It’s a Sim of a Sim of a Sim
IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey for the PSP is a different bird altogether. It’s less sim and more arcade, and that’s not unexpected given the nature of the PSP’s controls. I would also mention that the processing capabilities of the PSP, while incredibly powerful for a handheld, can’t compare to the next-gen consoles. Control-wise it’s very difficult to forsake one’s joystick, and even though I agree it’s not imperative that you use one for a flight sim, I would certainly be blaming all my mistakes on the face buttons and that damn nub.
IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, which will be addressed as BoP from here on in, is a flight combat game featuring a wide assortment of aircraft to pilot while taking part in some of WWII’s most legendary aerial battles. The original PC version is a tough sim, and it’s no less difficult on the newly released next-gen console versions. The PSP version is not in the same league. It’s not even in the same league as Ace Combat X. It’s like driving a mo-ped with training wheels.
You can adjust the difficulty, making things more difficult but no more complex. It’s the complexity of a sim that we enjoy; the challenge of synchronizing numerous control commands into a smooth performance. Increasing the difficulty in BoP makes the AI more aggressive and formidable. Your control commands will also have to be more precise. Nothing new is involved, it’s just more difficult. In this way, it’s kind of a sim of a sim.
Like the original and the console version, you will take part in famous WWII aerial battles such as the Battle of Britain, Berlin, Sicily, and Stalingrad. During these missions, you will pilot various real-world aircraft to shoot down enemy planes, protect squadrons and ground units, and take out key enemy ground installations and vehicles such as tanks, trains, and submarines. As interesting and as varied as these missions sound, the arcade style of gameplay has more in common with Capcom’s scrolling shooter 1942 than the original BoP.
All of the action is viewed from behind the plane. You can’t get into the cockpit regardless of who you know. Fortunately, that view works for this version as it gives you a better perspective of your environment. A simplified targeting system allows you to aim a reticule at your opponent and unload your payload. The biggest challenge will be learning how to control the craft, shoot, and dodge incoming all at the same time. There is no doubt this is the most challenging aspect of the game and the most fun. Once you get the hang of things, you’ve bottomed out in terms of depth despite having different aircraft assigned for each mission.
Moves are limited. For the most part, you will move the craft up and down and from side to side. There is no yaw control but you can perform loops. Not merely for showboating, loops are useful for successful dogfights. They will allow you to instantly escape from an enemy that is hot on your tail and exchange places. Enemies will also be capable of performing the same maneuver, as it’s most advantageous to be behind the enemy and out of the line of fire. It’s also more convenient to use your targeting system and fire your machine guns than it would be when confronting an enemy face to face.
Most of the maneuvers will require the use of that damn nub. Thankfully, it works well enough once you get used to it. And you’ll be forced to get used to it since it’s the most prevalent controller for this game. In the normal difficulty the game is forgiving, allowing you to make a few mistakes without crashing to the ground. There are no mid-way checkpoints in the missions, so when you crash and burn you’ll have to start over. Unlike the console version there is no damage modeling. Smoke will begin to emit from your craft when you’re taking on damage, but other than that the only indication you’ll receive regarding your craft’s state is a HUD gauge. Mid-air collisions happen more often than necessary. It’s likely a result of having too many aircraft onscreen at the same time in addition to some AI programming flaws.
New aircraft are unlocked for each mission. There are no upgrades or customizing options. Machine guns are the primary weapons, but you’ll also have some bombs and missiles at your disposal. These will be used to take out enemy vehicles and installations on the ground. You can experiment with different crafts in the free mode, but you will have to use the assigned craft for each mission in the main mode. Each plane has slightly different control characteristics, but the control scheme stays the same. The difference is more in the feel of the craft with some feeling tight and responsive and others loose and lumbering.
Graphically the game is at best decent. The planes look fine, but it would have been great to see some the damage. It’s still nice to see details such as the smoke and effects from the wind. Things on the ground aren’t much to look at, and for the most part it’s something you want to avoid. Targets on the ground are easily identifiable, and that’s about the best I can say about the rest of the graphics. Briefings are given before each mission, and thankfully they are fully voiced and not text-based. Each plane has its own distinct sound, recorded from the actual real-life aircraft. Musically the score is very majestic but there just isn’t enough of it throughout the game, making it very obvious the audio was stolen from the console version and forced to fit.
BoP is a relatively short game, but you can probably squeeze a few more hours out of it in the two-player ad-hoc mode if you can find another flight combat enthusiast in close proximity. The overall lack of complexity and repetitive nature of the gameplay will seriously reduce the time you’ll spend playing this game. It shouldn’t take you longer than a weekend to win this war.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Planes are well detailed but should show better damage modeling. The ground is a little rough. 3.1 Control
The nub basically controls everything. Limited moves. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great music, sound effects, and voiceovers in limited aural snippets. 2.8 Play Value
Repetitive gameplay elements. Two-player mode also repetitive. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.