TA Review: Birds of Steel

TA Review: Birds of Steel

An epic WWII aviator takes to the skies

Written by DavieMarshall on 16 March 12 at 13:45

Another day and another review. Today we bring you the lowdown on Gaijin Entertainment developed Birds of Steel which is published by Konami. The title centers around World War II and stars a mind boggling number of faithfully reproduced aircraft, some of the most intense missions of the conflict and a control system to please amateurs and hardened aviators alike. Have Gaijin Entertainment got victory firmly in their cross-hairs, or will it find itself dead in the water?

Box art




Upon installing Birds of Steel to my HDD, I loaded into the Main Menu and moved straight to the Pre-War Campaign. This acts as a tutorial as you are taken through the key points and finer details of piloting your aircraft. My initial impression after half an hour or so with the instructor was; ‘this is a bit dry’. Apprehensively I completed the tutorial and approached the American Historical Campaign. The focal point here is the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Taking to the skies

I am happy to say the game explodes into life at this point. The movement and control of your aircraft which feels slow and technical in training becomes responsive and fluid in combat. Setting your throttle power with the right analogue stick frees your mind and fingers to dedicate full concentration to the dogfight at hand as you attack, evade and counter with ease no matter what your chosen control method is. Your available options are Simplified, Realistic and Simulator. As the names suggest each tier gives you more and more control over your fighter and increases the difficulty and level of punishment for mistakes.

Simplified for example, strips controls right back and any gamer will be able to jump in the cockpit and fly with the best of them. Realistic introduces g-force (including blackouts and tunnel vision), engine stalls, tailspins and afterburner damage, not to mention the buffeting winds and currents as you battle to bring your craft into position. Simulator removes HUD prompts, and ramps up the responsiveness of the aircraft which makes it a difficult yet hugely rewarding beast to fly. You genuinely feel on the higher difficulties that this visually glorious bird you’re flying is in truth a mechanical beast to be wrestled with and coaxed constantly against the elements if you’re to outsmart the enemy and remain alive for any length of time.

Whilst I enjoyed the pick up and play of the Simplified control scheme, the additional options offered through Realistic and being able to throw yourself into a deliberate tailspin to lose a pursuer or kill the engine and force it to stall and cause rapid descent is a lot of fun if you can ride out the demanding g-force.

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Atmospherically impressive and faithful

Graphically Birds of Steel manages very well. The difficulty in games such as this is that the majority of conflict takes place in open sea, with a few ventures inland or along estuaries. The tedium is lifted here though by packing the conflict zone with more aircraft than you could comfortably count and paying a lot of attention to the decals, details and representation of each model you’ll come across. You should check out the first person pilot camera too. Each plane has an exceptionally well crafted interior with the correct instrumentation layout and visibility. It brings a whole new level of authenticity and challenge to the fight. There is no stuttering or drop in frame rate; even as Pearl Harbor is razed to the ground before your eyes, and the intensity of the dogfights above descends into total chaos and tracer fire dashes the sky the game runs like silk. For the ultimate graphical delight this game has to offer, fire up a mission and set the weather to storm and hit the cockpit view. It’s terrifying yet beautiful.

Audio is also very well done with the engine drone varying appropriately across the many different. The ambience of a dog fight as machine guns whir, bombs whistle and stricken craft whine combine for the perfect setting. I did notice however a few discrepancies in sound as I cycled through the different viewpoints. Sometimes the engine volume wouldn’t increase/decrease as expected until I adjusted the throttle or hit the afterburner.

Content is king

Content was a big factor for Gaijin Entertainment as there are over a hundred planes to unlock and fly in game, plus new skins and decals. There are new weapon load outs to experiment with, two full Historic Campaigns (American and Japanese), online multiplayer plus something called Dynamic Missions. These Dynamic Missions allow you to jump in and rewrite certain aspects of historical conflict from a variety of periods with a lot of customisation as to the factions involved, and the missions you’ll want to take part in. This stops the game from becoming stale after two relatively short Historical Campaigns (a negative worth nothing here, I completed both of these on the lower difficult settings in two days) and offers a break from the open sea combat. One example drops you into the cockpit of a stricken aircraft pursued by the enemy, eager of a confirmed kill. Your only way of salvaging the valuable aircraft and your own life is to dump it on a very short road running through a town a few miles away.

