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 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.