Wings of Prey
Developer: Gaijin
Publisher: Iceberg
Release Date: Out Now
Players: One, Online Multiplayer
Words By:

It’s a shame Wings of Prey wasn’t called Wings of War, because then the acronym would be ‘WOW’!, and I could use it to make a really neat word play on the stunning out of the box look of this game. As it is the acronym is ‘WOP’, and apart from the constant ‘WOP~WOP’ of enemy cannon shells hitting my aircraft shortly before my untimely death, a frequent occurrence in this game, I can’t do much with it. Sorry.

Anyway, on to the game which, in the words of the developer, is a combat flight simulator, “based around the large scale aerial combat and ground military operations of World War 2. Players can participate in some of the war’s most famous battles, piloting fighters, battle planes and bombers across a range of thrilling missions. There are six theatres of war to engage in: The Battle of Britain, Stalingrad, Ardennes, Berlin, Sicily and Korsun, representing the main airborne battles of World War 2 in Europe.”

Suits me so far. I am a huge fan of that period of history and love the planes associated with that era. As a longtime player of IL-2 I was curious to see how this shiny new toy would measure up. What is different and unique about Wings of Prey as opposed to the existing combat flight sims out there, such as IL-2, is its attempt to appeal both to casual arcade gamers and the hard core simming crowd. It’s a tough sell for sure. Hard core simmers are difficult to please, requiring pinpoint accuracy in flight modelling, damage effects and historical accuracy. The console origins of this game have already attracted much scoffing amongst the community. So can this new upstart cut the mustard both as a fun shooter and as a ‘serious combat sim’?

Firstly, the good, and it is very, very good. The overall look and presentation of the game, in particular the scenery is absolutely stunning. I have never seen anything that looks this good and runs so smoothly on my mid range system. As a Brit I particularly loved the ground detail in the Battle of Britain missions with well known landmarks such as Canterbury Cathedral, Dover Castle and the White Cliffs of Dover all well modelled and accurately placed. The terrain varies from the rolling hills and green fields of England to the snow covered wastes of Russia. Small villages, towns, churches, trees, rivers, fields, roads and bridges all roll smoothly and speedily by as you whiz along at treetop level. The sense of place is utterly complete.

The guys who put this together certainly know how to write code. A click on the desktop icon gets you into the combat arena in less than a minute, once the game is initially set up with controls, etc. I experienced hardly any crashes (of the software/hardware variety), and the game ran as smooth as silk on high detail in all scenarios, even with loads of planes, ground targets, etc on the screen at all times–simply amazing. Take note, certain other flight sims I won’t mention.

Once in game, you have the option to play in Arcade, Realistic or Simulator mode. In Arcade mode you have a number of onscreen aids to help you find and destroy the target, plus a very simplified flight model to keep you out of trouble. Realistic mode is somewhere between the two with realistic flight modelling but keeping the onscreen icons to help with target acquisition and orientation. This is where I spent most of my time. At the other end of the scale Simulator mode apes the more complex sims with options to enable engine management, fuel loads, etc. and with no onscreen aids to assist you—real war, man. This mode makes for a really tough game with enemy aircraft being hard to spot and ground targets even harder. Many times I ended up with a wing or two blown off by flak batteries while stooging around in circles looking for the target.

The enemy AI is also pretty smart on the whole. I never saw a fighter fly conveniently straight and level so I could line it up in my sights, something I have definitely witnessed many times in IL-2. Bombers throw out a withering stream of fire as you approach them, long before you get in range.

The game delivers some spectacular effects in combat with smoke and flames streaming from the engines of damaged planes, wings and bits of fuselage blowing off and the shouts of your wingmen plus, oddly, sometimes the enemy too. The sky becomes littered with smoke trails, parachutes and burning debris from the wreckage of planes on the ground. Firing the guns is very satisfying with the bass thump of cannon shells and streams of tracer flying towards the target. In external view you can even see empty cannon shells ejecting from the gun pods. Your plane can take varying levels of damage from total flaming destruction to engine or airframe damage making your aircraft sluggish, slow and unresponsive. Holes appear in the wings and fuselage and oil spatters over your windscreen if your engine is hit. You can nurse it back to base or just hit Enter and jump into another plane. This game wants to keep you in the action!