In this mission being shot down, or suffering a crash landing is a mission failure. However, in most other missions you’re allowed to hot swap into the cockpit of another of the three aircraft in your fleet. It’s like having three retries on a mission and it’s very welcome for those gung-ho attacks I liked to attempt which usually ended up with my plane leaving a black burn mark on the ground. Being shot isn’t always fatal however, you can bleed fuel, suffer a damaged rudder, aeleron or sustain propellor damage (sometimes inducing a total failure and an emergency landing or bailout). The enemy can suffer the same fate which can sometimes come to their aid. I blew out the fuel tank on one Japanese bomber only for the fuel to paint my cockpit window black - totally unexpected and very cool I pulled off the only retort I thought appropriate as I caught a fleeting glimpse of the target dropping into a dive attack of an American warship. Slam the plane downwards, max the throttle and fire wildly; I got him too.

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It begs the question then, why with this level of excitement and customisation, some of the Historical Campaign missions are perfectly constructed with plenty of action throughout, and why some are oddly short. There could have been better pacing and distribution of objectives. I know the missions are required to tell aspects of the story, but as the story is portrayed by way of the key milestones and conflicts of the time, we could have stood to lose one or two of these in favour or something more substantial perhaps. Similarly is the fact that across the half dozen or so Dynamic Campaigns you have the exact same mission layout in each, though you need not do them all. If you do however, it's a touch rinse and repeat.

Joining the skies of Xbox LIVE

Away from the Historical Campaign in these kinds of missions, the title deploys an ‘always on’ multiplayer mode if you’re connected to Xbox LIVE. This is supplemented by an XP and ranking system which transfers seamlessly across modes. As you’re playing single player offline you will still earn XP for certain events; takeoff, landing, landing on an aircraft carrier (tough!), confirmed kills etc. You can earn a ton of XP online for successful missions and versus victories which bodes well, as those hundreds of planes and decals are locked. You must purchase them with your banked XP before you can use them online or in Dynamic Missions. This adds a nice sense of longevity and reward to the title.

Speaking more about the multiplayer element of the title, the versus modes revolve around battling for supremacy of the sky in various ways. The favourite mode online as I played dropped you into an airborne plane hurtling towards a zone. The opposing fleets must both try to capture to the zone by being within a small radius of the airborne marker with typical ‘capture the flag’ type rules. With up to eight players allowed on each team, the battles are often furious and very hands on. No missile lock, fire and break here. You get to know your enemy and their fighting style as the machine gun works best at a range of 500m or less. Watching them jink and attempt to pull themselves out of trouble is really exciting to be a part of. Picture the scene, you chase down your target, he’s square in your sights. He has no early warning system and until you squeeze the trigger he’s oblivious to the impending danger. You close the gap further still and unleash hell from the machine gun - instantly the target wrestles the plane into a nosedive racing for the relative safety of the tree line. The host has specified no respawns in a battle that could last twenty minutes, and we’re only five in. Do we give chase for the kill as we scud along the dangerous terrain, or is it wiser to break away and find another to prey upon?

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The bottom line? It’s a great multiplayer experience if you have the right settings on your lobby. It can come down to the true grit and skill of each pilot with some high stake gambles. There are a couple of other modes featuring ground domination, and straight up dog fights. There’s not too much you can vary up in this kind of game. A negative I experienced a few times on multiplayer was the imperfections in host migration. Perhaps it’s because the community/servers isn’t public yet, but when you’re twelve minutes into the conflict and the host migration fails, it’s pretty depressing.

