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Impressions: IL-2 Sturmovik Birds of Prey Demo

First, let me start off by saying that this game definitely isn’t for everyone. The game is definitely for those who enjoy a flight simulation game. Hence the word simulation, as this game really goes at that with force, so keep that in mind. In any case, here’s my impression with the demo:

When it comes to visuals and flight sims, this one takes the cake. Even looking at screens for this game, you’d be surprised with how good it looks. We’ll start with the actual ground. The battlefields are made from old satellite photography with a few improvisations here and there. They’re extremely detailed for how big the battlefields are. Trees have actual depth to them and a more 3D nature than trees in a lot of other flight simulators. When you’re in first person view and you fly into the tree line, it actually looks more like a forest rather than crappy 2D cutout-looking things. In the Battle of Britain map, all the rolling hills and fields definitely adds a sense of atmosphere while flying. It’s got tons of hedges and trees about and the coastline is littered with a bunch of coastal towns facing the English Channel.

Smoke effects look great, as do explosions. The developers definitely did a great job with that. One of the coolest effects in the game is definitely the clouds. They have depth to them as well and can be used as cover for both you and the enemy. They remind me of Warhawk’s clouds, really.

Besides the environment, the shining star is really the planes. These planes are highly detailed and look great. Light shimmers off of their bodies and they all are modeled perfectly. You really need to get used to their shapes and markings, as playing on simulation difficulty, planes aren’t marked. One of the coolest things with the game is damage. If you take shots, your body will show it. On the first demo mission, I went to shoot down a German bomber and blew it’s wing off, which then flew up into the air and clipped my own wing, sending me into a violent twist into the ground. After I restarted, I was shooting them down left and right, but took damage myself, and the damage caused a big hole to form on my left wing. I was pleased with their damage model.

I already described the detail in the damage, which is technically part of the gameplay as well, so I’ll skip that. Now as far as the game goes, the planes tend to handle more realistically than what you’d get from what is available now on consoles, so keep that in mind. With that said, the gameplay is great. You get to take out ground units, shoot down bombers, destroy enemy fighters, etc. It’s basically your standard combat flight game in that sense, only difference is, unlike modern aircraft in games, these bombers shoot you back through both tail and nose gunners, so when you’re coming up behind one, chances are they’ll start shooting at you as soon as you them. Apparently, the retail game will have you fly bombers yourself, but you’ll also be able to switch to gunner seats and do the same to them, adding more variety to the gameplay. Just know this, you really have to be a good shot to take down smaller, further away enemies, because leading your shots is crucial in this game.

Now as far as vehicle handling goes, the controls are very touchy, so keeping steady aim on the target can prove to be quite difficult. Since you have to lead the shots (meaning shooting at where the enemy will be), that makes it all the more difficult. Not only that, since this is a flight simulation game, you can easily stall, losing control of your plane. Luckily, on arcade difficulty, you’re less prone to it. Even then, if you’re in a dive and you’re going to fast, you’ll stall trying to pull up because of the speed, basically doing a belly flop onto the ground if you don’t do it early enough. On higher difficulties, it’s even harder than that, which is what I will get into next.

That’s really what this game screams haha. Since we’re talking old prop planes from World War II, there aren’t any guided missiles or bombs or anything, so good aim is always a must. That’s my kind of game right there ;). With that said, this is one of the most realistic flight sims out there, as long as you play on any difficulty above Arcade (which are Realistic and Simulation). Arcade is definitely more aimed at novices in flight simulation. It corrects itself subtly so you don’t stall out in a turn. It also marks your targets and gives you an aiming reticule as to where you want to aim the plane’s cross hairs and fire. I know for sure, on this difficulty mode, that you have infinite ammunition, but I’m not sure on the other difficulty levels because I never paid attention.

Now we have Realistic. What’s changed is they removed the enemy’s reticule and you have to visualize yourself where the plane will be and lead your shots based off of instincts. Only thing is, this difficulty level goes straight to simulation handling, so the slightest overturn or anything like that will send your plane into a violent spin that 9 times out of 10 is impossible to get out of without wrecking the plane, so you really have to be patient and pull back the throttle (speaking of the throttle, it’s controlled by the right stick and goes by percentage, so remember how much throttle you have put in. The throttle pressure will stay there so you don’t have to keep holding it in) when needed. The handling gets very frustrating when going from Arcade to Realistic.

Then you have Simulation difficulty. It has the same handling of aircraft as Realistic, but this time, you don’t have any painted targets and are going on basically blind, hence why I said you better get used to enemy shapes and markings earlier. If you can’t decipher an enemy from a friendly, you’re liable to shoot one of your own guys down, so you’ll have to pay close attention to who you’re going after if you’re stuck in a big fur ball. Given the realistic nature of this game, that mode will definitely be for the most hardcore of hardcore simulation and history buffs. I, myself, will probably beat the game on Arcade difficulty first before I move onto anything harder than that :P. You wouldn’t believe how many times I wrecked on harder difficulties lol.

Closing Comments
I didn’t go into controls because the controls are your basic flight sim controls (except throttle and rudder controls are on the right stick and firing primaries is done with R2, secondary with L1). It’s pretty easy to get used to, though. There are also a few tutorials you can try to get you familiar with them as well. Other than that, this demo is definitely worth a try, especially if you’re into these kinds of games. For a long time, I was hoping for a more realistic WWII flight combat game. Though I was hoping that maybe Namco would do one for the Ace Combat series, this demo was a pleasant surprise. Chances are, when I get the money, I will be adding it to my PS3 collection.

Compared to the 360, the PS3 version is much crisper and better looking, only negative difference is slightly more tear, but it’s not that bad. In fact, I’d go so far as to say after the first few seconds of seeing it, you don’t even notice anymore. The controls are easy to get used to and the graphics and gameplay are simply great. The only downside, really, is the difficulty, which can really cause some controller-breaking frustration when you play on the higher difficulties. If you’re new to flight simulation and you want to give it a shot, or you’re a big fan of simulation games, I definitely recommend downloading the demo yourself (but you may want to do so in Arcade difficulty until you’re absolutely confident in your flight capabilities 😛 ). If not, you might want to avoid it, because, like I said, it’s not for everyone, and at 1721MB, it’s quite a download. As far as my opinion goes, I love it.

For those who have never heard of the franchise, the IL-2 series used to be exclusive to PC and are amongst the best flight combat games on the market, so if the game does tickle your fancy, you’re talking about an established franchise that knows how to make flight combat games! Look for the game sometime next month.