming world years ago and veterans of flight simulators will easily notice the attempt to match these games in Birds of Steel. What you get with other games on the Xbox 360 are simple arcade style game play that has a campaign and which may or may not have an online multiplayer. With Birds of Steel, you get everything from the historic campaign and simplic to simulator difficulty settings plus the online multiplayer complete with weekly leaderboards and a neat system for purchasing more planes. Everything is there for Birds of Steel which is why I highly recommend this game to anybody.
Old film reels play scenes as a narrator explains the specifics of the build up of war between the United States and Japan to set the stage for the early war years when the two very large industrial powers carried out the largest sea and air warfare the world has ever seen. The Imperial Japanese military utilized a strategy that was rather successful for them in the beginning of their stretch for control and power of the pacific. By splitting up their forces they were able to seize large areas of territory and islands to set up for an invasion of the Phillipines, Mariannas, and set up for an invasion of the Australian mainlaind. The Americans on the other hand, not being too pleased with a surprise attack on its prized battleship fleet in Pearl Harbor (which is a main campaign spot in this game), and being a country that does not play fair in order to win a war, put an abrupt halt to the Imperial Japanese Navy after a series of battles that were won through air dominance. The two historical campaigns allow you to follow the American or Japanese campaigns up to Guadalcanal. The major battles like the Coral Sea, Midway, and Wake Island will have a few different mission scenarios to play through to complete the battle and move on to the next. The scenarios are basic combat missions such as bombing targets on land or sea, escorting bombers, or dogfighting waves of enemy bombers. You can play the campaign as simply or realistically as possible by adjusting the difficulty and continuing the mission to land your plane after you have completed the objectives.
I felt the campaigns needed to stretch through the rest of the war but the battles in the campaign do a fairly decent job of showing the magnitude of military power involved in the battles. Play on the hardest difficulty Simulator and you will spend a very long time trying to stay alive while landing and rearming at a nearby hangar to set off again and drop another bomb on an enemy carrier. What I liked most about the campaign were the use of the names of the actual pilots involved in the battles such as Henry Elrod who posthumously earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in the defense of Wake Island. The cinematics after the battles follow up with actual quotes from those who were involved in the fight.
The short Flight Training in the campaign section of the game allows you to learn the basics of flying and surviving in World War Two. You should really feel privileged to get a training course in the game as a lot of so called Axis pilots near the end of the war were given a plane and a good luck wish for a one way trip. The controls make maneuvering the plane very easy especially for beginners who fly on the simplified difficulty. But for those of us seeking the ultimate experience you get an excellent taste for realistic flying with the realistic and simulator settings. You can learn to master the resistance effects against your plane as you adjust pitch and yaw sensitivity and make use of the rudder and flaps on a plane. Some of the bombers require a lot of skill just to get them off the ground in the harder difficulty settings. The simulator experience just adds time to your missions as you must learn patience more than anything to make it back safely. Compared to the arcade game play style of the simplified difficulty you will notice a huge difference in the difficulty settings. It is a lot more time consuming to act as a real pilot and slowly take your time on a descent to the runway for a landing, or try to keep in formation with your squadron. In case you missed anything in the flight training though or want to try different combat maneuvers you can check out the Encyclopedia for all this and more under the Extras section. The developers certainly thought of everything for this. Have I said that before already?
Aiming and targeting should feel about the same as in most other flight games. Your targets will appear on the overhead battle map so even on the harder difficulties you can scope out where your enemies are. Bombing and torpedoing targets gives you another attack with the bumper button and lining up for those attacks are easy enough. Your machine guns stay on a realistic setting despite the different difficulty levels. Even with unlimited ammunition, your guns will overheat or have to be reloaded so you can spend a good minute tailing an enemy plane before you are able to open up and shred him to pieces. It can be a little inconvenient at times to have the machine guns go out on you. A lot of the bombers and a few of the fighters feature a tail gunner that you can switch to give enemies tailing you a nice little round or two hundred of surprises. I found the tail gunner view also very useful in online Versus to strafe ground targets and enemy planes on the airstrip.