The final word and those all important achievements

As we start to round off the review, let’s talk about the achievements. 95% of them are relatively easy. You typically earn an achievement for each ‘round of conflict’, (i.e.: All Pearl Harbor missions, all The Battle of Midway missions) with an additional achievement available per mission for passing certain criteria, or amassing a certain number of kills. There are a couple which require play on the higher difficulty levels, and some which require a big time investment to unlock all planes from a certain country, and fly them all. The balance is great though, and you could bag around 800+ Gamerscore before hitting the final half dozen or so higher difficulty achievements. The balance is almost perfect.

In summary, it’s great value for the money, and with the varying difficulty levels gamers of all ability levels will be able to jump in and enjoy the title. Aside from some Historical Campaign pacing discrepancies, this is incredible value for money and I have no difficulty in saying ‘if you buy this, you won’t regret putting down your money’.

The reviewer has played around 12 hours of the single-player campaign, switching between all difficulty settings for comparison. The reviewer spent around two to three hours in the multiplayer game modes.

Review score: Given 4 stars by DavieMarshall
AuthorMessage
Zacry072
489,100
Zacry072 - Well TA, it's been an excellent 3 years. Time to remove myself from here though. I hope everyone understands.--Zac
Site Helper360 completed games(Includes owned DLC)2,466 posts
Last post: 02 Jul at 10:26
Posted on 16 March 12 at 13:54
I've been waiting to play a good aviation game that didn't have a ton of online achievements or was too simulator based. I may play this sometime then. Good review :).
ADaughen
249,527
ADaughen - Broke my WP8 yesterday... ARGH!  Risk cutting fingers or re-grind all those games?!?
249,527 TrueAchievement PointsAchievement Completion Percentage: 65.72% (Includes owned DLC) - 35 more achievements required to reach 66%509 posts
Last post: 15 Oct at 18:56
Posted on 16 March 12 at 14:01
Thanks for the review. I need to put this on my list...
TAI JASON
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TAI JASON - ALIEN ISOLATION: One of the best horror games ever! Don't trust the bad reviews, it's awesome!
497,743 TrueAchievement Points321 posts
Last post: 20 Apr at 17:38
Posted on 16 March 12 at 14:04
I must say, IL2 Stormovik is a better game. You fly all the time over water or little islands. Ok, ok it´s this part of the war, but after the a lot of starts from a carrier...a little bit boring. Some missions only a few minutes long. The plane buying system is strange. I don´t get behind these "heroic points", sometimes you have to pay them for a respawn in MP matches...strange...
Member of the Neurodyne Syndicate. No. 1 of the World Leaderboard since day 1.
Barad XBA
398,469
Barad XBA - San Andreas coming out again on 360 with achievements!
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Last post: 09 Oct at 18:00
Posted on 16 March 12 at 14:05
Looks good, may get this soon enough.
Battlefield 3 Gamer!
Blackbelt29
107,607
Blackbelt29 - Every single achievement in Virtua Tennis 4 is bugged. They keep poping & unpoping. It's beyond annoying...
107,607 TrueAchievement PointsAchievement Completion Percentage: 61.25% (Includes owned DLC) - 46 more achievements required to reach 62%185 posts
Last post: 20 May at 22:06
Posted on 16 March 12 at 14:20
I SO want this game !
II Fraxx II7
78 posts
Last post: 29 Sep at 14:23
Posted on 16 March 12 at 14:20
Baaaalls of Ste... wait a sec...
matdan12
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matdan12 - Far Cry 4 set to join a long line of Ubisoft dissapointments.
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Last post: Today at 04:12
Posted on 16 March 12 at 15:14
Was wondering if this was any good so many budget WWII aviator games.
Baron164
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Baron164 - Help! I've plummeted to my death and I can't get up!
182,060 TrueAchievement Points47 posts
Last post: 31 Mar at 22:02
Posted on 16 March 12 at 16:03
I picked this up this week and I've been having a blast with it. The online dynamic campaigns are my favorite part so far. I do wish some design elements were changed. You have to earn money through versus or dynamic campaigns to buy planes after you've earned the rank to unlock them. But when you die in dynamic campaigns it makes to you pay to get back into the game. It's a minor annoyance I have just because the frequency of mid-air collisions from having so many aircraft on screen and the cost of buying back in. I also wish the mission editor had more options. It's fairly basic and I'd like the ability to place enemy ships and really set the stage for missions instead of picking from a preset list of tasks. All in all a very fun game and definately worth the $40 I paid for it.
MH The Rockstar - Really enjoying GRID Autosport so far. The AI is challenging but fair.
TrueAchievements Pro user2,781 posts
Last post: Today at 02:37
Posted on 16 March 12 at 16:52
Thanks for the review! I have been waiting for this game and definitely want to give it a go.
Timutimu
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Timutimu - Snow in San Andreas? Oh rockstar, you know how to reel me in!
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Last post: 06 Jan at 20:07
Posted on 16 March 12 at 17:15
Wow, there have been a lot of flight games out lately
Chur cuzzy ao baye!!!
Tardii
205,386
Tardii - I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle.
219 completed games(Includes owned DLC)Achievement Completion Percentage: 94.65% (Includes owned DLC) - 23 more achievements required to reach 95%161 posts
Last post: 16 Oct at 16:41
Posted on 16 March 12 at 18:43
Why are the articles with TA in the title staying on the top of the news feed? I keep seeing them and I think there is nothing new because I've already seen it.

