The Flight Simulator That Wants To Be A First-Person Shooter
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.
The Allies Need Your Help!
There aren’t a whole lot of flight simulators being made these days, and that’s a shame. The flight sim was the original “shooter” so to speak. It was the game genre that required you to center a targeting reticle on your opponent and blast away before Master Chief was even in diapers.
Birds of Steel is trying to recapture the feeling of the early combat flight sims. Rather than relying on missiles and special weapons, as you do in the Ace Combat series, Birds of Steel is a World War II period piece that forces you to rely on the most trusted of airplane weapons: the gun. In fact, the entire game strives for deep historical accuracy, which sets it apart from other games in the genre.
Now, I admittedly didn’t get a whole lot of time with Birds of Steel at E3, but from what I could gather, the design team was going for an “FPS in the air” sort of feel. Your plane controls are pretty much the standard flight sim controls we have seen ever since dual analog sticks were invented. At least, that is what your controls will be if you play the game with the arcade control scheme. If you want to up your difficulty a bit, or if you are a die-hard flight sim fan, you can make the control scheme even more complicated in order to give you direct control over every aspect of your plane. To really hammer home the sim element, the game will support several USB flight sticks as controllers and will have specific control schemes for them. That’s sure to send you right back to the days of Top Gun on the NES.
Actually, that’s a pretty good comparison. Birds of Steel feels like a far prettier Top Gun. When you start the game, the first thing you’ll do is crash right into the water, because handling your plane is actually pretty hard. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of following the prompts on the screen to find your enemies and targets. After a few more minutes of wrestling with the laws of physics, you’ll finally have your air legs, and you’ll be shooting down enemies in no time.
Speaking of shooting down enemies, you can either dogfight as much as you’d like in free-flight mode, or take on over forty missions in the main campaign. In free flight mode, you get to set up the exact environment you want to fly in. You can fly night or day, rain or shine, and over mountains or cities. In fact, I’m almost positive this will be the most fun mode in the game. I didn’t get much info on what the missions will be like, but my guess is they will mostly be “find a guy, shoot him down” sorts of deals.
There are numerous planes in the game, and each has its own loadout, including camouflage, weapon type, and weapon count. Considering how simple the loadouts are, the amount of planes in the game is pretty impressive. I saw about sixteen just in the demo, and I was told that other planes will be unlocked as you play the game. Ultimately, you can choose from over 100 different makes and models.
Each plane is historically accurate down to the last detail. In fact, there is a cockpit view that you can go into which makes your aiming reticle slightly larger (kind of like ADS in a shooter, but as a whole other flight mode). When you enter these views, you actually get to see the real cockpit of the plane model you chose, with all the dials and knobs in the right places. This should cause airplane buffs to drool.
The graphics in this game are absolutely gorgeous. I was told that all the environments in the game were based off of real World War II battle sites, and that they were all mapped out using satellite data. It really shows. Even the tiniest buildings have depth to them, and you can see their shadows as you do rolls and flips overhead. I swear you can even see the trees sticking out of the landscape as you fly uncomfortably close to them. This is a big difference from Ace Combat, the other flight sim at the show, which mostly used textures when you got close enough to the ground. In addition, the lighting effects in this game are phenomenal. Just seeing the shadows on your wings as you tilt your plane is a visual feast.
Like I said before, there aren’t a whole lot of flight sims out there, so Birds of Steel doesn’t really have a whole lot of competition. In fact, it’s only competition at E3 this year was Ace Combat, and the games are completely different. Ace Combat went for the extreme movie-style dogfights, while Birds of Steel is going for serious historical accuracy. There’s no reason why flight sim fans can’t enjoy both. I can only hope they do, so that we get to see more flight sims into the future. Until then, Birds of Steel is worth getting when it comes out, if just to repeatedly crash planes into the incredibly detailed environment.