Review

Birds of Steel Review (Xbox360)

You have to ask the question: as a post-war generation, can we relate to the experience of World War II pilots? Was it really all dog fights, heroic flying and glory like popular culture suggests? Have we become disillusioned, forgetting the human sacrifice of war? Prolonged stretches of boredom; strapped into a metal coffin thousands of miles sent hurtling above the earth. It hardly sounds epic.

Memphis Belle, Band of Brothers and a whole host of other cinematic experiences have cemented the shared idea that flying in the war was supposedly fun and thrilling. Who knows what the raw emotion was actually like? Despite this air of mystery, Birds of Steel attempts to recreate this rose-tinted honour with a simulative gaming backbone. Or, if you’re after the freedom of flight / aerial cat-and-mouse, there's the option for a more casual experience focused more on combat and less on stalled engines, flaps and landing.

Ratatat

Spread across WWII, Birds of Steel's historical campaign is a broad exploration of the period, complete with all the sights and sounds you'd expect. Rooted firmly in fact, there are no alternative futures or alien races here, merely the attempt to digitise what many developers have done before.

Flight simulators / games have had a long-time love affair with the Second World War, so expectantly much of Steel’s source material has been mined extensively. The issue with this is a sense of déjà vu, even within the game itself. While the game brings a variety of missions to the table, there's only so many times you can muck about in a virtual plane shooing down opposing forces.

Yes, the missions do vary - you've got standard fighter scrapping, tense bombing runs, overwater skirmishes in torpedo bombers and dive bombing escapades. Some have you flying solo while others see you running in squadrons in large scale battles. Granted, when anti-air flak is littering the air, ships are unleashing hell and the sky is peppered by bullet spewing barrel rollers, it's exhilarating. Coming from the sedate Microsoft Flight, having something productive to do mid-air is extremely welcome.

For those after authenticity you're able to switch off supportive stability aids and unlimited ammo/fuel. Knowing you might run out of weaponry or worse, speed, 5,000 feet in the air is terrifying and makes you think about your actions. The same goes for maverick, unrealistic manoeuvres - you appreciate the skill of the pilots if you bank at slow speed and low altitudes, only for the plane to shut the door in your face.

Close-Up

Obviously if dials, instruments and the laws of psychics turn you off, there's no need to abide by them. You can fly casually focusing on the enemies instead of your airspeed. You'll still need to undertake landings and takeoffs, including tricky ones on short-distance aircraft carriers; expect a fair few broken propellers as you come in too fast or too long. Practice makes perfect and whatnot.

And practice you will have – a healthy selection of planes ensures you’re never short on unique flying experiences, and 16 player multiplayer means you’re never alone either. The Battle of Britain may have had the UK standing tall against the might of Nazi Germany, but they never had Xbox Live to help. Nowadays it’s all about multiplayer and it’s with a combat simulator that this is particularly correct. Battling wits against the AI is one thing, but throw multiple people into the mix and it gets fairly hectic. You see – humans are irrational, especially when it comes to video gaming. In the single player you’re able to judge plane movements as they gracefully allow you to track with bullets – online, it’s different. People fly low, subjecting their planes to silly stunts that court death. It’s crazy, but one of the areas where Birds of Steel comes alive.

It might struggle with environmental detail and a groundbreaking engine, but at the end of the day, flight games aren’t about the OCD recreation of the floor below. Instead, they’re all about the expansive blue and the tussle of combat above the earth. If you’re looking at the floor, you’re not paying attention to the right place.

Rusting Away

Special kudos goes to Gaijin Entertainment for indulging their love affair and bringing the era to life so well in sound. Stick on your 5.1 system and you’re greeted to the aural purr of combat. The rhythmic chants of bygone planes is something that easily get your juices flowing.

We’re not going to lie – this isn’t for everyone. Historical flight simulators / games are hardly the top of everyone’s list, but those lamenting the stumble of Microsoft Flight or desiring something new to delve into, there’s plenty here to keep virtual pilots happy.

Top Gaming Moment: Nailing an aircraft carrier landing.

Format Played: Xbox 360

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