With Birds of Steel you also get the opportunity to take off and land on aircraft carriers which the latter is not very easy to do. It requires patience and skill to be able to successfully land (and I don't mean hard landing) on a carrier. Here is where the Flight Training of the campaign comes in real handy so that you can at least follow a flight path to learn how to successfully land although I ended up passing that mission with a plane in flames on the flight deck.
What the campaign lacks, Birds of Steel makes up for with even more missions and a dynamic campaign mode in case you thought you were not given enough to do in this game. Single Missions add multiple battle scenarios in five different theaters of the war including the European Theater. Add to that the Dynamic Campaign and you can play a mini campaign that tallies your battle success and failures against your overall military strength in that campaign. The scenarios in the dynamic campaign are all chosen by you so even if you lose you still get to decide how the enemy attacks you. The mission editor allows you to set up online, private, or offline cooperative games where you can pick the battle, year, and scenario to play along with the day time and weather effects and other settings.
Online play is where Birds of Steel takes a hit but is still enjoyable. Online multiplayer is set up with public modes in the Events, Tournaments, and Versus modes along with the before mentioned cooperative missions you can set up. Unfortunately, the community is a slim crowd. This hurts your ability to find matches in Events and Tournament modes. The Event mode is a cooperative experience where you place a scenario on a preset difficulty. My first and only experience on this mode was having to track down and eliminate some German aces in FW-190's on Simulator difficulty. This was a very challenging scenario that lasted thirty minutes and resulted in the aces totally owning me and the other players. The mode changes every so often but no results are kept as to who played this mode and won. I'm not sure if these are actual events that took place on a historical date in coordination to the current date but that would have been a neat idea.
In the Tournament mode you play a preset multiplayer scenario. Not being able to find a match I created one and waited for a while and finally went head to head with another player. I was able to show him who was boss in a biplane but that also ended up being my only experience on this mode. On top of that the Tournament mode's leaderboards are found in the Extras giving you the idea that it might be a lifetime leaderboard. It isn't. The leaderboard for the Tournament mode is weekly as it is for the Versus mode and is determined only by the number of wins a player has gained. So much for fame and glory as an ace combat pilot but it is what it is.
In Versus mode you will find open matches online all day long. This is the typical multiplayer mode where you can set up your own game or find one already in session. The good thing about the Versus mode is that the matches are relatively short and give you the option to change teams and levels after each match. The only problem is that you won't find much in the way of game scenarios for the multiplayer. All the games I played were Air Domination where you take off or start off near a spawn point and try to hold an area in between your base and the enemy base. You can attack the enemy base and try to destroy their spawn point which ends the match or shoot down planes in the domination area to reduce the enemy strength bar. I enjoyed playing this mode on sessions with Simulator difficulty because you do not have to be good to earn extraordinary amounts of war points to purchase planes in the hangar. And with over a hundred planes to unlock this is the quickest way to get them all available. As with the Tournament mode, the more wins you gain, the higher your place will be on the weekly leaderboards. The only real problem with Birds of Steel's multiplayer is having other people to play with online. I fear this game may have a dead online multiplayer before this game has been out a year or more.
If you love going into battle with a unique personality you will love the customization in Birds of Steel. Once you unlock several planes and level up in experience you will notice you can access and purchase aircraft in the hangar that is accessible from the main menu. Here you can have a ton of fun in adding decals to the plane. I decided to give each plane I purchase a unique or funny look. One of the Brit bombers has two girls on each wing which attracted a few comments online. Then there is my bright yellow Zero plane which stands out and can attract bullets from both sides. Pinup girl art, inscriptions, call signs, and kill markers added to your plane can make it look much more authentic. Experience points are gained on each plane you fly so it takes some time to be able to fully max out on the plane's experience. This unlocks extra paint schemes for the planes once you gain enough experience.
