IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

Shouldn’t you be able to gain flight hours from this?

About a week or so ago I had the pleasure of playing/reviewing Ubisoft’s Heroes Over Europe.  The game was fun, but it had some issues. The biggest was that it was very shallow at moments and extremely repetitive. Around the same time I was wrapping up that review 505 Games sent IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey for review and before I knew it I was about to take these two titles into a dogfight with each other.

Sturmovik takes what HoE starts and perfects it; that is the simple version of this. Starting with the controls, you’re forced to go through a flight tutorial before the game pushes you into combat. Thank your lucky stars that it does this as it gives a clear explanation, through a nice voice-over, about how to control and maneuver the aircraft you’re playing. The controls in Sturmovik are certainly similar when compared to HoE, but the biggest difference is the game gives you complete control over the aircraft. More specifically, it doesn’t compensate anything for you. You have almost zero help when it comes to making aerial decisions. If you’re losing too much speed in the air, and your craft is about to plummet in the ocean or crash into the ground, it simply flashes a message that warns of your impending doom. It doesn’t help you regain speed automatically or any other autopilot type of control; it simply tells you that if you don’t do something shortly you’re toast. I love that type of control in the game. I love that the game doesn’t treat you like a moron and expects you to improve as you accomplish more missions. It forces you to become a pilot in WWII and expects nothing less from you. The result of these expectations is that you become insanely aware of your surroundings and your own maneuvers in the sky. For me, that’s huge; for others it could be a bit of a pain. With that said, you bought this game because you want to simulate being a pilot in WWII, so deal with it.

Now if you must have an ‘auto’ option in the game, you can set the difficulty at ‘arcade’. This turns the game into less of a flight simulator and more of a point, shoot and correct. Certainly there is nothing wrong with this, as it does provide less experienced and less patient gamers with a way to take out one’s aggression.  If you don’t like that mode and want something as balls to the wall as possible then Sturmovik provides you with the ‘simulator’ mode. Only the biggest, most dedicated pilots need apply to this. You basically become a WWII pilot as you’ll have to use your wits and your eyes going up against your enemies. Unlike the first mode I was discussing (the one prior to this paragraph…. ‘realistic’ mode), simulator expects you to do everything. Fly and fight is your only way through the missions; don’t expect any help.

Speaking of help, one of the most refreshing parts about IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is how many different views you have at your disposal. One of the most frustrating parts of Heroes Over Europe is the view limitation. Here you five different views to play with. The first is the typical third-person view, which you already know. Personally, I stuck with this view the most in the game and it turned out well.  You also get a virtual cockpit, which provides a more wide-open view for players. Out of all the views this gives you the most visual freedom. It’s a beautiful way to see oncoming enemies without having your eyes distracted with the pretty view. The third view, and most realistic, is the cockpit view. You have limited visuals in this view, but for all those hardcore WWII nugnutts out there they might simply fall in love with it.  The next view solely depends on the type of aircraft your sporting; it’s the gunner view. The last view is called the bomber view and it harkens back to my arcade days with top down shooters. Sure this view isn’t as fast paced or slick, but it’s great when it comes to bombing the hell out of things.  So with all these views you can see why I really like this game.

Wrapping up the gameplay side of things, the game also offers some need HUDs. If you’ve ever played Wing Commander on the 3DO, I’m talking to you Trip Hawkins, you can give your fellow pilots around you specific orders through your directional pad. For example, if you want them to break off and attack your target, you can give that order by simply pressing up on your directional pad. If you want them to regroup then you press down on the directional pad twice. This type of communication helps during heated battles and helps when you’re in need of help. The game offers different onscreen indicators to help you survive it. Those onscreen goodies range from plane damage indicator (imagine the old Mechwarrior damage indicator; same thing) to a lovely radar screen (wow, red dots mean enemies, blue means allies — nifty!) and all the way to a cute picture-in-picture screen when you are bombing ships in an ocean or knocking planes out of the sky.  Much like a Japanese news show, there’s a lot of colorful/lovely stuff going on during a fight, onscreen. The more the merrier if you ask me.

