In the entertainment industry there is a troubling tendency of labeling a piece of work, be it a book, a film, or a game, as being based on true events, when in reality it actually shares little resemblance to the real life events upon which it is based. More often than not the basic skeleton of the story is partly true, but there are additional details added to “improve” the entertainment factor.
And then you get the odd gem like Birds of Steel, a historically faithful combat flight simulator from Gaijin Entertainment set during in the Pacific during World War Two. It’s a game that has clearly been made by people that are enthusiastic about fighter planes and being as historically accurate as possible.
The main campaign pits the Americans versus the Japanese Imperial Army about twenty intense dogfights, while there are dozens of additional missions that take place in across the globe. One interesting aspect of the campaign is that it is broken into two sections, one from the American perspective and one where you play as the Japanese.
Before each chapter of the campaign we are treated to an informative introductory video, narrated by a Stephen Fry sound-alike, that fills us in on all of the events leading up to the war. I am particularly impressed by how level-headed and analytical these videos are, never demonizing the actions of one side of the other, with a complete absence of patriotic rhetoric.
Before starting there are four basic tutorial missions to play that gradually teach you the basics of the control system. At the start of each mission you can choose to switch between simplified controls, advanced controls, and pure simulation controls. I preferred the simplified controls simply because it left less room for error on my part as I tried to remember all of the controls. There’s also the option to have unlimited fuel and ammo for those that just want to have a good time, and not worry about always hitting their targets.
Even with the simplified controls there are a staggering number of commands to remember; as well as basic steering and weapons you’ll also learn how to activate air breaks, perform dive runs, raise and lower landing gears… the list goes on. Fortunately if you are struggling helpful hints and tips appear on screen letting you know what you should be doing.
More hardcore enthusiasts will likely relish the chance at using simulator controls, which extenuate the basic handling differences between each vehicle. If you’re looking for a real challenge try switching to simulation controls and give yourself limited fuel and ammo!
This is basically the Gran Turismo of World War two flight simulators, with a staggering attention to detail and historical accuracy. There are about 100 real-life planes replicated in loving detail, including some planes that are beautiful to look at, but completely useless in a dog fight. The environments (beyond the spectacular environmental effects, such as beautiful clear skies and dense foggy clouds) are a little basic. The trees and buildings on the land look decent until you start spiraling down towards them, and they turn to a blocky pixelated mess.
As great as the single player experience is, multiplayer is where the main meat of the game is. As well as offering your standard versus multiplayer, with a total of 16 players, there are dozens of cooperative missions based on real battles playable with up to four players.
If that wasn’t enough there is scope to create your own missions thanks to the extensive mission editor. Simply put the options open to you in the editor are mind boggling, allowing you to create pretty much any scenario you can think of to battle through.
Having said all of this, as you may have already guessed, Birds of Steel probably won’t appeal to the low attention span of the average gamer. However those that are looking for something a little different, and are fans of flight simulation, should definitely give this a shot.
Graphics: 4/5 – Some wonderful environmental effects, such as beautiful sunsets and intense storms, are complimented by impressive vehicles. The land looks decent until you get too close to it… by that point though you’ll probably be dead!
Sound: 3/5 – Strong background music that is suitably epic is let down slightly by some uninspiring voice acting.
Gameplay: 4/5 – Birds of Steel is, at its core, a completely different game if you use the more advanced control scheme. Thankfully new players shouldn’t have too much trouble with the complicated control scheme thanks to the simplified control option. Dog fights are tense and frequently quite thrilling.
Longevity: 3/5 – The two parts of the main campaign are made up of about 20 short missions. There are additional bonus missions that take place in Europe to play, but the real meat of the game will be found in its online modes… so long as a community pops up to support it.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
Educational, beautiful, and multifaceted. It may not be for everyone but flight simulator fans should definitely play Birds Of Steel.
- Luke Mears