FOREWORD: Beyond The Legend
Now that Microsoft's Flight Simulator projects have been shuttered, the window of opportunity has opened for other developers to come forward with products for those of us who need our fix of virtual flight. Some of the world's leading flight sim programmers are now working out of Russia. Gaijin Entertainment is a new developer, and they have produced Wings Of Prey, a World War II flying combat sim inspired by the phenomenal IL-2 Sturmovik line of products.
The videogaming world at large has a lot of WWII material to choose from. You can take up a carbine or a Luger and take to the virtual battlefield as a soldier. You can drive tanks, ships, and submarines of the era. You can be a five-star general and control the entire theatre of war. There are even several flight sims to choose from, with Oleg Maddox's IL-2 Sturmovik as perhaps the most legendary combat flight sim ever.
Updating a legend. If IL-2 can be criticized from a general perspective (as opposed to arguing the relative merits of engine power curves published by Russian engineers over 70 years ago), it's that the sim is showing signs of aging. IL-2 received a spiritual upgrade in the form of a dazzling new flight sim called "Birds Of Prey". This proved to be a disappointment for sim pilots like me who don't play on PS2 or X-BOX, as "Birds Of Prey" was exclusively a console videogame.
" Wings Of Prey" is the conversion of "Birds Of Prey" to PC, and it features many new improvements over the console version, including improved multiplayer support, multi-core enhanced graphics, and the ability to use a TrackIR for viewpoint.
I will give you my look at this sim with all guns blazing. Gaijin wanted to set a new standard for stunning visuals and realistic action. Let's see how they do!
INTRODUCTION: From Console To Computer
" Gaijin" is the Japanese word for "outside person", possibly meaning "barbarian" or "foreigner". Unfortunately, the word has become politically incorrect in some cultures. It is not my intent to use "gaijin" in any derogatory sense. Gaijin Entertainment is a new Russian videogame developer, and they have just released their new World War II flight sim Wings Of Prey.
If you've seen the console game "IL-2: Birds Of Prey", this is the same thing, although it has been optimised to run on home computers. It should run well on any suitable PC with Windows XP, Vista, or 7. My test machine is Windows 7 64 bit. My thinking is that if FSX runs well for you, then you should be good to go with Wings Of Prey.
Wings Of Prey versus Birds Of Prey.
As this is a port of a console game, you can expect arcade-style videogame action. The original "Birds Of Prey" was noted for having a robust flight engine, including realistic flight envelopes. My experience of console-based flight sims is that of simple turn-and-burn dogfights, so Birds Of Prey seems to be different from that. Wings Of Prey takes combat gaming a step farther into the realm of simulation.
Most of the game is geared towards arcade-style flight, although it's easy to switch to a difficulty level that comes closer to simulating real warfare. Throughout Wings Of Prey, though, I never quite lost the sense that I was playing a game. Although there are some tense moments, it's not as serious or as rigorous as IL-2 Sturmovik.
Wings Of Prey has two parts: a single player mission-based game with a tutorial and a trainer mode, and an on-line multiplayer game where you can face off against other human pilots. There is something in Wings Of Prey for sim pilots of any experience or commitment level.
INSTALLATION & DOCUMENTATION: I Play On yuPlay
I recieved a "press copy" of Wings Of Prey, so my version may be different from the commercial version. I ended up downloading 6.18 GB of data, which took me roughly an hour per GB to accomplish. The final file is an executable setup program. Clicking on this installs the game. Installation was fast, taking just a few minutes.
Alternatively, you can purchase and download Wings Of Prey on Valve's STEAM service, which should be familiar to many who play videogames. Presumably, there is also a disc version of the game, but I haven't seen one yet.
Whether or not you use STEAM to purchase Wings Of Prey, you will be required to register your copy through Gaijin's proprietary game service, called "yuPlay". It's similar to STEAM, Windows Live, Rockstar Social Club, and so on. yuPlay is a free service for Wings Of Prey pilots. With yuPlay, Gaijin can make sure that your game license is authentic. As well, they use the service to distribute patches and to set up multiplayer game matchmaking and leaderboards.
Yes, it's another game service to clog up your bandwidth, and the front page is filled with banner ads. However, yuPlay works decently and is almost invisible within Wings Of Prey.
DRM is short for "Digital Rights Management". It's the copy protection for the game. In the case of Wings Of Prey it's strict. If DRM is an issue for you (beyond STEAM, which has its own DRM), perhaps you should think hard about installing this product. I've seen a lot of forum talk about the DRM, and it's hard to sort the truth from the trash talk.
The biggest news item is that Wings Of Prey is rumoured to be protected by StarForce. If you're not familiar with StarForce, well, let's just say that this DRM system has seen some controversy. Gaijin says that their DRM is FrontLine ProActive. This is a DRM made by StarForce, although it is said to be a "next generation" DRM, and it is not supposed to be using any destructive drivers, at least as far as I can tell.
Another DRM issue is a limit of three installations for the game. Again, there is a lot of rumour about this. Wings Of Prey comes with an un-install tool that is reported to re-set one installation. As long as you un-install properly, your licence should be okay. In the event that you run out of installs, you can contact Gaijin support and they will adjust your account.
