Gameplay impressionsWhat do we like?
There’s a comprehensive variety of planes to fly (42 in all) and they all handle differently, so there’s a lot to learn and plenty of challenge from having to slightly adapt the way you fly whenever you switch from one aircraft to the other. It helps immensely that the control scheme is extremely accessible and the transition from keyboard to joy-pad has been handled very well; planes handle smoothly and it does feel like you’re in total control of your plane as you loop-the-loop in a Spitfire or dive bomb toward a target in a Hurricane.
The historically-based missions, backed up with black-and-white footage prior to engagement and accurately detailed locations throughout the campaign, offer plenty of variety and there’s tons of content to get through. The fact that you can alternate between three different settings is a great feature. It means that whatever you’re skill level is you'll be able to find a mode that challenges you and feels rewarding. While playing in arcade mode is fun and fast-paced, feeling quite similar to the likes of Crimson Skies or Blazing Angels, simulation mode is where true flight sim fans and gaming veterans should head for - it’s this mode that really captures some of the magic that made the IL-2 Sturmovik series so popular on PC.
Simulator mode is very tough, but it really captures the intensity of what a dog-fight must have been like. Without any help it's a real challenge, but it’s extremely rewarding when you master the controls of your plane and take an enemy down knowing that it took a great deal of skill to do so. The fact that you’re restricted to a cock-pit view increases the intensity and when there’s dozens of planes in your peripheral vision and bullets whizzing around left, right, and centre, it’s palm-sweatingly exciting stuff.
On the whole, the presentation in IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is impeccable. Well designed craft, gorgeous looking environments, believable sound effects, and the rousing musical score complement some frantic and exciting battles with style. Third-person view in particular offers some finely detailed sights of the land below, allowing you to get a beautiful bird’s-eye view of the cities, beaches and the White cliffs of Dover. The damage modelling feature is a welcome inclusion and watching aircraft take bullet damage certainly gives the action a more authentic flavour.
There isn't a mission editor, like the PC version, but the multiplayer component offers enough game modes to keep you entertained and there's a nice range of customisation options that allow you to tweak the experience. The highlight for us is the action-packed, every man for himself Dogfight mode, which is a lot of fun when the server is packed and also runs extremely smoothly even when the action gets really hectic.
What don't we like?
The transition from PC to console means that some of the depth of the IL-2 series has been lost. The omission of big features such as the mission editor and the shrinking of the plane roster are understandable, but we had hoped for a more detailed control system. The control scheme does work well, but even on simulation mode, it feels like an arcade experience and not the deep sim from the PC version. Though the controls have largely been mapped well to the joy-pad, the limitations of using a controller are all too obvious when you're in cock-pit view. In this instance, you have to press down the right analogue stick and then rotate it to look around. It just feels a bit awkward.
If you’ve played IL-2 on the PC, you’ll probably sneer at the limitations imposed by the console's controllers and hardware, but there's still a lot of fun and challenge to be had out of IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey. Not only does it capture the battles of the era with a great deal of style in its audio and visual presentation, it offers a smooth handling mechanic and a refined control scheme that feels extremely intuitive. Console gamers are hardly spoiled for choice in this genre, but still, it's going to take a lot of effort for any developer to get close to achieving an aerial combat game as engrossing or enjoyable as IL-2 Sturmovik Birds of Prey, which we'd highly recommend for fans of the genre.
Final Score: 8.5/10