Presentation is half the battle

One of the more impressive aspects of this game, which blew my socks off, is how deep the game gets. You can unlock so many items such as planes, pilots and even information about the particular mission you’re on. For WWII buffs out there this game really does provide some great history and insight into an actual historical event that took place. What’s even more impressive is how the game presents these things. With a combination of voice-over and actual war footage, you feel right in line with the timeline that the game sets forth for you. For example, when the nazis decide to invade Stalingrad, you get a nice little informative piece about the Russians and the situation. Before each mission you’re given a set-up of the situation and clearly given what is at stake if you fail your mission.  What this does for the game is it truly makes you feel like you’re part of the allies. Much like a great movie, you’re sucked into the story and you become whatever pilot you’re using to fly. Each story comes packed with a unique pilot to really pack that ‘I feel like I’m there’ punch.

Outside of voice-overs and old newsreel footage, you’re also treated to some of the most spectacular visuals seen in a flying sim on a console. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey makes Heroes Over Europe look like Pilot Wings. Everything about the environments and the planes is very detailed. When you shift your plane the shadows and sun shift with you. The waves in the ocean don’t look like white masses moving; they actually look like waves. When your plane obtains an injury from gunfire, the exact spot where the plane was shot is damaged. Oh, did I mention landing? Yeah, you have to pull down your landing gear and actually land on a very detailed looking land. There isn’t a lot of pixels or jaggies here. No sir/ma’am, you’re going to see very detailed landscapes, very detailed gunfire (with bullet shells flying everywhere) and more realism than if you were up in a plane shooting at a nazi. Simply put, the visuals in IL-2 Sturmovik are completely unrivaled. So while I certainly did go gah-gah over what HoE offered, I never knew it could get better.

With all of these silver compliments there is a bit of rust here. The music drove me nuts in this game. As much as I like the same dramatic music in a game, I really don’t. Every time you get near completing a mission you hear the same orchestrated triumphant tune playing…. over…. and over…. and over. It’s quite annoying for something this pretty and stylish. Music plays a very important role in an action game and basically all facets of our entertainment. When it’s done well it heightens the entertainment value. When it’s done not so well then it hurts the entertainment value. So, for example, if you were playing a game like WET and suddenly the music, during an enormous fight scene, decided to drop out you would be very disappointed. The adrenaline you built up with the music would soon dissipate. So, if you’re just going through the musical motions it doesn’t motivate you in the game whatsoever. The music seemed to be a secondary concern over everything else. Had the music been better, different even, then the game would be even better, if not perfect.

Now the other blight to this flight (like that?) are the loading times. In between missions you get a wonderful 35-45 second waiting period. I wouldn’t complain about this, but the game just installed 1998mb of information onto my hard drive. It is my understanding that the installation should have alleviated this type of waiting. Now 35-45 seconds may not seem a lot when you read it, but feel free to count that in your head.

(waiting…. waiting…. waiting….)

Yep, that’s a long time.

Thankfully, the missions are long so you forget about how that felt as you’re playing. The missions in the game last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. The missions give you the option, once the main objective is beat, to continue or to end. I find this option positively fascinating. I’m not sure I’ve played a sim before that says, “Hey, you finished, but would you like to continue a bit further?” What would be the motivation to continue? Good question, if you continue your mission you unlock more goodies. Unlocking more goodies and making the game even deeper appears to be a great way to go. I know if I paid $49.99 for a game like this that I would want everything it had to offer.

With all this information in your heads is the game worth it? Yes, this is the best WWII flight simulator game on a next generation console. It beats out Ubisoft’s baby and any other games out there. It offers you the most realistic experience right now. It gives you everything, including online play (which is 16 players at a time and four different modes to play — Dogfight, Team Battle, Strike and Capture Airfields), which is jolly good (sorry, been playing the brits in the game too long and watching Life on Mars Series 2).  IL-2 Sturmovik doesn’t disappoint one bit and covers almost the entire gambit of what you’re looking for in a flight sim based in WWII; so there is plenty reason to add this to your collection if this is your type of game.