My copy of the game ran quite well from the start. Even so, Gaijin has been busy making patches and adjustments to the game. You should consider patching the game for better performance, and the patches are mandatory if you expect to play multiplayer.
Whether or not you used STEAM to purchase your copy of Wings Of Prey, you will need to go through yuPlay to get your patches. This is unusual as STEAM normally automatically patches their products.
You can set Wings Of Prey to notify you when there is a new patch. If you miss the notification, you will be alerted when you attempt to play multiplayer with an out-of-date version. The patch alert will tell you what the newest version of the patch is. Each patch is incremental, which means that you have to have all of the previous patches installed. The patches are not cumulative, meaning if you miss a patch or do them out of order, you will mess up your game. Please pay attention to the patch numbers! I accidentally missed one patch in the sequence, and the result was that I made the game completely unplayable. The fix was to go back to installing the first patch and then install all of the rest in order.
Downloading the patches is something of a chore, so be prepared to spend some time doing this, especially if you have a large number of patches to conquer. First, you need to log into yuPlay, and then you have to navigate past all of the banner ads to find the patch you need. yuPlay sends you a special download client of about 2.5 MB. Once you have this client executable, you click on it and the patch will download. Some patches can be large, so the download can take some time.
At the end of the process, the patch undergoes seeding, which is very, very slow (it's a process that should increase the efficiency of the bit torrent download). After the seeding is done, the patch may or may not self-install. I had difficulties with the auto-install feature and with the manual EXECUTE button on the installer. After the patch has downloaded and seeded, the most reliable way to apply the patch is to navigate in Windows to where the patch has been downloaded and then click on its icon to execute it. The patch will then run very quickly.
Maybe my review copy was different from the commercial version, as I did not get a manual with Wings Of Prey. Most, if not all of the information you will need in the game is included within tutorials and an in-game "encyclopedia". If you have some experience with Microsoft Flight Simulator, you should be ready to climb into the cockpit of Wings Of Prey.
to STEAM, I was able to find a game manual on their website here.
It's a thin 20 page .PDF document that is mostly concerned
with how to install and uninstall the game, and how to
set up controllers.
If you are new to virtual aviation and combat, the in-game tutorial mode will get you up and flying quickly. You will learn the controls by following the instructions of your flight leader. After that, if you need to know more, you can search the encyclopedia.
SET-UP: Quality Control
Flight Simulators are notorious for how hard they can be to configure. Wings Of Prey has its own issues in this regard. However I feel that Gaijin has made some strong efforts to make set-up as streamlined as they can. Once you have yuPlay sorted out and you are patched up, the game should run smoothly.
I have said this in many of my other Reviews: the higher the quality of your flight controls, the better you will be able to control your ride in the game. Wings Of Prey is no exception. If you need to, you can fly using only the keyboard. In fact, the tutorial assumes that you will do just that.
Advanced flight sim gamers will have an array of good controllers. Wings Of Prey is good at automatically sensing which controllers you have. I recommend a joystick with a throttle axis plus rudder pedals. Inside the game, you will have to calibrate your controls. Surprisingly, it's not all that difficult. Wings Of Prey provides a simple graphical interface so that you can see exactly how your controller is behaving.
Even with that help, I found that the Y-axis on my joystick was reversed in the sim. There are good prompts in the main screen of the game for adjusting the sensitivity and direction of analogue controllers.
One big feature where Wings Of Prey dominates the console version of the game is that it supports head tracking with TrackIR. If you have a TrackIR system on your computer, Wings Of Prey will recognize it automatically. You can look around freely along X, Y, and Z axes. This can give you a tactical advantage over opponents who do not have a TrackIR. Wings Of Prey features a good "padlock" system that helps sim pilots to look around without a TrackIR.
I could not test Wings Of Prey for multi-monitor support of devices such as TripleHead. Gaijin says that Wings Of Prey should recognize multiple monitors and configure itself automatically.
INTERFACE: A Cooks Tour Of WWII
I will look at some of the features within Wings Of Prey before the flying part of the game is launched. Starting the game loads a boot-up screen that allows you to set up the graphics and audio for the sim. There are basic controls that allow you to quickly set up your game, plus advanced controls that allow you to fine-tune many graphical options. DX10 effects include spectacular self-shadowing and reflective effects that throw light and shade effects across the cockpit and the aircraft in a most realistic manner. A "vignette" mode slightly shifts the palette into a sepia brown and enhances bloom; this effect makes the sim look like a nostalgic war movie.
When you first run the game, you will have to register it with yuPlay. After that, Wings Of Prey will remember you as the pilot. Through the boot screen, yuPlay can notify you automatically if there are any new patches. Gaijin has deployed six free updates at this writing, so be prepared to spend some time patching.
An important clickspot on the boot screen is the "Check Files" button. Use this button to automatically see the checksum for your files. If there is a checksum error, you will see the problem files. A checksum error can occur when your download has been corrupted, or if you have installed the wrong patch. If that occurs, you can try re-installing your files.
