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Hands-On:
Birds of Steel

By
Posted on February 6, 2012 AT 09:00am

Tails of Ordinary Madness

When “Forza Motorsport 4” came out last October, it took a unique approach to driving games by being both a realistic racing sim and an arcade-esque driving game. Now the World War II aerial dogfighting game “Birds of Steel” — which is slated to be released on the 360 and PS3 in March — is similarly attempting to have it both ways.

At a recent event at their Los Angeles HQ, Konami showed off this flying game, which is being made by Gaijin Entertainment, the Russian studio that previous made 2009’s “Il-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey.” As we got to see in both a presentation and hands-on time with the game, “Steel” is using a similar methodology to “Forza,” as it uses a player’s choice of difficulty to deem whether the game will be realistic or (relatively) unrealistic.

Choosing to play on the “Simplistic” setting, for instance, means having all your targets and objectives marked, while “Realistic” forces you to figure out which planes are your pals and which are trying to kill you. Similarly, a shot up plane in “Realistic” will perform much worse than an equally damaged one in “Simplistic.” Though when your plane is shot down, you don’t automatically fail the mission. Instead, you switch to one of your wingman and continue fighting until your entire squad has been defeated.

The game also has a secondary difficulty system which let’s you decide if you want to have unlimited ammo, unlimited fuel, or both. Having limited fuel and/or ammo requires you to fly back to base and re-supply; having unlimited ammo means you have to wait a few seconds to reload once you’ve used up all your bullets. You can even mix and match as you see fit, opting for unlimited ammo and fuel in “Realistic” or limited fuel and unlimited ammo in “Simplistic.”

“Steel” also boasts a number of different modes for any play style. In “Historical Campaign,” you fly missions set in the Pacific Theater in 1941 and 1942. But you won’t only fly as an American pilot into such conflicts as “The Battle of Coral Sea” or “The Battle Of Midway,” as the game boasts a second set of solo missions where you’re recast as a Japanese pilot in the same dogfights.

For those who play well with others, the “Dynamic” option lets up to four online pilots take on a series of missions. Except that these missions are not entirely predetermined. The idea of this mode is to dominate a specific geographic area, which you do by completing a series of missions that are determined by what happened in an earlier one. For example, your first mission might have you shooting down some bombers, followed by one where you escort your own bombers past some enemy boats. But play this mode a second time, and you might start by bombing a shipyard, which would then mean not having to face any boats later on.

This mode is also differentiated by letting you chose up to what year you’d like to pick your planes from. Pick 1942, for example, and you’ll be able to fly any plane that flew in WWII in that year or earlier. But pick 1945 instead, and you’ll have three more years of planes to chose from.

This mode also includes missions not found in the single-player campaign, and can add a bit more realism by letting you fly to a mission like you would’ve in the war. So if you’re tasked with flying to an island to destroy a shipyard, and the island is a 30 minute flight from your base, you can opt to fly the whole 30 minute trip in “Dynamic,” while that same trip in “Campaign” will be shown in a short cut scene. Though you can also opt to skip this lengthy flight in “Dynamic” as well.

“Steel” also boasts competitive multiplayer modes, though, oddly, none are variations on “Deathmatch” or “Team Deathmatch.” Instead, these modes task two teams of eight players with such “Capture the Flag”-esque objectives as capturing an enemy base or protecting your base from being captured by your enemy.

Fleshing out all of the modes are a series of in-game challenges that, much like in “Gears of War 3,” will award you medals for doing things like shooting down 100 enemies or making 20 landings on an aircraft carrier. The game also has numerous customizing options that will let you decorate your plane, though they seems to be largely cosmetic.

“Steel” also boasts over a 100 planes, all of which have historically accurate specs (max speed, turn time, etc.). Or as accurate as is physically possible, since many of these planes aren’t around any more.

All together, this schizophrenic approach is interesting, especially since it works much the same way as “Forza Motorsport 4.” From our brief time in the cockpit, in which we took out a bunch of bombers in an early “Campaign” mission in the “Simplistic” mode with unlimited ammo and fuel, the game still required us to be mindful of what a plane can and can’t do. This isn’t arcadey like “Snoopy Flying Ace,” but is instead like playing “Forza 4” with all its arcade-like options turned on, in that it was still realistic, just a lot more forgiving.

Whether the game ends up being as much fun as “Forza 4,” though, remains to be seen.

Paul Semel, Contributor
Paul has been writing about movies, music, video games, books, TV, toys, celebrities, and other fun stuff since the early-’90s. A regular contributor to EGM since 2004, he's also written for Entertainment Weekly, Bikini, Maxim, Raygun, Walmart GameCenter, Rides, and Emmy, among others. Please follow him on Twitter at @paulsemel. Or don't. Whatever.

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