Designing a flying game for consoles that pushes the genre forward is getting harder to do. On one hand, you have Ace Combat, which took the genre into an action packed, cinematic experience and Air Conflicts: Secret Wars delivered a unique story set during World War II. Gaijin Entertainment moves the group into a more free and user-friendly area with custom missions, dynamic campaigns and the biggest selection of airplanes on consoles. This is the Gran Turismo/Forza Motorsports of aerial combat games.
The whole presentation of Birds of Steel far exceeds anything I imagined. The graphics (both for the airplanes and the environments) are some of the best I have seen when it comes to a game of this kind. Realistically modeled airplanes (and there are over 100, mind you) offer various specs, individual plane bios and even some limited-but-nifty customization options. Some planes have various skins, but any plane can be customized with various decals. Remember pictures showing those hot women spreads across the nose of airplanes? Yes, that is an option.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of flying over Hawaii in an F2A-3 fighter plane, patrolling the Pacific Ocean for Japanese planes. The water has a beautifully realistic aesthetic to it, and the way the sun peeks through the clouds is actually breathtaking. I lost count of how many times I zoned out in sheer awe at the beauty. Coupled with the sound of the engine whirring while I led my four-man crew across the ocean, I can’t think of another game in the genre that looks and sounds this good.
There are two types of earnings in Birds of Steel; one is XP which levels up your pilot and unlocks more planes. The other is currency which will allow you to purchase any unlocked airplane. The hangar is separated into countries and then split into trees to show the progression of planes you can get. It usually starts with a fighter on one side and a bomber on the other, branching down to progressively better planes. XP is earned in every mission, but money to purchase planes is only earned in a few different modes, mainly Dyanmic Campaigns and online play.
The Historical Campaigns don’t yield money, which is a shame because it’s a great mode to play through. Every mission is set up with real footage from World War II and a narrator preparing you with what had happened prior to whatever series of missions you are about to partake in. After the tutorial campaign, you have two selections to pick from; an American campaign and Japanese campaign. Whether you have the required plane unlocked or not, you can partake in every mission. The footage is great for history buffs and well presented, but not earning money made me not want to spend too much time in this mode in one sitting.
Dynamic Campaigns allow you to manipulate certain factors and fight through a series of user-selected missions, such as Air Patrol, Bomb Carrier or Head-to-Head Combat. With the variety of settings, and the ever-evolving war you are fighting, it makes for some interesting sittings. You can’t save a Dynamic Campaign, though, which is another small knock against the game.
If competitive flying is your thing, Birds of Steel delivers. Unlike some of the other flying games I have played and reviewed, there are people actually playing online and it’s not hard to get into a room. Hopping into a quick match is easy, but you can also browse available rooms (which shows the handling model used if you only play a certain way). Online modes are a great way to earn both XP and cash for planes.
There’s a few different physics models in the game, so no matter what your experience level with flying is, you can get into the action. Simplified physics give novice pilots that feeling of control, while realistic physics make flying drastically more difficult.
One of the minor problems I had was with bombing, and the bomb target indicator. I generally fly with the camera above-and-behind (Note: third-airplane instead of third-person just didn’t sound right..) the plane, and the color of the target recticle blended in too much with the environments. The light grey color was too hard to work with, even when changing camera views.
Birds of Steel accomplishes so much in one budget title ($40 USD is far too generous) that it’s hard not to recommend to even the most-casual fans of the genre. With more planes than most games combined and a surreal, authentic aesthetic, Birds of Steel soars above its competition and raises the bar for future air-combat games.
Note: This review is based on gameplay on the Playstation 3 console with material provided by the publisher. Birds of Steel is also available on the Xbox 360.
- Dynamic Campaigns keep things fresh
- wonderfully-presented Historical Campaigns with real footage
- more planes than you can shake a stick at
- budget priced!
- bombing recticle hard to work with
- no money earned in Historical Campaign
- you can’t save in the middle of a Dynamic Campaign