Running the game sets up an in-game cinematic made up of old Russian war footage and modern rendered graphics. Following that is the front end screen, with more options:
SINGLE PLAYER - This opens up the menu available to you if you want to play on your own:
Tutorial - You can access some simple tutorial missions that will teach you much of what you need to know to play the game. A flight leader will give you detailed instructions, and large on-screen prompts will show you exactly what to do.
I found that I had to sometimes use the keyboard commands to advance the stages of the tutorial, even though I was using a stick, throttle, rudder pedals, and TrackIR. It's not a big problem, though, just a minor annoyance.
Also, the tutorial missions get a little silly. The difficulty level is set very low, while the mission objectives become grand. At one point, the flight leader orders me to attack a flight of twenty German bombers with my lone Spitfire. Like an angry and vengeful Superman, I swoop into the formation and zap every one of them with my heat ray vision, oops, I mean an unlimited supply of high explosive incendiary ammo.
The tutorial was my first look at the game, and it made me feel that Wings Of Prey was too shallow an experience for me to recommend to anybody else. Thankfully, other parts of the game have more depth than the tutorial, so let's take a look at them.
Campaign - You can play out a single-player campaign. The missions form a "taster's choice" of events as seen by the Allied side of WWII. The missions are sequential, meaning that you have to complete the first mission before you can unlock the next one. All of the missions have pre-defined waypoints and event triggers, so there's not a lot of replay value. Playing on the easiest difficulty levels will allow you to progress through the missions very quickly.
There are twenty campaign missions in all. They take place over various battles: The Battle Of Britain, The Battle Of Stalin, The Invasion Of Sicily, Korsun Pocket, The Battle Of The Bulge, and The Battle Of Berlin. Of all those theatres of war, I expected to see The Battle Of Britain, but the others seemed to me more suited to infantry action than aerial battles. I do find it interesting to see these regions from the air, so they make for good gaming variety.
The missions tend to be short and basic. You don't have any complicated pre-flight briefings, nor can you set your own flight plan. You mostly fly from objective to objective and either shoot or bomb your target, and then move on.
There are no long distance waypoints, so Wings Of Prey does not use time compression. Unless you get lost, you probably won't be flying in a straight line for more than a minute at a time. Enemies will jump you and your flight when you are near an objective. Sometimes they just spawn somewhere near you, forcing you to shift your situational awareness.
On easy and medium difficulty levels, you get a generous number of “additional attempts" if you get shot to pieces. This instantly re-sets your aircraft so that you can continue to fight. If you have a lot of additional attempts available, it's easier to bail out and get a new aircraft than it is to try to ride out the mission with a damaged fighter. Your radiator is busted? Bail out and get a new Spitfire. The tail is a bit shot up so you lose top speed? Bail out and get a new Spitfire. Run out of ammo? Bail out, and you get the idea. There is almost no reason in the game to try to land or save a damaged fighter. If you do, your additional attempt will throw you in a brand new fighter close to where you landed, which might be far from your objective.
I get the impression that Wings Of Prey wants to be an aerial shoot'em up rather than a simulation of tactical warfare. That's fun for what it is, more so when the sky fills up with zooming aircraft, but it's not all that tense or deep.
Single Missions - The single missions are similar to what you would find in the campaign. Some advanced missions remain locked until you play out the easier missions.
Training - Training mode is the closest Wings Of Prey gets to having a random mission generator. Here, you have a wide range of choices for setting up a simple dogfight. You have forty-six different aircraft to choose from for both your own ride and your opposing force. You also have a good variety of choices for time, weather conditions, and region.
Since you are the only friendly aircraft in training, you cannot setup any other Allied flights. Training ends up being good for basically one thing. If you are new to multiplayer dogfights and you are getting your six waxed on a continual basis, the best thing you can do is set up a training flight and practise, practise, practise until you get better. The Average enemy skill level will provide a decent challenge. Once you master that, you should be able to make a few kills in multiplayer.
ONLINE - This is the portal to play in multiplayer. You will need a good Internet connection to use yuPlay, which is the matchmaking client. If your version of Wings Of Prey is out of date, you will be prompted to patch your game.
Multiplayer runs on yuPlay's dedicated servers. All you need to do is find a slot and you can play online. Either join somebody's game or make your own. You can even join in on games in progress. The games in theory can host up to 32 players at once, although most servers run games that are much smaller than that.
As long as you have a powerful Internet connection, you should find that it is very easy to set up or join an on-line game. A "ping meter" shows you the quality of the multiplayer connection. If the meter is all green, you should have a very smooth game experience with little to no lag. I was very impressed with how easy it is to make the multiplayer connection once yuPlay is working properly.
Sim pilots with microphones will find that voice communications are supported in Wings Of Prey, which is great, since texting and combat operations don't mix well.
