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Birds of Steel preview – bomb subs, shoot down friends and create an alternate timeline

Looking for another chance to be World War II fighter pilot during the campaign in the Pacific? Flight sim enthusiasts and history buffs will want to check out Birds of Steel, an air combat sim that puts players in the cockpits of fighter pilots flying actual missions during WWII. Flight sims may be a dime a dozen these days, but Gaijin Entertainment is attempting to add to the genre to make an even more engaging experience than other simulators.

The game consists of a historical campaign, quick missions, co-op and multiplayer where players can fly twenty historical missions over sixteen locations. Among them, players will visit familiar locals from the Pacific Theater like Wake Island, Guadalcanal and Pearl Harbor and can either fight as the Allied forces or the Axis Powers. Choosing the latter can result in some what-if historical events emerging and creating an alternate historical timeline. The developer wasn’t able to go into detail with this feature, but it sounds interesting nonetheless.

Gameplay plays out as you would expect out of a typical WWII air combat sim. Players can choose to launch a mission at the airstrip where they would be required to perform a successful takeoff or simply start the mission with the aircraft already in the air. Objectives we saw ranged from bombing weapons depots, destroying enemy airstrips, and defending friendly aircraft. Pulling off successful maneuvers, kills, takeoffs or completing mission objectives will net players experience points which will later unlock the over 100 historical planes and additional missions.

For those who may not be a flight sim enthusiast, Gaijin Entertainment has kept the rookies in mind providing three different modes for aircraft controls: Simplified, Realistic and Simulator. Simplified, the control scheme we used, allows for players to fly freely as the plane auto-corrects to level out the horizon and make small adjustments so players don’t get disoriented and fly into the ocean. The two other modes give greater control over the plane allowing pilots to pull off more advanced tricks and maneuvers like stalls. It's easy enough to get a hang of the controls on the way to the objective but once you hit combat it’s a whole other story.

In combat, players will take control of individual planes in their squadron. Players have the ability to switch between members of the squadron at any time, but when they are shot down you will be down one squad mate and automatically switch to the next pilot. Each plane has its own ammo capacity, so once your ammo is out in one fighter you would have to switch to another pilot. For example, in a mission where we had to bomb an enemy air strip we only had as many bombs as our squad could carry, putting a lot of emphasis on being accurate and efficient. It may sound a bit too realistic to be fun (seriously, who really wants to run out of ammo?) but trigger happy players can toggle infinite ammo, which employs a reload timer, in the options before each mission as well as a variety of difficulty, mission and weather options.

Birds of Steel will also include a four player co-op, and up to sixteen player multiplayer mode which will use the same persistent leveling system in the single player campaign. This is where Birds of Steel can really stand out. Players will be able to play the customizable quick missions and custom missions with up to four friends. With the emphasis on squad tactics inherent in dogfighting and group ammo conservation mechanics in place, it could make for a fun co-op experience. We weren’t able to see the multiplayer mode, but the developer promises further details will emerge soon.

Birds of Steel releases on the Xbox 360 and PS3 early 2012.

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