|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Gaijin Entertainment|
|Players: 1-4 Offline, up to 16 Online|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Josh Engen
Over the last several years, it has become increasingly difficult to get excited over a combat flight sim. Flight sims don't hit the market very often, and when one is ultimately delivered, the final product never quite makes the grade. Part of it might be that we may have hit some kind of saturation point on what can be done to make flight sims seem new and interesting. Sure, most have some short-term entertainment value, but they all follow the same basic formula. The new ones just have shiny new graphics.
That's why when Konami announced Birds of Steel last May, most of us assumed that it going to be another standard dogfighting title. And let's face it; the world doesn't really need any more of those. But as more information has trickled its way onto the internet, the more interesting this game has started to sound. In a recent interview, Martin Schneider, Konami's European general manager for sales, gave us a little insight into the thought process behind BoS: "For far too long, first-person shooter fans have been tied to the foot soldier point of view, but we aim to bring the seat-of-their-pants skill and daring of dogfighting and aerial combat to a wider audience."
This "FPS in the sky" approach is surpassingly apparent in Birds of Steel. Once you get the hang of the controls, which are pretty standard as far as flight sims go, the gameplay is incredibly responsive and unique. However, before you take off, you'll need to select which flavor of control setup you'd like: Arcade or Simulator. The Arcade mode is perfect for those FPS players who are simply taking a break from Modern Warfare 3, but hardcore flight sim purists will want to select the "Simulator" option. In Simulator mode, your plane will react to wind and mass just like it would in real life. Konami has even gone the extra mile by increasing the speed of your craft as your fuel decreases. Players will have to avoid stalling their plane and adjust for the wind when shooting down enemies. And yes, this mode will support your favorite overly-complicated USB flight sticks.
But the controls aren't the only thing that makes Birds of Steel interesting. The campaign itself is a mix of semi-historical and semi-fictional missions that stretch across Europe, reaching all the way to the Pacific theatre. Players will get to take part in missions like the battle of Midway, Coral Sea, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and dozens of other locales taken from your high school history books. Obviously, Konami isn't using BoS as a subversive way to trick gamers into learning their history, but using World War II as a backdrop for an immersive experience has become a time-honored tradition among game developers. (However, it might also be part of the reason why flight simulators have become so tedious.)
When Konami first started telling players about BoS, they kept using the phrase "MMO gameplay" to describe the multiplayer component. Now, I'm not sure if they're aware, but the first letter in MMO stands for "Massively." So, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the multiplayer mode only supported 16 players. Obviously, I was a little disappointed, but it was hard for me to stay mad at them when I found that they'd included a co-op option, which allows up to four players to support one another in several cooperative strike campaigns.
However, if the co-op isn't your thing, you can connect to the verses arena and duke it out with 15 other players online. There is an assortment of multiplayer gameplay modes including "Capture the Airfield," tournament mode, and standard deathmatch.
Birds of Steel definitely doesn't have an overabundance of locations—16 in all—but what it lacks in scenery, it makes up for in hardware. Currently, Konami is including over 100 makes and models of World War II-era planes. Everything from the P-51D Mustang to the Japanese Zero, the British Spitfire to the German Messerschmitt. Players that even have a passing interest in aviation history will most likely find themselves pretty entertained by the seemingly endless parade of aircraft.
Only time will tell if Birds of Steel ends up being a distinguished member of the flight sim club or simply another humdrum addition. But if Martin Schneider's perspective is anywhere near accurate, this definitely a title to keep our eyes on. "Birds of Steel pushes the throttle of realism," he said, "by giving fans what they've been missing; cooperative online game play, life-like VFX and game dynamics, and a campaign… that encompasses some of history's most memorable aerial battles!"
Sounds good to me, Martin. Keep up the good work.
CCC Contributing Writer