Custom Match. Here you can go to find games that are being hosted by other players. You can easily sort them by difficulty level and game type. There are currently four game types:
DOGFIGHT (D): Choose your favourite aircraft and take to the skies. Regardless of the type of plane you choose, everybody else is your enemy. It's a free-for-all to see how many kills you can make before time runs out. Here, you will find a few sharks who have imported their skills from the previous IL-2 game. You will certainly learn a few things about online combat. Expect dogfights to evolve close to the ground, as the hunters stalk their prey around columns of smoke pouring from the burning wreckage of the unskilled and unlucky.
TEAM BATTLE (TB): Here, the players are divided into two teams: Axis and Allies. You can choose a fighter that does not belong to your side if you like, for instance you could fly a Messerschmidt for England. You get points for killing enemy planes and protecting your friends.
CAPTURE AIRFIELDS (CTA): This is a highly detailed simulation of that period in WWII when solo pilots would fly into enemy territory, land on a runway, climb out of their aircraft, brandish their sidearm, and plant their national flag, proclaiming loudly "I claim this airfield in the name of the Blue Team!" Hmm, well, I don't remember seeing this on History Channel, so maybe this never occurred. Nonetheless, you can play CTA in Wings Of Prey. It's the fighterplane version of Capture The Flag. Land on a runway to claim it for your team. The enemy team will do everything they can to stop you. In my opinion, this is a goofy game type, but it makes a change of pace from shoot this and bomb that.
STRIKE (S): Here, you form teams to mount an alpha strike to take out an enemy ground target. Naturally, the enemy team will do what they can to stop you.
Create Session. If you want to host your own game, this is where you go. The game types are the same as mentioned above. You set the number of players you want in the game (up to 32), and whether or not you will allow pilots to join the game while it is in progress. You can restrict the roster of the game to only admit people on your yuPlay "Friends" list, or you can leave it open to the public. It's easy to create a variety of new games.
Currently, you can only play on yuPlay servers. At this time Gaijin Entertainment has not provided a way to play Wings of Prey on dedicated player servers, although I hope this will be addressed in a future patch.
Leaderboard. yuPlay keeps track of on-line statistics, and will rank the top players for every game type on a dynamic leaderboard. The stats are sorted by icons, but I don't really know what they mean. Even so, I get a pretty good idea of who the top hunters are. One by one, they will surely fall to AVSIM_Jeff, if only in my own imagination.
PROFILE: Here is the section for customizing your game options as well as a learning center for Wings Of Prey. The headings are fairly basic:
Options. This covers a wide array of options that are not covered in the play menus, mostly things like setting up video, audio, and controllers. In most regions of the world, you can also find a switch to enable swastika decals on Axis aircraft (they are disabled by default).
Hangar. The hangar gives you a close-up view of any aircraft that appears in Wings Of Prey. The mouse control allows for a nice selection of viewpoints. Each aircraft has a concise encyclopedia entry, filling in facts and trivia about the fighters and bombers used over Europe in WWII.
Pilots. This little section is devoted to the fictional pilots whose lives you unlock as you progress through the campaign. Considering how little personality any of the characters have in the game, this is not a section I visit frequently.
Replays. Here is where you can view any in-game replay footage you may have stored during your combat sorties. The various patches have made this feature unpredictable as the bugs are being worked out. Replays have excellent training value as you can use them to see the things you missed in combat, like how that pesky Bf 109 managed to kill you from your blind spot.
GAME PLAY & FLIGHT DYNAMICS: Fast Times At Twelve O'Clock High
Compared to many flight sims (including IL-2: Sturmovik), the menu system for Wings Of Prey is streamlined and easy to use. The menus are not complicated, as they were originally designed for console games. Even with the fussy business of calibrating high end game controllers, it should not take most sim pilots more than a few minutes to get up and flying.
Levels of difficulty. As I mentioned before, there are three main levels of difficulty: Arcade, Realistic, and Simulation. Arcade mode turns you into a superhuman killing machine. Bullets bounce off of you as you dive into enemy formations and chew them to pieces with overpowered cannons. You cruise at 110% power all of the time and you never run out of fuel or ammunition. In short, it's a fun splash into the shallow end of the flight simulator pool.
On the other end of the scale is Simulation, which is supposed to have the most true-to-life flight dynamics in the game. You do get stalls and spins, and some realistic engine management, but I feel that the effects are generic and broadly similar from aircraft to aircraft. The basics are there: high-speed Axis aircraft are better at zoom-and-boom tactics and fare less well in a turning knife-fight. British Allied aircraft are nimble but not as fast as the German planes, and they tend to be outgunned. Wings Of Prey being a Russian flight sim, I expect to see Russian aircraft to perform superbly, and they do.
Still, Simulation mode is nowhere near as rigorous as the flight dynamics in IL-2, the spiritual parent to Wings Of Prey. Considering the shoot'em-up style of the game, Simulation mode is a waste of time for any gamer save for a group of dedicated purists playing on their own server. For instance, the missions are short. You don't spend more than a minute or two travelling from your home airbase to the battlefront. Keeping that in mind, you should not take a full tank of fuel into battle, as you will likely never use even a tenth of it. The same goes for ammunition. Finally, with the ability to re-spawn, there's usually no point in hanging on to a damaged ride, unless you are aggressively trying to avoid a crash statistic. If you're wounded, you soon will be killed anyway, so you might as well have the best fighter you can get.