The graphics are very well done but I have a few issues with the map sizes and model scales of ground and sea units. There is no question about the detail put into recreating the actual locations for these battles such as the Wake Island atoll and even Pearl Harbor. The environments look amazing and the effects of the combat are seen and felt in various ways. Getting shot up will have many effects on the plane from bullet holes through the cockpit to wing and tail damage. Shooting up enemy bombers and hitting their fuel lines will send black oil to cover your canopy and temporarily blind you as do pulling off some maneuvers on the Simulator difficulty. Feel that blood rushing to your head yet on a steep dive? Most of the time the plane will break up in two as you lose your tail and go diving to a crash when you are shot down. It seems much harder to shave off an enemy's wing and sending them spiraling out of control in this game. Different camera views abound in Birds of Steel with third person, first person, and the well craved cockpit view from inside most of the planes. In any view you can press down on the D-pad and take in a 360 view of your surroundings. Inside the cockpit of a two-seater plane you can look back and see the rear gunner behind you. You can even switch between squadron planes if that is more to your liking or if you get shot down. Seen before but still always fun to view are the bomb and torpedo cameras you can follow as you lose sight of your plane and watch your payload get delivered to a target. Holding the bumper button down lets you go into this view as you can continue to control your plane out of sight.
What I could not understand though was the aircraft's dominance in scale size compared to things on the ground. In sea battles especially, I noticed the size of the enemy ships to be very small compared to the scale size of the plane you were flying. Try to strafe an enemy destroyer and it looks about as big as a tug boat. These ships were four times the size of a twenty foot combat plane. The maps seem scaled smaller as well as you can fly over a city and notice your plane is huge compared to a most of the buildings in the game. One mission has you land in a street which is twice the regular size of all the other roads in the city.
The musical score in Birds of Steel is simply outstanding. I would definitely want to go pick up the sound track for this game if it is available, pop it into my CD player in the car, and pretend to shoot down all the cars in my way on my way to work in the morning. Narration and voice overs are excellent and the radio chatter in the game does not get annoying.
As for the replay value of Birds of Steel you definitely get more than your money's worth out of this area. The dual campaigns can be finished fairly quickly on the easy difficulty but then you have the single missions mode to explore which include various battles that I was not familiar with. This game is an excellent source of historical information on top of everything else. Achievements are mostly stored in the single player experience with a few to unlock through the online multiplayer. Most of these involve performing certain feats during the campaign missions or completing them while the online ones are more harder as you compete with other players online. If you have friends that play this game online you would be in great luck to play the Event and Tournament modes as well as create your own missions to play online. It would be cool to see people attempt to create their own squadron teams as I saw in the old days of the PC gaming community with these games but with the amount of people playing online as it is I would just hope to be able to find a session to join a year down the road. There is a lot to discover about Birds of Steel as well. You can earn various medals and experience for your planes and maintain a profile that tracks all of your progress.
You can also save and watch replays of a mission you had a great experience on. I noticed some players on the leaderboards had even saved replays of their online games that you could watch. Birds of Steel has a lot of replay value for any fan of flight games.
Final Recommendation 9/10
Birds of Steel is by far my favorite console flight game to date. It built on the success of IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey and delivers as close a match as any to what you would experience in a PC flight simulator game. I found only a few flaws with the game that did not detract it from being just another WW2 combat flight game. Birds of Steel delivers the total package in planes, historical missions, and customization. It is everything I ever wanted out of this genre of games and I doubt this game could be topped. What Birds of Steel lacks is a decent online community to play with which is probably due more to marketing and availability than issues with the game. Even when I picked this game up at Gamestop a few weeks after it was out I ended up with the display copy-the only copy on hand in the store so there was a sign there. Birds of Steel is a definite full price buy for any fans of flight games or history fans alike as well beginners. You get the best historical experience, best game play experience, and best overall experience with Birds of Steel.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/09/12
Game Release: Birds of Steel (US, 03/13/12)
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