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IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

The IL-2 Sturmovik series has been a staple of PC combat flight simulators for many years now. Its overabundance of authentic World War II aircraft, large scale multiplayer and mechanically proficient simulation gameplay has made it a fan favourite among the PC gaming crowd. Thus far this enthusiasm has failed to transfer over to the console market, with games such as Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. and Ace Combat failing to maintain any sort of lasting impression and grasp on the market. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is the first iteration of the series to fly on over to the consoles; but will its brand of simulation attract a new, controller-friendly audience?

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It remains to be seen, but Russian developers Gaijin Entertainment have created a game that should appeal to new and old fans alike with its varying degrees of difficulty. If you’re jumping in for the first time Sturmovik will guide you through an easy set of tutorials. Completing these will open up the main mission mode where you’ll be able to play on the user-friendly Arcade setting, where helpful assists are aplenty. It’s easy to jump in and begin blasting Nazi aircraft, whilst utilizing a handful of crazy evasive manoeuvres and attempting bombing runs. It’s accessible and should open up the game to casual players who want to get involved with some hectic dogfights over the skies of Dover without much frustration.

For the hardened veterans of the series or genre, there’s realistic and simulation modes to attempt if you want a higher degree of adversity. Here, all the handy assists are removed, so it’s just you and your wits up there. Any kind of brash movement will result in the aircraft stalling and going into a freefall, while the aiming assists are gone and your plane rocks from side-to-side from the power of your machine guns. It’s an extremely difficult task, made more so in the ultra-realistic simulation mode. In this, the hardest of difficulty modes, you’re confined to the tiny cockpit view and must rely on your fully functional dials to tell you how you’re doing. The limited view and obstacles to your vision – whether it be bullet holes, clouds, dirt and so on – just compound the already difficult task of shooting down Nazis. If you want a challenging simulation of flight combat, IL -2 Sturmovik is one of the best on the market, especially on consoles.

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Of course, this all means that Sturmovik is enjoyable no matter the skill level, as you fight your way through the game’s twenty, or so, levels. Taking place in the European Theatre of War, Birds of Prey takes you from the White Cliffs of Dover through to the fall of Berlin at the end of the war. The single player should only take around five hours to complete so it’s relatively short, but the separate singular missions extend the longevity and surprisingly, the variation. The majority of your time will be spent on the offence or defence, as you attack or defend against enemies – with some bombing runs thrown in for good measure. The combat is enjoyable enough to hold interest, but it can drag a bit by the end. However, the single missions can afford the liberty of shaking things up a bit, offering a sleuth of different options to customise your experience; whether it be by changing the weather, the time of day or how much fuel or ammo you have. There are also more mission variations, most notably recon that sees you flying over enemy encampments, with one of their own aircraft, to scout the area. It’s not a large departure from what you’re usually doing, but if you want a change of pace it’s something to try.

You’ll be moving through battles such as the Bulge, Sicily and and Berlin, and each environment looks fantastic with 3D textures on the towns, cities and trees below. It’s rare for a combat flight sim to look this good, so Sturmovick definitely stands out from the crowd, looking great from the sky and up close – bar a few low-res textures. The sun will glisten off your aircraft as smoke bellows from the rear of a nearby burning plane hurtling to the ground; while the damage modelling is superb as bullets rip through your wings, affecting the stability of your flight. When involved in a massive dogfight, things can get pretty hectic, and seeing the smouldering wreckage of multiple planes falling to the surface of the earth, as many more continue the fight, is a sight to behold. While on the ground, fires will spread across the grassy fields, and a city like Berlin will darken the sky above as smoke rises up into the clouds as the bombs continue to drop and decimate the famous landmarks below. Part of Sturmovik’s enjoyment comes from seeing the explosiveness of your attacks, and the rest of the games elements come together superbly to create an aesthetically pleasing experience.

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IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is a step in the right direction for flight-sims on consoles. It’s accessible for both newcomers and hardened veterans alike, and its variety of locales and mission types should hold your attention for a good few hours at least. It’s a shame there’s no local multiplayer, and at the time of writing the online servers still aren’t up; but if they’re sorted and working properly, the intense action of Sturmovik should transfer well to the multiplayer space – hopefully with the brilliant visuals fully intact.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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