"Wings of Prey" is lovely to look at and sounds great, so why is it that whenever I have some free time to play a combat flight sim I find myself booting up my old favourite "IL2 1946"?
If you've ever flown into Heathrow on a clear day you know the patchwork quilt of odd-shaped little fields that is Southern England, and this is faithfully rendered in "Wings of Prey", complete with little copses of trees, rolls of hay in the fields, scattered hamlets and villages, towns and ports, superb water effects and, of course, the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. England would not be complete without rain, and the sky and clouds are Constablian in their gorgeousness. Intermittently, the cockpit canopy is beaded with raindrops as you fly through showers. The ambiance is truly immersive, the planes and cockpits are works of art, the sounds sparkle, Merlins growl throatily as your Spitfire takes off, the plummy grammar school tones of Squadron Leader Biggles crackle over the radio, and guns hammer ominously as bullets spatter your kite, smoke trails and explosions are sweet eye candy. The soundtack is beautifully done with heroic, orchestral period-sounding music underlying your life and death struggle. In short this game looks and sounds the part, making you feel just like Pilot Officer Reggie Pigsfoot in the summer of 1940.
And that is just chapter one! Following an immersive tutorial in which a team of well-played instructors teach you your trade as a fledgling pilot, the single player game unfolds through The Battle of Britain, The Battle of Stalingrad, The Invasion of Sicily, The Korsun Pocket, The Battle of The Bulge, and Finally The Battle of Berlin. The English, Belgian, German and Italian theatres feel atmospherically right to me, I have never been to Russia but I bet that this Moscow-based team have worked similar magic on their Motherland, it certainly feels like every preconception I have ever had concerning wartime Russia. The single player campaign contains about 20hrs of gameplay in a linear progression, of course, once you have completed a mission you can always return and fly it again, but there is no skipping ahead!
But any combat simulation, flight or otherwise, meets it's true acid-test during online play where real people, with skill-levels varying from noob cannon-fodder to accomplished aces pull stunts that no AI, however well-programmed can ever hope to match. And this is where "Wings of Prey" shows it's newness. I compared it earlier to the Venerable Bede of Combat flight sims "IL2 1946" of which I am a self-confessed fanboi. "Wings of Prey" has it all over "IL2" in modern state-of-the-art graphics and sounds, as it should in view of the eight year difference between them. And I'm not just talking about the original "IL2 1946", but even the vastly improved current mods such as HSFX and Ultrapack 2.0 which have transformed my old warhorse into a spirited charger. But, almost 10 years of Herculian labour by the talented community of modders has graced "IL2" with dozens of planes, maps and scenarios that "Wings of Prey" cannot match, an online game portal in Hyperlobby that regularly hosts hundreds of players and dozens of game servers, often matching up to 50 human pilots at a time in titanic struggles, and online squadrons flying and fighting together with the synergies of team tactics that coax the best from their various planes' faithfully-reproduced characteristics. Compared to this "Wings of Prey" relies on peer-to-peer online connections made via the Yuplay server. The most I've found in any game are 12. The gameplay is at best a frantic low-level furball, albeit with outstanding "Boomski" explosions and pillars of billowing smoke. Atmospheric and exciting for a while, an Nvidia-fueled adrenaline rush, but lacking the satisfaction of the more extensive gameplay of it's older parent. "Wings of Prey" online battles were, for me, plagued by frequent stutters, lag and delays as hosts left and the game "migrated" onto the next poor bugger's overtaxed rig. The word in the forums is that dedicated online servers are coming and Gaijin the publisher have been immensely supportive in generating patches and responding to players' comments. "Wings of Prey" is only 1 month old.....it's future potential is enormous!
All this Gee-Whiz eye and ear candy comes with a price of course. The SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS of "Wings of Prey" are pretty steep, still, my mid-range GAMING RIG handled it very well. But do check your specs here in GAMEDEBATE. Gaijin too has adopted the "business practice that we saw in "Rise of Flight" of selling new aeroplane models as they are completed. For $3, less than the price of a cuppa Starbucks, you can now buy a Curtis P40 kittihawk to add to your collection. And more will follow!
Buy it? If you have any interests in the WWII European airwar (To the chagrin of many there is, as yet, no Pacific Theatre), or enjoy combat flight sims then this is for you. There are 3 difficulty settings, Arcade, Realistic and Simulation. The first is pretty basic and great to fuel your adrenaline craving or break in a newcomer to the genre with lots of automatic flying and firing assistance, the second turns up the heat a little with increasing hazards such as tougher flight and damage models, and the final level is suitable for in-cockpit or "Full switch" (just like the real thing) flying for the hard-core. For the last TRACK IR would be a major boon but a reasonable JOYSTICK with hat-switch for all around viewing is pretty much a neccessity to play this game....flying via keyboard, while possible, is pretty much a one-way path to frustration in my humble opinion. This is no "IL2", although I was very impressed with the way it handled WEP (Wartime Emergency Power) which comes in like a shot of nitrous oxide, but quickly overheats you engine. Perhaps this is "IL2's" beautiful daughter out of the console game "Birds of Prey". Whether she or the much anticipated son "Storm of War: Battle of Britain" will inherit "IL2's" crown only time will tell.......and, perhaps, primogeniture.