|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: DiB Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: 1C Company / 505 Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 10, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: E 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
When bringing the next-gen title IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey to the DS, developer DiP Interactive didn't skimp on the content. This little cartridge is packed to its tiny brim. After a detailed training session, players can fly planes in three different World War II battles (the Ardennes Offensive, the Battle of Britain, and Stalingrad); for each battle, they decide to fight as Axis or Allies, and then choose from seven missions. For those with poor multiplication skills, that means there are 42 missions total.
These aren't lazy paint-by-numbers missions, either. This game is a blend of bombing runs, dogfights, recon, escorts, and strikes on ground targets, each of which lasts but a few minutes. Even the vehicles have a lot of variety, with accurate representations of various countries' fleets. You can take to the cockpit of everything from a German Bf-110C to a British Hurricane Mk. I to the Russian plane the game is named after. The developers of the original version of the game, 1C Company, are Russian, so the Soviet forces play a bigger role in here than American gamers are probably used to.
The sheer depth of the experience is enough reason not to dismiss Birds of Prey out of hand. Unfortunately, though, a whole host of problems makes this game far less fun and engaging than it ought to be. As such, it's definitely not an essential buy, except for gamers who, for some reason, really want to play flight games on their handhelds.
The biggest issue is that the "feel" just isn't there. You never get the sense that you're flying at top speed far above the Earth in a rickety machine from half a century ago. Even when you exchange gunfire with enemies, you feel detached from the experience rather than immersed in it. The sound doesn't help much either; there's no music during gameplay to capture the sense of danger and isolation, and the engine roars seem a tad dull. Maybe we're asking too much of a few inches of screen and two tiny speakers, and maybe some sort of rumble function would make all the difference, but the bottom-line is that the game doesn't draw players in on a visceral level.
Another problem is that, in trying to walk the line between simulation and arcade, the game loses most of both genres' best attributes. Because your ship turns so slowly, and because it takes so long to get enemies in your sights, there isn't the non-stop action of, say, Star Fox. At the same time, because the game handles takeoff and landing for you, and even levels the plane back out after turns, there isn't the realism of a true sim. To anyone who's played flight-combat sims on PC, the controls here are almost absurdly simple: Using the buttons and D-pad, you can accelerate, decelerate, turn, ascend, descend, and shoot. These functions work just fine, but that's it.
Also, Birds of Prey never really gives players the sense that they're progressing. All of the missions are unlocked from the very beginning, and it's possible to adjust the difficulty settings (which include unlimited ammo, unlimited fuel, gun and engine overheating, and targeting) at any time. Sure, you can pick a difficulty at the outset and play all the missions in order, but the psychological effect of uncovering more and more of the game is gone. It's been a rule since the earliest days of video games that you can't play level 2 until you've beat level 1, and there's really no argument to be made that this is a bad rule.