Realistic mode straddles Arcade and Simulation. To my mind, it's the best fit for most of the game. Some of the trickier aspects of engine management are streamlined so you can focus on combat, but you still get to deal with spins and stalls.
Recent patches have added an array of Custom options, so you can choose for yourself exactly which options you would like to see in your game. Custom options are uncommon in public multiplayer games, I imagine because they take a while to set up. Most multiplayer games I've been in use the three pre-set difficulty levels.
Keeping in mind that there are forty-six different aircraft (including an awesome German jetfighter in the Me 262 A 1a as a flyable model, and an exotic Me 163b rocket sled, debatably flyable) as well as three different difficulty levels, I feel it's best if I stick mostly to general remarks about flight dynamics.
The three difficulty levels have a great effect on the flying ability of all the aircraft. On Arcade difficulty, you won't see any tendency to spin or stall. As well, you can run the engines on WEP or War Emergency Power indefinitely. WEP is an American term, although the use of engine boosters was fairly common for WWII fightercraft. The mechanism of engine boost is abstract in Wings Of Prey, so you don't have to worry about how you get the extra horsepower, you just use them up as you see fit.
On Realistic mode, you can spin and stall. You can activate a "flutter" effect that is supposed to predict when you depart from the flight envelope. My experience was that the flutter, if any, seemed to be too subtle for prop-driven aircraft, and heavy for overspeed in jets. To recover from a stall, just nose down and gain airspeed. To recover from a spin, all you have to do is kick the opposite rudder. WEP is still overpowered, but it has a strange little "cool down" cycle if you abuse maximum throttle. You can't wreck your engine on WEP, but you can't use it continuously. In some of the multiplayer dogfights, the engagements can be very quick, so you may not even get to the cool-down before you have to bail out.
On Simulation mode, you see the most fidelity to realistic flight models, if that means anything. The fighters all tend to be universally nimble, armoured bombers are slow but absorb a lot of damage, and the jets are wicked fast. Horsepower rather than agility seems to set the fighters apart. When they stall, they all stall basically the same, and when they spin, you see the same spin more or less every time. Just mash on the opposite rudder and you should be okay. Crossing the controls (opposite stick and rudder) has no real effect which says to me that the flight models have been simplified at all levels.
At least using WEP has consequences in Simulation mode. You only get so much WEP per aircraft, after which point you get an overheated engine. Use WEP after that, and your engine will die and you will be piloting a glider.
As I mentioned before, you can play multiplayer or single player games. Multiplayer seems like a shoot'em up frenzy to me, as the missions emphasize quick combat and brutal, decisive engagements. If you like that in IL-2, you might like multiplayer in Wings Of Prey, although the difficulty level may be easier than you would prefer.
core single player experience in Wings Of Prey is the Campaign.
I've talked about it before, in that you get a wide variety
of missions that sample some interesting scenes from WWII. The
is on entertainment rather than education, so I never really
felt any horror over the battles, nor any solid connection
to any of
the game's characters. I realize this sounds strange, but I
felt that the tone of Wings Of Prey was a little on the goofy
like Gaijin is giving me a little nudge, nudge, wink, wink
when a serious point could be made. It's not that Wings Of Prey
fun, because sometimes it's a real blast. It's just not deeply
fun, at least for me.
The movies are a little problematic for me. The production values are decent, but they are voiced over by an American-sounding voice actor who did not seem to believe in practicing his lines before stepping up to the microphone. Frequently, this poor fellow stumbles over his lines and mispronounces words. Worse still, he provides the voice for all of the cinematic pilot characters, American, European, and Russian included, without any regard to regional accent at all. Fortunately, the quality of the in-game voices is higher than those found in the cinematics.
The movies are all from the point of view of the Allies, which makes sense, given the focus of the Campaign. Even so, they come across as being over-patriotic and kind of silly. For example, early in the Battle Of Britain, our pilot tells us in his deadpan voice how angry he is that the Germans were sinking ships in the English Channel, and how horrified he was at all of the people who must have drowned in the bombing attack. Okay, we learn that it is really an awful thing to attack ships with bombers. In the very next mission, our hero pilot then straps into a bomber and singlehandedly sinks a German task force in revenge. I imagine he uses irony bombs.
Beyond the shortcomings of the narrative, there are some very compelling set pieces in the missions. You could be sweeping flights of bombers from the skies over Great Britain or dodging flak and searchlights in a harrowing night raid. A memorable sequence has the hero pilot supporting ground forces in the massive assault on Leningrad, although I doubt I could complete that mission without resorting to unlimited ammo. Whatever I can say about the storyline behind the campaign, everything that happens looks spectacular.
GRAPHICS: DX10 Heaven
If you've seen anything of Wings Of Prey, its got more shine than a silver samovar and it runs smooth as a shot of premium vodka. The graphics aren't quite cutting edge, but they are darned good in almost all respects.
