previews\ Jun 4, 2009 at 8:00 pm

IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds Of Prey - 360 - Preview 2

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Flight/combat games tend to come in two flavors: arcade and semi-arcade. PC gamers have had the luxury of experiencing a few realistic simulators, but those games tend to focus on the joy of flying. Combat, however, isn’t typically a part of the experience. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey might be the first game to change that. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey wants to be a true simulator, but not at the expense of engrossing entertainment. If the demo is any indication, the developers are well on their way to accomplishing this goal.

Aesthetically and mechanically, Birds of Prey is nothing short of a jaw-dropper. E3 is known for game demos and unveilings that blow our minds, but those moments occur less frequently as the consoles age. This game is concrete proof that there is still life left in our 360s and PS3s – and that there are still graphic techniques and new layers of realism to unearth. What that means here is that every plane looks like the real thing. It’s not photo-realistic (technology hasn’t gotten us there yet), but you can barely tell that polygons are being used. The visuals are closer to what you’d get from a CG movie, which have no signs of polygons, even if that is what’s being used. The aircrafts aren’t alone in their beauty; the ground details, though they are small while soaring through the clouds, are impeccably polished. They too have that ultra-realistic movie-quality effect that puts every other flight/combat game to shame.

IL-2: Sturmovik: Birds of Prey screenshots

To get the gameplay just right, the developers spent a lot of time researching real war missions. They searched the world for source material and placed all of their knowledge and all of that information into designing cities and landscapes that are as close to the real thing as possible.

From the start, Birds of Prey was created to be a flight/combat game that completely changed the way we look at the genre. One of the ways the team accomplished this was by developing two separate modes, arcade and simulation, to provide different control styles to the player. Neither mode detracts from the either; the one you play is strictly a matter of preference. One gives you a control scheme that doesn’t require too much work. The other is more for hardcore simulation fans.

Arcade mode was demoed for us, and in addition to looking great, the game feels incredible. The controls are perfectly responsive and notably tight. There are moves that I was able to pull off in Birds of Prey that would not be possible in any other flight/combat game. This isn’t an assumption, it’s a fact – one of my biggest problems with the genre is that I can’t soar close to the ground, pull up at the last minute and walk away unscathed. Whether that’s unrealistic or not, it doesn’t matter. Games are supposed to be at least somewhat surreal, and I should be able to escape death at the last second. Birds of Prey lets you do just that. It lets you engage the enemy and fly so close to him that he’ll think you’re about to perform a kamikaze attack. Then, with a slight push of the left analog stick, you glide by him, avoiding what appeared to be certain death while earning cheers from anyone watching.

IL-2: Sturmovik: Birds of Prey screenshots

Picture-in-picture, the little-used feature of old TV sets, is being given a fresh twist in Birds of Prey. When something happens in the game – if you’re attacked or if you bomb an enemy base, for example – a small picture will appear on the bottom right corner of the screen. That picture is there to show you exactly what you can’t see: a top-down view of the bomb you just dropped (and the object it just hit or missed) or an image of the enemy as he unloads his ammo onto your plane.

Incredibly, the PSP and DS versions are being hyped as comparable, fully-3D versions of the console game. The developers want it to be clear that neither of them will be a 2D side-scroller. In the case of the PSP version, you’ll engage in dogfights with 40 different planes (not all of them are playable). On the DS, you’ll get 30 planes and be able to use the touch screen to draw flight patterns.

Due later this year, IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is well on its way to breaking new ground in the flight/combat genre. With stellar controls, great graphics and an amazing score by composer Jeremy Soule, this game is can’t-miss.


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