Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Wings of Prey Review

Wings of Prey, developed by Gaijin Entertainment and published on yuPlay.
The Good: Excellent graphics, several interesting multiplayer modes, convincing flight physics, good AI pilots, range of realisms, decent number of scenarios
The Not So Good: Strictly linear campaign, “only” 44 planes, lacks editing software, déjà vu all over again
What say you? It's good, but no better than IL-2: 5/8

For my money, the best combat flight simulator of all time is IL-2 Sturmovik. It successfully combined authentic flight modeling, outstanding graphics, and large dynamically- generated scenarios to deliver a very enjoyable experience. For a while, we PC gamers had this gem all to ourselves, but then our greedy console brethren got an adaptation in the form of IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey. Now, the port has been ported back to the PC in the form of Wings of Prey. Got all that? The main crux of this review will focus on the following: Wings of Prey is $50, while IL-2 is $10. $40 better? Let’s find out together!

One of the two things that set Wings of Prey apart from IL-2 Sturmovik is the graphics: they are quite outstanding here. I don’t think it would be a dramatic exaggeration to say that Wings of Prey is the best-looking flight simulation on the market, thanks to impressively detailed terrain. The places you fly over look fantastic, dotted with hills, trees, buildings, and other structures that make for an almost photo-realistic setting. It’s impressive. The plane models remain very detailed and the damage effects are nice, especially fire and tracer rounds that dot the sky with glowing death. Surprisingly, Wings of Prey runs quite smoothly despite the nice graphics, a testament to a good engine. The sound design isn’t quite as impressive, though it is successful: engine sounds, guns, and damage all seem accurate enough. The advantage that linear campaign missions have is more location-specific dialogue, which helps to effectively immerse you in the battles. Overall, Wings of Prey offers up an impressive presentation highlighted by high-quality visuals.

The features of Wings of Prey are comparable with the first release of IL-2 way back in 2001, which is disappointing considering this game is nine years older. A tutorial is included to teach you the controls and flight mechanics, and it does a fine job. The campaign is very limited: twenty scripted missions unlocked in progression. You will fight in the skies above Britain, Stalingrad, Sicily, the Korsun Pocket, the Bulge, and Berlin (no Pacific stuff). The missions are predictable (at least in terms of objectives and enemy forces) after the first play, and there is no semblance of the two hundred dynamically generated missions that IL-2 featured. You are also given six single missions per campaign, and a training skirmish mode where you can customize the setting, difficulty, weather, time of day, and other options. Wings of Prey does not appear to be as friendly towards user modifications, as I could not find any editing software included with the game. The other key feature of Wings of Prey (in addition to the graphics) is multiplayer. There are four game modes to choose from: the usual dogfight (deathmatch) and team battle (team deathmatch), but two that are unique. Capture the airfield has two teams attempting to land a plane on a runway, and strike has a number of ground targets that must be destroyed. Both of these are pretty cool, and Wings of Prey also features in-game matchmaking with a server browser instead of relying on third-party applications. Nice, but not $50 nice.

Wings of Prey features 44 planes, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Yak-1, Hurricane Mk IIb, and P51-D Mustang. This is a good number to keep you busy, but it’s no match for the 229 flyable aircraft in IL-2. They are modeled well and do provide some different experiences, from varied roles to diverse cockpits. The physics remain of the highest quality, providing a convincing experience of piloting a rickety plane that’s going way too fast for its own good. Flying these planes is a conventional affair for flight sim enthusiasts, though Wings of Prey did a terrible job setting up my modest joystick: it did not detect it automatically, so I had to set everything up myself. Wings of Prey features three difficulty/realism settings: arcade, realistic, and simulator. Essentially, the user interface becomes less informative and blackouts and stalls become more common as you stop being polite and start getting real. When the game starts out in third-person by default, though, you know the target audience. The AI pilots provide some good competition, using appropriate tactics and requiring skill to shoot down. Still, Wings of Prey is not a terribly difficult game, as the scenarios are usually balanced so that you fight fair. You can tell that this game was made with consoles in mind, as it provides a good but scripted and linear experience that doesn’t measure up to its predecessor.

Wings of Prey has better graphics and built-in multiplayer support, but is that worth an extra $40? The easy answer is: no. All of the good features this game has were included before, except for the more robust online options. The game does look darn good, but I doubt many people who frequent flight simulations will be distracted by shiny things, at least not to the tune of $50. Wings of Prey features a fine selection of over forty aircraft, but it obviously pales in comparison to 229 flyable aircraft. The campaigns are too linear, both individual missions and the unlocking order of said missions, to be enjoyed multiple times. The lack of dynamic campaigns and pilot careers really hurts Wings of Prey in terms of replay value. That said, you do get twenty-six action-packed missions and skirmish battles, so there is some value here. Multiplayer options are nice: four game modes including capture the airfield and bombing strikes deliver some distinctive features. Wings of Prey offers a range of difficulty and realism options, but so did IL-2. The quality AI and exceptional flight physics are quality and exceptional, but so were they in IL-2. You can probably see where I am going with this. Wings of Prey would have been more appropriate as a $20 (or maybe $30) game considering the competition, but alas it is fully priced. Luckily, we have choices on the PC, and my choice is to save $40.