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IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Preview

IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Hands-on Preview

Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Publisher: 505 Games
Expected Release Date: September 2009

Every other week it seems an announcement rolls out that some much-loved PC franchise is defecting to the game consoles, inevitably becoming ‘dumbed down’ or streamlined in the process as designers tweak the game to accommodate the lack of keyboard and mouse - if you listen to the fanboys and keyboard heroes on the internet, that is.

The latest hardcore PC game to make the leap to is IL-2, a realistic World War 2 flight sim. You can argue that by moving to a console, flight combat games gain from the fact that you no longer need a £120 joystick just to stand a chance in a dogfight, but there is an inherent complexity in modelling a plane, and complex, hard to learn but satisfying to master flight sims are one of the PC's oldest and most sacrosanct genres of games. It seems unlikely then that fans of the previously PC-focused IL-2 series will interpret the leap to the Xbox 360 and PS3, along with a focus on providing an immediately accessible experience where gamers can jump right in and shoot down some enemy planes, as a good thing. That's what the latest IL-2 title, Birds of Prey provides though, so we went to see how it played.

IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Preview IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Preview
Those targets make the camoflage a bit ineffective

There was a lot of talk about catering to hardcore flight sim fans in the presentation before our hands-on time with IL-2 Sturmovik, but for all the chat about being restricted to a cockpit view in the higher difficulties it still seemed that the game was essentially a matter of steer and shoot. Those who consider themselves hardcore flight sim fans by PC standards should be forewarned about the lack of mechanical depth. There are no take-offs at all and precious few times when you’ll be required to land your bird or understand what flaps are for (unless you're making rude comments over Xbox Live, that is).

For the rest of us though, this is actually pretty good news – debating when it’s best to raise or lower the landing gear may be fun for some people, but for others it just fills time that could be better spent gunning down Nazis. Then again though, that’s something that holds true for virtually everything. Time spent writing and editing this article could be better used for gunning down Nazis, too.

If shooting down Axis forces is your main hobby then the good news doesn’t stop at the lack of fiddly knobs and dials either – Birds of Prey is very much focused on large-scale conflicts. There are so many Nazis for you to shoot down that it’s a wonder they don’t blot out the sun. We wouldn't put it past the Nazis to be so evil to make everyone fight in the shade, to be honest.

IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Preview IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Preview
The level of detail on the terrain is quite impressive

Set across five huge theatres of war, Birds of Prey has a whopping 50+ missions for you to try your hand at, some of which run on in sets of mission based on real-life objectives and some of which are totally stand-alone. All of the main and most well-known aerial battles are covered obviously, from The Battle of Britain to Sicily and Korsun.

The single battle which impressed us the most however was one of the final missions in the game – the bombardment of Berlin at the end of the war. Not only did it give the frankly gorgeous graphics engine plenty to work with in the air by spreading hundreds of planes across the skies, but it also moved the foes down onto the ground too and tasked players with levelling the last line of German AA guns too. The sheer number of enemies bought back memories of Serious Sam, albeit reinterpreted as a sepia-tinted WWII aerial combat game.

Unfortunately though, as time went on and we continued to watch the demonstrator weave his plane through the airborne throngs with an almost prescient awareness of what was coming next we got the sneaking suspicion that there might be a flaw being cunningly disguised here. After all, just because Birds of Prey isn’t massively complex doesn’t mean that it can’t be pad-punchingly difficult…