Stop polluting the news feed with stale news...
http://xbldb.com
CounterInsurgnt - Just watched RUSH.....what a freaking amazing movie!!!! 5/5 for me!  watch this epic film!
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Last post: Today at 02:52
Posted on 16 March 12 at 19:14
Tardii said:Why are the articles with TA in the title staying on the top of the news feed? I keep seeing them and I think there is nothing new because I've already seen it.

Stop polluting the news feed with stale news...
I had the same issue, until i got used to it the next time I checked the news feed.
2 jobs, 10 hour days, 6 days a week and I still destroy games.
FailedSeppuku
529,143
FailedSeppuku - Magic 2015 to be xbox exclusive! xbox gamers, what a bunch of nerds #TN4L
Achievement Completion Percentage: 65.45% (Includes owned DLC) - 149 more achievements required to reach 66%273 completed games(Includes owned DLC)585 posts
Last post: 17 Oct at 09:42
Posted on 16 March 12 at 19:50
i almost picked this up today, but grabbed Binary Domain instead which comes highly recommended by everyone on my friends list who's played it. Maybe get this next week.
100 achievements on old games for 1% increase.... soon be 90% >_<
tylcr2pt0
140,873
tylcr2pt0 - Going for GS has been difficult lately... as most of you know work is always a factor, but throw in the MUT card shit
140,873 TrueAchievement Points104 completed games(Includes owned DLC)195 posts
Last post: 03 Sep at 18:19
Posted on 16 March 12 at 20:36
Looks and sounds great but ANOTHER WWII flight game... I really wish they would do a remake of Red Baron for the PC or something and make anther WWI flight sim...
Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops boy!!
JamP0und
131,054 131,054 GamerScore
JamP0und
127 completed games(Includes owned DLC)Achievement Completion Percentage: 88.12% (Includes owned DLC) - 59 more achievements required to reach 89%893 posts
Last post: 17 Jan 13 at 19:42
Posted on 16 March 12 at 22:23
Looks interesting
Rockanoid
180,733
Rockanoid
180,733 TrueAchievement PointsTrueAchievement Ratio: 1.597097 posts
Last post: 20 Jul 13 at 18:33
Posted on 16 March 12 at 23:06
This review makes me want to buy the game. Good work! :)
I lost the game!
Posted on 17 March 12 at 00:27
Excellent review, my favourite so far. Game definitely sounds interesting.
zoidberg1339
131,114
zoidberg1339
TrueAchievement Site Rank: 27,828 out of 255,50638 completed games(Includes owned DLC)877 posts
Last post: 15 Oct at 00:30
Posted on 17 March 12 at 08:18
I'm really happy this turned out nice, I only wish I could buy more than Tiger 13 this month.
HERKONE29
81,467
HERKONE29
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Last post: 10 Jun 12 at 11:08
Posted on 17 March 12 at 08:33
After reading this review,which was great by the way,i'm definitely gonna check this out.

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