The game offers a choice of Single Missions, Campaigns, Multiplayer, a basic Mission Generator and Tutorials to help you get the hang of it. Campaign mode is basic consisting of a series of missions strung together by a narrative. Successfully completing one mission unlocks the next one and so on. Single missions are pretty much the same as the campaign, except without the linking narrative.

Ok, now the gripes. Firstly, the campaigns. Although they do have a historical context, i.e. Battle of Britain, Stalingrad, Battle of the Bulge there is very little or no sense of your actions effecting the outcome of the battle. You jump in to each mission, usually get overwhelmed by fighters, kill everything in sight and then skip on to the next mission with more of the same. The missions are linked together with cut scenes and a tired narrative voiced by an actor who sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger on Valium. There is no sense of the battle lines shifting or being part of a front line squadron in the heat of battle. Your squadron mates are just names and whether you lose them or not, they just pop up again in the next one. The immersion factor is further blown by the fact that if you die you can just jump into another plane, so what is the incentive to nurse your stricken plane home, or perhaps take a more cautious approach to combat to ensure your survival? On top of this, each campaign is very short, consisting of only a handful of missions.

Nearly all the missions, whether single player or Campaign follow a fairly prescriptive pattern, that is, within less than a minute of starting a mission you are overwhelmed with wave upon wave of enemy fighters. This is the case whether you are doing a ground attack or dogfight mission. I can see that the designers did this to create a target rich environment where the player never has time to get bored, but it is not necessarily historically accurate, particularly towards the end of the war where in reality the Germans could hardly get more than a handful of planes up in the air at any one time.

Now to multiplayer. Despite several attempts I was unable to get into a game. There were never more than 3 or 4 games up at any one time anyway, and logging on just resulted in an interminable loading screen. This is a real pity as I was itching to try this. Possibly there were issues with my firewall but other multiplayer games don’t give me that problem. Reading the various forums there do seem to be some issues with multiplayer in this game. Hopefully a patch will be forthcoming to sort some of these problems out.

I did encounter a few other minor bugs, but they weren’t showstoppers. German bombers could sometimes fly so fast as to be rocket powered, and their gunners are uncannily accurate at very long distances. Scripted dialogue within game could get stuck in a repeating loop, for example, my flight leader yelling “Watch out, Messcherschmitts!” when I’d been dogfighting them for about 10 minutes! Playing in simulation mode with no onscreen aids should be balanced with a more detailed mission briefing, particularly when you are looking for ground targets. A recon photo or two would be nice wouldn’t it?

Wings of Prey is a brave attempt at offering a full blown simulation mode to balance out its console origins and arcade sensibilities. It almost succeeds, but a little more work needs to be done. At the moment it does really feel like a console arcade shooter with a complex mode bolted on to please the hard core lobby.

And yet I really like the game. It is enormous fun to play, runs like a dream and niggles aside is a rewarding rather than a frustrating experience. I would say that the combat is cinematic rather than gritty realism, but there is nothing wrong with that. I play my games for escapism. If I want hard core history lessons I’ll watch the Discovery Channel.

More importantly Gaijin Entertainment have raised the bar in terms of rendering scenery and graphical fidelity in a flight simulation game, proving that you can have a highly detailed game world and masses of enemies onscreen without your PC resorting to a slideshow or needing a liquid-cooled behemoth of a machine to get good frame rates.

I do believe this game offers a window into what the future of flight simulation could look like and I am quite excited at the possibilities. With a decent dynamic campaign and a working multiplayer this game could be King of the Hill. I believe the developers are working on an update as I write this. Let’s hope these issues are addressed.

My summary - buy this game, if only to drool at the fantastic scenery and dream of the day when all flight sims will look this good!

Best Bits

- Stunning, cutting edge graphics, the best ever in a flight simulation game.
- A smooth, stutter free gaming experience.
- Playing at simulation level offers a tough challenge.
Worst Bits

- Perhaps still a bit too ‘arcadey’ for the hard core simming crowd.
- Multiplayer needs fixing.
- Campaigns are short and not very immersive.

by: Captain Magenta

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