IL-2 Sturmovik was one of the finest flight sims ever created for the PC, and with Birds of Prey, the series finally makes the jump to consoles. Thankfully, it makes concessions to its new audience with a very accessible arcade difficulty level while also offering the full-on simulator experience from the PC. Crucially, the intense thrill of airborne dogfighting is accessible at every difficulty level in both the exciting single-player campaign and the enjoyable 16-player multiplayer mode. There are problems--frame rate issues and a lack of variety in the campaign--but if you have any interest in historic air combat, then Birds of Prey is worth checking out.
With Birds of Prey, IL-2 Sturmovik has finally been made accessible to a console audience.
Before you can get into the single-player campaign, you have to play through three tutorial missions. They're short and help you get used to basic flight and combat. Once completed, you unlock the arcade difficulty level for the main campaign, which is geared toward accessibility and ease of use. You can fly your plane around without any risk of stalling and the ammo is unlimited. You even have weapon assists that show you where to fire in order to take in the distance to your target. It's clearly designed for people who've never experienced a flight sim before, and while it does make the game incredibly easy, it offers all of the game's thrills without requiring you to learn any of the advanced flight mechanics.
Thankfully, if you continue to play through the tutorials, you unlock the realistic and simulation difficulty levels, which make things a lot more challenging. The realistic option turns off the majority of the assists, restricts your ammo supply, and makes the handling much more authentic, so you'll stall the plane if you bank too quickly. The result is that you have to be much lighter on the controls, but it makes the dogfighting even more satisfying as you fight not only against your enemy, but also your plane. The simulation mode is even further removed from arcade and turns Birds of Prey into a very different experience. You're forced to play from the cockpit or gunner's viewpoint, and there's no radar or heads-up display to differentiate between enemies and friendlies. The screen will also turn red when you pull too many Gs during an extreme maneuver. All this means that simulation is the domain of flight sim veterans only, but this is a good thing to see on a console.
No matter what difficulty level you're playing on, Birds of Prey does a fantastic job of re-creating the thrill of dogfighting in World War II-era planes. Flying these machines is very satisfying; the way they move in the air just feels right. The mixture of planes--from the light Hurricane Mk 2 to the behemoth of the IL-2 itself--allows you to experience plenty of different vehicles, but the combat is even more satisfying. By holding the left trigger, the camera moves to automatically track your target, helping you to keep an eye on them even if they're employing evasive maneuvers. It also gives a really dramatic view of the action, as you can see the damage inflicted on your bird, and it adds to the thrill of the dogfight.
If you've ever wanted to experience the airborne combat of World War II, Birds of Prey has what you're looking for.