IL-2 Sturmovik is a series that demonstrates developer Gaijin's skill at producing extremely impressive combat flight simulators over a significant number of years. Gaijin Entertainment couldn't have been completely content with their Birds of Prey title however, even if all of its players were, and this goes part of the way to explaining why in 2012 they released Birds of Steel. There are a few wartime flight simulators out there that do an adequate job given a similar brief, but the 100+ historical aircraft, multiple historical missions, and the visually stunning scenery and plane models of Birds of Steel not only meet and exceed the brief but also add a few nuances in along the way.
You already know that you're in good hands when you choose a game developed by Gaijin. After all, they're behind the legendary IL-2 Sturmovik series, and their talents have only grown over the years. From the outset of Birds of Steel's gameplay and even from a brief perusal of the initial menus you can tell that you're not dealing with a developer that's doing what they do because it's their occupation: they're in this for the passion. How do you know it's the latter over the former? Because you won't find a developer recreating over one hundred historically-accurate aircraft in meticulous detail because they're simply reacting to the demand of the consumer.
Most people would be happy with, say, fifteen or twenty aircraft, but Gaijin have come up with over a hundred, a majority of which have some fantastically-reproduced cockpits for players to marvel at when in cockpit view.
Just a glance at the cockpits will make it obvious the kind of detail you can expect from the wider aspects of the game: the physics, the aircraft models themselves, and the combat elements of the game can only be commended. Combine that with longevity provided by multiplayer, and you're in for quite a flight-sim treat.
Choosing Your Own Experience
What makes Birds of Steel not only fantastic but also fantastically accessible is the fact that you can choose between three levels of complexity depending on your experience and the level of skill you possess. Simplified mode lets you rag around the planes with more force and less skill than is required in real-life as well as making the planes behave quite manageably and letting you control whether or not you have unlimited quantities of fuel and ammo.
Realistic Mode is a happy medium between the easiest and hardest modes where you will notice the handling of the planes is considerably more difficult - you have to treat the rudders and throttle with much more care.
Simulator mode is another few steps up in difficulty. It requires that you handle all workable hardware in the cockpit as well as managing things like your speed and altitude in order to simply keep the plane in the air. You can't push your plane too far in Simulator Mode as you'll end up falling out of the sky, and you also don't have any targeting assistance so you have to deal with that responsibility yourself. It's much more akin to flight simulators like DCS World when in Simulator mode, and this will be what the hardcore flight simulator fan are looking for.
As far as content goes, Birds of Steel has quite a bit to offer. The number of planes available runs in to the hundreds, with aircraft from the air forces of the USA, UK, Japan, Australia, the USSR, Germany, and Italy. Planes range from the Japanese A6M2-N Zero to the UK's Beaufighter Mk. VIc. You've got the USA fighters like Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and their bombers such the Boeing 17E Flying Fortress. The fighter and bomber rosters for most of the countries are extensive, and there are some rather obscure planes thrown in for good measure as well, making it obvious the level of passion that Gaijin Entertainment staff have for their subject matter.
There's no question that if you enjoy Simulation Mode then you're going to have days and days of fun at least from Birds of Steel. This mode is what the game was designed to be played in, and though the lesser difficulties do widen the audience considerably, the lowest, arcade-level setting really takes much of the fun out of the experience and makes it quite repetitive.
Still, you've got over a hundred single-player procedural missions as well as twenty historical campaigns that take you over the Pacific Ocean where much of that battling takes place. The mission editor also adds greatly to the replay value of the game, as does the multiplayer.
There is no doubt that Birds of Steel is an incredible feat of game development. In simulator mode one can enjoy an incredibly realistic flight simulator experience that's steeped in tense combat. The lesser difficulties don't work quite as well as they feel rather restrictive. Multiplayer and the mission/scenario editor both extend the shelf life of the game substantially, and the graphics/sound are top notch. This is a fantastic simulator that falters at only the most minor of hurdles, but even so, it still trumps games like Ace Combat hands-down.