The highest detail level seems roughly comparable to the highest detail in FSX, at least in terms of objects drawn on the screen. There can be a lot of objects rendered at any one time. Where Wings Of Prey shines is in the very intelligent use of shaders to create awe-inspiring visual effects. Light, shade, shine, and highlight all dance a complex ballet across fully self-shadowing aircraft models. Glass in the cockpit has refractive properties, so that the sun and sky all show subtle interactions with the windscreen depending on from which angle you are looking. This is the best depiction of cockpit glass I have ever seen.
Outside of the aircraft, the environment is realistically illuminated by the virtual sun. The angle of the sun and atmospheric perspective (haze) look realistic. Texture detail looks similar to FSX, but shaders are used brilliantly to invent real-time highlights, mid-tones, and shadows that are dynamic in ways that can never be possible for IL-2 or FSX. The overall palette seems to be lacking in pure blue, and this makes the world seem a little unreal (think of the "Matrix" movies, which also tend to lack blue), but it's still a gorgeous feast for the eyes.
Clouds and Smoke.
Atmospheric effects like smoke and clouds are far ahead of FSX and IL-2, and are the best I have seen in a flight sim. The clouds are especially interesting. In Wings Of Prey, there are few if any of what I call "cloudlets", where a programmer creates a large cloud out of hundreds of tiny cloud pieces. Instead, clouds are rendered as large, three-dimensional masses. The clouds are quite big compared to an aircraft, but unless the overcast is solid, they are not truly massive like thunderheads or advanced cumulonimbus.
Clouds do block your line of sight, and every cloud is filled with millions of water droplets that stream all over your aircraft and cockpit whenever you choose to fly into one. The rain effect is perfectly stunning, but beware as it will blind your view momentarily. Although you can lose an enemy fighter that's on your tail by diving into a cloud, rain will prevent you from seeing anything for a while. You can call for some really nasty weather: thick overcast, buckets of rain, and wicked winds in pea soup will challenge your combat flight skills to the maximum.
Mostly, the computer-driven AI fighters don't seem to be able to see through clouds, unlike in some other combat sims. This can make using clouds a fairly realistic combat tactic in the missions.
Human players also seem to respect and avoid clouds. Veteran pilots will make an easy kill out of a rookie that's blinded by rain. Hawk-like, these aces also like circling columns of smoke, hiding in the darkness while awaiting their chance to strike.
Where there is fire in Wings Of Prey, there is lots of persistent smoke. Aircraft wrecks and bomb craters will leave huge trails of smoke and fire that keep on burning for the duration of your mission. All of this smoke can obscure a strike mission, and it can camouflage enemy fighters.
Extra clouds and smoke did not have a noticeable effect on my frame rate, which is good news. The only thing I found strange about the atmospheric effects was that they did not seem to respond to the wind at all. In fact, wind seems very difficult to gauge in Wings Of Prey. There are no tell-tales like windsocks or fluttering tree leaves to show the intensity or direction of the wind. Clouds and smoke don't seem much affected by wind at all. Wind, of course, is important for take-offs and landings, but in Wings Of Prey those are so easy you might as well pick any runway heading you like.
Since Wings Of Prey is based on a console game, you're going to see the aircraft from a third-person chase view. All of the flyable models looks very good, with special attention paid to the visuals of the fighters. These models resemble your own personal airshow. They are covered with authentic details, including rivets, markings, paint chips and even swastikas which may be toggled on or off in most regions.
You will also see some vibrant special effects such as wing vapour trails when you pull tight turns and bursts of expended cartridges when you fire your guns. Damaged aircraft may stream smoke, fire, and oil, and in severe cases, bits and pieces might break off.
Tracer fire looks great, as colourful bullets sear the open sky with trails of smoke. The colour of the tracers is even properly matched to the nationality of the aircraft. This fact can help you sort out friendlies from enemies in the midst of a violent dogfight.
By default, the external view will also show you some Heads Up Display (HUD) icons, such as a floating gunsight, a videogame "radar" icon, and colour-coded target designators (enemies are red, friendlies are blue). You can turn these off for more realism, but be aware that the non-player aircraft in the game are rendered small. Unless you are playing on a large screen, most of the time the other planes will look like dots. There is no option to show enlarged models.
This is the least realistic view of Wings Of Prey, but also one of the most useful. The HUD resembles a military Heads-Up Display, and it's very efficient. Some of the aircraft models do not have 3D cockpit views, so you may be forced to fly in HUD view for first-person action.
Two advantages of HUD both relate to the lack of a 3D cockpit. First, there's less for the game to render, so it should run faster on older computers. Second, there's nothing to obstruct your view. Even with just the floating gunsight enabled, fledgling pilots can become killer aces simply because of the increased visibility. Using HUD mode goes a long way to cancel the advantage an opponent might have that is using a TrackIR.
HUD view also makes bombing missions a lot easier, as a real-time bomb pickle tracks your movements and predicts exactly where your bombs will strike. A B-17 can now drop ordnance with the accuracy of a laser-guided bomb, something that was never possible in WWII.
The 3D cockpit is my favourite view in Wings Of Prey. It's at its best if you have a TrackIR, as all six degrees of freedom are supported (unlike IL-2, at least the last time I looked at that game, anyway). The 3D cockpits are very realistic looking, and support wonderful self-shadowing and shader effects. The sense of actually being in the aircraft is very strong in cockpit view.
