Most World War II flight simulation–combat games attempt to draw the player in with a cinematic storyline or contrived, amateurish gameplay—but not IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey. There are no gimmicks here: this game relies on solid flight mechanics and realistic warplanes to intrigue and challenge armchair aviators of all skill levels. Though the PC format has traditionally dominated the flight simulation genre, that may change with the release of Birds of Prey, the first console-based game in the IL-2 Sturmovik series. It is the most authentic and accessible game of its kind I have ever seen on a home console.
Birds of Prey features over 50 missions covering the war’s major European air battles. Though the series is named for the ubiquitous Soviet dive-bomber, the game features over 40 planes from Britain, the United States, Russia, and Germany, 12 of which can be flown— including the La 5FN, the Spitfire Mk II, the P-51 Mustang, and the Me 109. These are historically accurate aircraft, from the way they handle to the type and amount of damage they can take. For example, the He 111’s greenhouse nose offers little protection for the pilot, who can be taken out with a few choice shots.
The game’s historical focus extends to the combat tactics you’ll learn during the tutorial missions, which teach you how to mount a successful attack on the enemy without going beyond the limits of your aircraft. You’ll also learn how to lead your target with your fire and how to execute tactical maneuvers like the Immelmann turn and the barrel roll.
Another great aspect of Birds of Prey is its accessible gameplay. Arcade mode, the easiest setting, offers a 360-degree view of your surroundings and points out targets and objectives. The higher the level, the more realistic the game’s physics become: you’ll have to calculate deflection yourself, and your plane’s performance will be consistent with the damage it takes. The simulator setting is the hardest—it gives you complete control over your aircraft and restricts your view to what you would see from the cockpit.
Finally, the graphics are breathtaking. The planes are rendered with exquisite attention to detail, and the landscapes are just as impressive: the game developers used satellite technology to capture such iconic environments as the frozen Russian countryside, the shimmering Sicilian coast, and Berlin’s urban sprawl.
Simply put, Birds of Prey is perhaps the best console flight simulator to be released to date—even good enough to challenge PC devotees to find better.
Originally published in the February 2010 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.