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Review

Birds of Steel Review (PS3, Xbox 360)

Reach for the skies.

Birds of Steel is a fairly rare thing. It’s a serious vintage combat flight sim on consoles. It eschews much of the hyperbole of modern combat flyers, avoids the over-the-top action of arcade flyers and pitches itself firmly at the sort of console gamer that avidly watches the History Channel. It’s not a wide market, for sure.


The skies certainly feel quite crowded at times, it's impressive.
There has been a lot of work on some areas of the game, with plenty of historical accuracy in both the montage videos, narrated by Stephen Fry, and the plane models and selection. Unfortunately, the voice acting throughout the game isn’t up to scratch and the campaign mode’s pacing nosedives too often into repetitive missions in which the core gameplay just isn’t compelling enough.

There are over 100 planes in the game and each one seems to have been something of a labour of love for its creator, modelled with quite impressive precision. Unfortunately, they spend most of their time in the game as specks just above the horizon so the impact of the decidedly less impressive ground textures is, unfortunately, perhaps more striking. It’s a real shame that there isn’t more focus on the variety and detail of the roster here, some of the planes accurately modelled are little more than curios in the world of vintage flight buffs, with no pressing need to be in the game at all so their inclusion is obviously down to the fact that the developers at Gaijin love the subject matter.

Make no mistake, this is a game made for fans of vintage combat flight. The normal difficulty setting makes it suitably nervy and fiddly to even get your bird in the air. On the hardest setting, it’s a constant battle just to keep your aeroplane operating within its safe limits. This is the sort of thing that would be better suited to the semi-serious PC flight sim crowd so its appearance on consoles is surprising. The easy difficulty makes things a little less simulation and a little more “point and shoot” and there are concessions made in the way you target enemies but the dogfighting remains a troublesome spot of turbulence in the game’s final approach.


Ground scenery is occasionally great but often quite characterless.
The two campaigns, one for the US and one for Japan, are set in the Pacific theatre of combat and won’t take too long to work through. There is a list of single missions you can take part in and a dynamic campaign in which you win victories in the air that secure territory on the ground, so there’s a bit more to it than simply the campaigns. On top of that there’s a (rather sparsely populated, unfortunately) multiplayer mode which allows for up to 16 competitive players or four co-op players to take to the skies. Fill it with a regular group of friends and there’s some serious potential for lasting fun online.

A fairly robust mission editor allows you to define quite specific parameters such as whether you’re flying over hostile territory (which shoots up at you), types of mission and even fuel load. There seems to be plenty of scope for extremely varied missions that should give this game an impressive lifetime, even outside of the multiplayer.


Pros:

  • Cockpits are very impressive, although missing for some bombers.
  • Serious vintage combat flight sim with real love poured into it.
  • There’s plenty of single player content to be getting on with.
  • The mission editor looks likely to yield great results, over time.

Cons:

  • Ground scenery gets a little rough around the edges at times.
  • Campaign mode pacing is hampered with repetition.
  • Voice acting makes radio chatter cringeworthy.

Birds of Steel is not a game that will set the world alight. It won’t tear up the charts or challenge FIFA or Call of Duty for hearts and minds. But the focus isn’t on being the kind of game that everyone will love, it’s on being a good fit for a smaller, knowledgeable fan base. It’s tricky to see how large a market there is for a game like this but if, by some chance, you’re a fan of vintage air combat from the WWII era then this is likely to have great appeal.

Score: 7/10

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19 Comments
  1. tonycawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    I can’t fly planes in games, never could, don’t think I’ll ever be able to. I’ve always liked the idea of it but am just terrible at doing it. For that reason I’m out even though I like the sound of this.

    Comment posted on 01/04/2012 at 20:13.
    • the bottler
      Member
      Since: Feb 2011

      I too am utterly useless at flying in games – battlefield 3 spent about 5 mins in planes, most of that was spent waiting to take off or plummeting towards the ground!

      Comment posted on 02/04/2012 at 08:37.
    • three_leg_jake
      Member
      Since: Aug 2011

      My sentiments exactly! Would love to be able to be good at these but never seem to get there. :-(

      Comment posted on 02/04/2012 at 08:48.
    • politicalanimal
      Member
      Since: Mar 2012

      gotta demo it

      Comment posted on 06/04/2012 at 20:23.
  2. ron_mcphatty
    Member
    Since: Sep 2008

    Sounds like a miss. This seems to be a dying genre, I had a thrust master thingy andIL2 Birds of Prey which was fairly amazing looking and a lot of fun. Better on arcade with a regular controller though so if anyone’s after an exciting arcadey flight sim that also does mentally hard sim try IL2.

    Comment posted on 01/04/2012 at 20:31.
  3. Jumping Monks
    Legend
    Since: Jan 2009

    This sounds like just the game I’ve been looking for. I often find myself looking for games where I can fly aeroplanes, simply to jump in and fly, it’s the only reason I ever turn BF1943 on nowadays, to load up a training mission and fly around. It’s likely I’ll pick this up if I see it reasonably priced somewhere.

    Comment posted on 01/04/2012 at 20:36.
    • RankJunkie
      Member
      Since: Apr 2012

      Its probably a good call based on what you just described. This game is made for Flight Sim fans to appreciate. My site tracks ratings from multiple publications, the average is 72.25% unfortunately I have only tracked 2 sites to review it. You might want to get the demo first just in case.

      Here is my site if you care: http://www.rankjunkie.com/games/ps3/birds-of-steel

      Comment posted on 02/04/2012 at 02:36.
  4. Sympozium
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    The IL2 games look brilliant to me and this game looks nice even if it isn’t as good, I’m interested in these games but maybe at a lower price.

    Comment posted on 01/04/2012 at 20:51.
  5. wonkey-willy
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    console and flight sims not the best equation..
    not a big fan of flying games unless you’re talking about crimson skies which had it all..loved that back in 2003

    Comment posted on 01/04/2012 at 22:04.
  6. Kennykazey
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    I do love old airplanes, but I’m not used to flight sims and with so many other games out there I’ll be skipping this. I think I’d be more interested in it if it was for pc to be honest.

    Comment posted on 01/04/2012 at 22:09.
  7. aerobes
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    Sounds right up my alley and the demo was great too. Consider this in my “want” list. :)

    Comment posted on 01/04/2012 at 22:37.
  8. zb100
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    No thanks.

    Comment posted on 02/04/2012 at 05:10.
  9. yogdog
    Member
    Since: Feb 2010

    This game definitely sounds like a fit for me, definite buy for me somewhere down the line!

    Comment posted on 02/04/2012 at 06:36.
  10. aerobes
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    You accept /the/ paypal!? I’ll send Gonzo right over. :S

    Comment posted on 02/04/2012 at 06:59.

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