As in IL-2, the cockpit view also shows off some of the most realistic visual effects in the game. Fly through precipitation, and your view gets smeared by rain. If you make an engine hit on an opponent and you are on his or her six, oil from some ruptured part may temporarily blot out your view. (I've heard that during the war enemy blood would also get on a pilot's windscreen, which is horrifying. At this writing, Wings Of War does not depict liquid blood at all in the game.) If your own engine is hit, you might spray your own oil onto your windscreen. Your own oil does not come off, forcing you to bail out or fly blind.
G-forces are simulated by tunnel-vision black-outs or red-outs, depending on if you are attempting an inside or an outside turn.
Unless you are playing on a large screen, you may find as I did that most of the dashboard instrumentation is small. Leaning forward with the TrackIR helps, but most of the instruments still aren't all that readable. Most of the time, you will be dogfighting, so you won't be looking at the dashboard all that often. Critical instruments such as the attitude ball, the altimeter, the vertical speed indicator, the speedometer, engine temperatures and lading gear lights are all fairly easy to see, even if you cannot make out the numbers.
By default, some of the HUD overlays the cockpit view anyway. This can free the combat pilot from squinting at tiny dials. On the other hand, some large HUD text and icons can cover up the dashboard, making it hard to see the instruments. More than once, I was banking through the clouds and relying on the level ball for guidance, when a big fat HUD icon blocked my view of the dashboard and I lost my attitude.
AUDIO: Soule Man
A good sound set can add greatly to the appeal of a flight sim. The audio for Wings Of Prey is competent, with a few high notes worth mentioning and a few low patches that balance them out.
To my ears, most of the propeller-based engines in Wings Of Prey sound alike. The engines sound good, with smooth response to throttle, but they all sound rather generic. Jet engine sounds get a little more love. The Me 262 A 1a reminds me a little of the "Millennium Falcon" from "Star Wars", but maybe it's the Falcon that sounds a bit like the prototype German jet fighter.
Some of the best sound effects are given to the weapons. Machineguns and cannons sound different from each other. Guns also sound distinct depending on their region of origin: German machineguns sound different from Russian, British, or American guns.
The remainder of aviation-based effects fit Wings Of Prey, but few seem to stand out to me. In particular, wind effects could have been enhanced. I would like to hear the flow of air around the wings, especially when approaching a stall.
I forget, there are a couple of dramatic effects worth mentioning.
The first is that large sound effects
based on distance. This is due to the simple fact that
light travels faster than sound. If a flak bomb bursts
from your plane, you will see the explosion before you
hear it. In Wings Of Prey, this effect works well, and
according to distance. I had to install a patch before
this effect was
In the missions, you and the pilots around you are represented by some decent voice work. There is constant pilot chatter. Sometimes pilots from your flight make comments, sometimes you hear from other flights, and occasionally you'll tune into the enemy channel. Plot developments often come by radio as well. The voices are reasonably clear, with regional accents that sound appropriate for the game.
You can use a microphone and set up a push-to-talk button on one of your game controllers in Wings Of Prey. Then you can use your own voice communications in a multiplayer game. Gaijin's voice comms seem to work well, as far as I could tell.
Flight sim usually doesn't have much to reccommend by way of a musical score. Sim pilots tend to differ widely in their musical tastes, anyway. Wings Of Prey simply lifts the orchestral score from the Birds Of Prey console game. That's a good choice, as the music was produced by award-winning game composer Jeremy Soule.
The music is extremely well-written, sounding a lot like a patriotic Hollywood-style movie soundtrack. Mostly, it suits the speed and action of the game. Although the score will repeat after a while, I enjoy listening to all of this great, exciting music while flying in the Wings Of Prey universe.
OUTSTANDING ISSUES: The Bug List
Once properly installed, my copy of Wings Of Prey ran well without patches. The patches do add more functions and improve multicore processing in the game. There continue to be a series of tweaks, mainly on the performance of some of the aircraft as well as adjusting camera views.
Some people have reported difficulties controlling their aircraft in the game. As I have said many times before, and will continue to say it: the better the quality of your gaming controls, the better the control you will have over your aircraft. Despite the fact that Wings Of Prey is a port-over of a console game, it does an excellent job of supporting high-end flight simulation controllers. You can fly the game using a keyboard and a mouse, or an X-BOX-style controller, but it's best with a joystick and throttle, rudder pedals, and a TrackIR. If you have good controllers, you should have no problem handling the aircraft in Wings Of Prey.
My criticisms of Wings Of Prey fall into the category of things I wish the game had, rather than bugs I see that need to be fixed. Gaijin has done a good job of solving most of the game's bug issues.
At this writing, there is no way for players to create their own dedicated servers. Everybody has to play through the official yuPlay servers. So far, that's not a big problem for me, as the yuPlay connection seems to be robust.
