Now I am not the biggest player of flying games, but when a copy of Birds of Steel landed in my mail without warning, I figured I would give it a shot. I actually hadn’t heard anything about this game prior to it coming in, which while that might normally be a major warning sign I knew that it could also be indicative of a game targeting an audience that didn’t need to be reminded it was coming out. An audience that fanatically follows the release of any flying game since they are so few and far between anymore. Unlike an FPS game that needs the press in order to set it apart from the crowd, the last good flying game came out three years ago so they can afford to be a bit skimpy on the marketing budget – after all an expensive campaign won’t necessarily mean a ton more sales in this genre. Thankfully then, they spent the extra capital that would normally be for marketing on making the game good.
It should come as no surprise that Birds of Steel is the spiritual successor to the last great flying game, IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey. It should also come as no surprise then that just like Birds of Prey, Birds of Steel is incredibly approachable yet has the potential to be ungodly difficult. Yes, Birds of Steel is super easy to just jump in to and play – even setting the difficulty to normal isn’t too rough for the newcomer to games of flying skill. When starting the campaign you do have to go through an annoyingly obnoxious tutorial, but once you get through that the beauty of this game starts to shine.
Beauty might not be the word people use to describe games set in times of war, but it is a word you have to use with Birds of Steel. Every graphical element of this game is almost picture perfect. Weather it be the amazing amount of detail that is in the planes themselves, the fantastic richness to both the air and ground, or even to the weather – Birds of Steel is an absolutely beautiful game. You can see your pilot actually control the plane, mimicking the buttons you push with “real world” results. In the rain, you can feel the hell it must have been to pilot when you can barely see past the nose. The ground, rather than be covered with sad 2D meshes like other games in this genre have done, is instead detailed with things like rivers, jungles, and full 3D town models that even look good if you kamikaze them (for purely scientific reasons of course). Even when you are in the sky, the amount of detail you can see from the gleam of the sun on your plane to the individual scratches on the cockpit show through and just add to the “wow” factor. Another thing that I noticed was just how fast Birds of Steel feels – drop your plane down to tree level and everything just flies past you, being an amazing tribute to how fast these planes actually traveled. All of this serves to make a game that feels like it is set in a fully fleshed out world, rather than the vast emptiness that most flying games throw you into.
One thing that Birds of Steel does better than anyone else, is giving the player variety. Much like how Gran Turismo has a ton of cars, Birds of Steel has a ton of aircraft; over 100 for you to try out. Some of these planes are the ones that every player will be familiar with like the P-51D Mustang, but then you have planes that are so obscure that only the hardcore plane enthusiasts will know what they are. I know this might be the plane to pick on, but take the CAC Boomerang; there were only 250 of these planes made, but there they are in the game ready for anyone to pilot. It is this unflinching attitude that every plane possible be included that will keep people playing Birds of Steel for a long time to come. There is just always something new you can mess around with. While there isn’t any real tuning you can do to your planes like the vein of those Gran Turismo games, you can unlock a number of things for your aircraft like kill markers, nose art, different paint jobs, and things like that.
There are also a number of options you can mess around with in the difficulty settings – if you are new to the genre, or just want to have a carefree fun time you can set the difficulty to Arcade and turn on unlimited fuel and ammo. Want a bit more of a challenge you can turn off those unlimited options and jack up the difficulty, however if you are feeling truly masochistic you can set the difficulty to a special thing called “Simulator”. That level of difficulty is exactly how it sounds, and would probably be a hell of a lot easier if you had a yoke flight controller. You have to be aware of pretty much everything when it comes to your plane in Simulator, and you have no happy targeting aids to help you out. No, in Simulator the game plays much like those old MS Flight sims, only with the addition of guns and bombs. It’s like a wet dream for someone who is really into these kind of games.
The absolute best feature about Birds of Steel? It has practically unlimited replayability. There is an extremely robust mission editor that will allow you to have an absolute blast coming up with new things to do. Set yourself up flying over enemy land with only half fuel to see if you can handle it, or cruise in friendly skies for a decent fly – you can pretty much make anything happen that you want (within the confines of the game of course). The amount of choices you have are simply staggering. There is also a fully formed multiplayer mode in Birds of Steel, including 8 vs 8 modes, and 4 man co-op. While the 8 vs 8 can sometimes leave a bit to be desired (due to some latency issues that may just be attributed to early release jitters), it is a great distraction and a definite palette cleanser. Let me remind you that all of this is on top of an already crazy amount of single player missions.
The Bottom Line: This it a game that avid flyers have been waiting for; there is almost nothing wrong with it, and the few issues that there are have nothing to do with the mechanics of the game – all of that is completely solid and shows the care that was put into the game.
- Near unlimited amounts of replayability will keep Birds of Steel in people’s consoles for a long time
- The level of detail in the game is absolutely astounding
- The flying mechanics are basically the height of perfection
- The pilot chatter can be annoyingly repetitive
- There is a little lag in the online modes
- Not having a cockpit view in every plane is a bit of a shame
You can pick up Birds of Steel for both the PlayStation 3 and the XBOX 360 anywhere games are sold like Amazon for $39.49 – a definite bargain for a game of this quality