by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
World War II has intrigued me ever since I was a kid. The stories of how both sides in that conflict introduced new technologies, tactics and strategies are enough to keep anyone with a strategic and analytical mind occupied for years, if not their entire lives. It is one of those wars that, if it werenít for the tragic losses and wanton destruction, inspires generals Ė armchair and otherwise Ė to reconsider what they know about war. New to the list of strategic goals was Air Superiority. Whereas in World War I warplanes played a minor but intriguing role, aerial combat really came into its own during World War II. This new era, dominated by planes with illustrious names such as Messerschmitt, Stuka and Spitfire, is where you will find yourself in Gaijinís flight simulator Wings of Prey.
As simulators go, Wings of Prey is a fairly light one. You are not asked to push a dozen buttons and flip a string of switches before you can take off. I am glad it isnít as I do not have the patience for such games. That is not to say that the game is completely arcade. The game offers you help depending on which one of the three modes you chose. In Arcade Mode the game offers advice on controlling your plane, finding your targets and even a crosshair that shows you where to shoot to hit your target. Next to the crosshair, your bullets will do more damage too. Shooting a plane out of the air isnít that big a deal as only a few well placed bullets will turn the plane into a blazing ball of fire. All of that is taken away in Simulator Mode which can offer a stiff challenge even to hardened simulation veterans. This mode comes with a number of additional difficulty modifiers such as putting the player in charge of their engineís health. Realistic Mode is somewhere in between and offers a great way to experience a challenging game without giving too much help.
Ö like brickís donít
Taking out a moving object isnít an easy task even under the best of circumstances. A slow bomber may look like a brick floating through the air but it is a brick that fires back at you. Between trying to dodge the bullets and handling the plane, aiming and firing quickly become secondary. During the training missions, I quickly found out that I didnít like the keyboard setup. This is a game that requires you to use two hands in order to control throttle, rudder and direction. With the original setup one required either a third hand to shoot or a super-human dexterity. Even with alternate controls, however, flying an aircraft takes some getting used to. During the gameís training missions I almost turned my plane into a flaming carrot in some poor farmersí grain field. A couple of missions later I was confident enough to pull some stunts and by the time I had to bring down a fighter plane, I did without making too much of a fool of myself.
Later dogfights turned out to be far more challenging. The game does a great job of easing you into fighting its air battles slowly and the difficulty level increases with every mission. In fact, the earlier missions where so easy that I underestimated some of the later ones. Some missions seem neigh on impossible, especially when the AI appears to be content to watch you take out all the enemy planes. While it may seem that way, a second play-through quickly teaches you that it is the random way that both allies and enemies react to each other, or the fact that you couldnít keep your hands of the WEP (War Emergency Power) control switch present in some of the total of 40 planes that the game is rich. Arriving first is a surefire way to attract attention though, making an already difficult win even tougher.
One day Iíll fly away
Apart from allied bombers and fighters, there are other aides that help you during combat. When flying over friendly terrain, anti-aircraft guns will be targeting enemy craft as diligently as you. Obviously the opposite is true when you are over enemy territory. Also, the British were the first nation to employ radar to detect incoming aircraft. Woefully outnumbered, the Royal Air Force relied on radar to warn them of imminent attacks, enabling them to send their planes where they were needed rather than wasting them on fruitless patrols. This is depicted well in Wings of Prey, with ground control telling you exactly where you will find new and unwilling targets. The spoken narrative is varied and does a great job at keeping you informed of new situations as they develop. They also provide something to listen to as you fly from one battle scene to the next.
Not that you would be bored without the chatter. Wings of Prey is arguably one of the most beautifully designed flight simulator that you have ever played. Most of its peers can take pride in meticulously detailed airplane models but few can say the same about the rest of the environment. In Wings of Prey, everything is crafted with the same attention to detail. So much so that flying across the coastline is almost as mesmerizing and tranquil an experience as it is flying a small aircraft in real life. That is, of course, until the silence is broken my a crackling radio telling you that the radar has spotted your next set of targets.
Coming to grips
The 50 missions that the game is rich will take you to all corners of Europe. Great Britain, Italy, Germany and Belgium are just a few of the many locales that you will be visiting and each is modeled after how that area looked during World War II. The airplanes you will fly are historically tied both to specific battles and areas. You wonít see any Spitfires flying in Russia. There is enough content to enjoy the game for quite some time. When you are done with waging war on AI players, you can take your game online and join the ranks of human players duking it out against each other.
So far, my review has been very positive. Indeed, Wings of Prey deserves a positive review, but itís not without its shortcomings. One downside is that the campaign mode will only let you fly Allied planes. While your craft will be hammered by an assortment of Axis fighters and bombers, you will never actually take one to the air yourself. Flight simulator enthusiasts would no doubt have liked to take off and land their own plane. While landing is possible (but Arcade-ish), there is no way to take your bird into the air yourself. These are minor gripes for most players and they certainly open the door to an addon or sequel. If that game will be as enjoyable as this one, you can be certain to find me in the cockpit once more.
Beautiful graphics, lots of content.
Might not be hardcore enough for some.