The other thing I would like to see is a much stronger Mission Creator. Right now, you can set up some very basic operations in the Training mode, but all you get out of it is a single dogfight and you with no wingmen. I would like to be able to set up more missions along the lines of what I have seen in the Campaign. Since the current Campaign lacks dynamic missions of any kind, i.e., the missions all play out the same way every time you play them, I feel that replay value of the single player game is limited. Once you've seen all of the missions, why would you want to come back to play them again?
CONCLUSION: Executive Review
How much do you like shoot'em-up video games? How interested are you in a WWII setting for a video game? Are you bothered by DRM issues? If you like a lot of shooting action with spectacular graphics, if you wanted to see the major battlefronts of the 1940’s from the air and you don't worry about DRM, then you should find a lot to like in Wings Of Prey by Russian developer Gaijin Entertainment.
Wings Of Prey is a port-over of the console game Birds Of Prey, which has been called a "spiritual successor" to the venerable IL-2:Sturmovik series of WWII flying combat games. Whereas IL-2 was a very rigorous simulation of the air war, Wings Of Prey is a simplified and streamlined experience, more like a videogame than a simulator.
The advantage to PC-based Wings Of Prey over Birds Of Prey is that the game has been optimised for more powerful computer processors. As well, Wings Of Prey easily supports high-end controllers, such as a joystick and throttle, rudder pedals, and a TrackIR. For a port-over, Wings Of Prey provides a lot of PC-friendly features.
The premise of Wings Of Prey is a lot of fast action and furious aerial dogfights. You can shoot the bad guys in a broad single-player campaign or bring your A-game online with a user-friendly multiplayer server. The missions tend to be short and focus on getting you into the thick of combat almost instantly. You won't get a tactical view of the war, as you run from waypoint to waypoint to blast away at whatever enemy shows up.
The in-game missions look spectacular. You will see an exciting variety of locations, weather and time of day. There are even night missions where you will dodge eerie swaying searchlights and clouds of deadly flak. Frame rates were fast and smooth on my system, even with the full amount of trees and buildings on the ground and a couple of dozen planes in the air.
There are many eye-catching special effects to behold. Light and shadow effects look true to life. Specular highlights are beautifully modelled, and shaders look absolutely striking. Wings Of Prey is one of the prettiest flight sim games on the market. It makes FSX look out of date by comparison, and IL-2 seems positively ancient.
Gameplay is geared more towards arcade play than serious simulation. You won't fly in a straight line for more than a minute before you hit a waypoint, get jumped by enemy fighters, or be called upon to bomb or shoot your foes. There is a lot of bombing and shooting to do, as you will learn from the tutorial mode. From there, you can go on to glory fighting against the Third Reich in the single player campaign, or you can try your skills in multiplayer. A lot of attention has been paid to making the multiplayer experience work smoothly, so if you want a lot of WWII action in easy-to-manage fighters, this will probably be your favourite gameplay mode.
Even if you order Wings Of Prey through STEAM, you will have to install Gaijin's free yuPlay client software. You are also restricted as to how many installs of the game you can make, but I had no problem with that. Wings Of Prey uses FrontLine ProActive for its DRM, which is managed by the StarForce company.
A registered copy of yuPlay will keep track of any upcoming patches and alert you automatically if you need to install the new content. yuPlay also connects up to 32 players at a time for the multiplayer servers. Although users cannot make their own dedicated servers, yuPlay's matchmaking service is easy to use and their server connection quality seems high. Of course, if your own connection speed is slow, or that of one of the hosted players, you will see lagged connections. A standard pingmeter will show you what you can expect in terms of lag: if the screen shows green, you're good to go.
I end this review thinking that I will probably feel differently about Wings Of Prey than a lot of people. This is a fun game, and there are a number of very interesting things to see and do. Multiplayer is easy to set up, whether you want to host your own game or join one in progress. If that's good enough, then we can leave things there.
Yet, I wish that there was more depth. I guess I miss the old classics like the MicroProse or Spectrum HoloByte games, where there were interactive maps and briefings, where your pilot persona could earn meaningful ranks, and your wingmen had names and characters of their own. In Wings Of Prey, you die so often your pilot character has no meaning. Your wingmen don't have names or even numbers like Wingman1, they just exist as green dots on your HUD.
feel ambivalent towards games that have "dynamic mission
maps" that are affected by your
own actions as a combat pilot. Sometimes
a dynamic map works
quite well, like in
Falcon 4, and
other times it seems like an afterthought
to the game design. Wings Of Prey uses
a system like Lock
On, where the missions
and they play out the same way every
time without any random events at all.
I feel this system reduces
of the game.
On the other hand, a dynamic mission
map would not work in Wings Of Prey
either. Considering the
huge number of Axis
bombers I personally lay waste to in
the opening missions, I would have
grounded Goering on Day
One of the Battle Of
Britain and forced
Hitler to capitulate on or before the
first weekend of the air war. The pace
of destruction seems almost
is a post-modern take on the action
of WWII, more of a Hollywood special
effects blockbuster than
a lesson in the art of war.
It's a videogame more than a simulator.
What I Like About Wings Of Prey
What I Don't Like About Wings Of Prey
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