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Wings of Prey review

Vintage aerial combat game can't make its mind up

Pros

  • Exciting
  • harrowing dogfights
  • Tons of beautiful planes
  • Caters to both casual and hardcore

Cons

  • The gap between arcade and sim is too big
  • Strangely subdued presentation
  • Obnoxious DRM

The console version of this WWII flight-not-quite-sim was blessed with an IL2-Sturmovik prefix, but the publishers clearly knew they%26rsquo;d be playing with fire if they waved that revered title around willy-nilly on the PC. Sturmovik is the first and last name in combat flight simulation. For a game as accessible to beginners as this to lay claim to that title... it%26rsquo;d be like a hamster wearing a dog mask and entering a dog show.

It%26rsquo;s just a different creature from Oleg Maddox%26rsquo;s sacrosanct sim series. While there%26rsquo;s a very serious simulation in here, WoP is primarily built around its Arcade mode. Think HAWX, but set in the %26rsquo;40s and with propellers. It%26rsquo;s more about accurate machinegunning than being a hotshot pilot, and even then it%26rsquo;ll help you keep a bead on the bogies with its all-knowing radars, targeting assistance and option to sic your small squadron of expert allies onto them with a button press.

In Arcade mode, its console heritage announces itself as unashamedly as a Kanye West interruption. It%26rsquo;s lightweight, but only because it means to be %26ndash; so it can drop you straight into, say, the Battle of Britain and make you the hero of the dogfighting day without getting its longjohns in a twist about physics.

Switch to Simulation mode, though, and WoP becomes an exhausting game of survival and deduction %26ndash; no HUD beyond oft-obscured cockpit dials, no third-person camera, harshly limited ammo and fuel, the need to worry about radiator temperature... It%26rsquo;s bloody hard, and all but unplayable without a proper flightstick. Which is all well and good if you were born and bred on high-end sims, but it%26rsquo;s absolutist in its poles of arcade and hardcore.

It%26rsquo;s a huge and intimidating switch, making only the most token effort to help you step across the yawning chasm between forgiving fun and relentless cruelty. If you%26rsquo;re a casual planehead, don%26rsquo;t realistically expect to ever move out of Arcade mode.

There%26rsquo;s no shame in that, because it%26rsquo;s a grandiose thing in either mode, for the most part. The planes are perhaps a little too shiny and weightless, and their pilots frozen and expressionless, but the sheer number of them that can dot the sky simultaneously, replete with raggedy-winged damage modelling, really does the trick. Even more striking are the huge landscapes below you. WoP%26rsquo;s harrowingly beautiful besieged Stalingrad is awesomely three-dimensional, lending a sense of being in the middle of a raging war rather than just a compartmentalised dog fight.

A shame, then, that WoP doesn%26rsquo;t really go for it %26ndash; while its mechanics are confidently simple and intuitive, the presentation it throws around the gung-ho dogfighting can be weirdly subdued. A soundtrack cranked right up to 11, a little more exaggeration to the %26rsquo;splodes, a dash of Biggles-speak and it%26rsquo;d be the gloriously over-the-top tale of derring-do it sometimes threatens to be. It just needs to go for it.

There are other, more mechanical issues. The DRM that%26rsquo;s included, even when buying online, is hideous. A three-activation (i.e., installation) limit is imposed by our old friends at Starforce and you%26rsquo;re also required to connect to a proprietary patching/ads engine called Youplay while you dogfight. What utter nonsense.

WoP is an odd thing %26ndash; so confident in many ways but flailing for purchase in others. Still, it%26rsquo;s effectively two games in one and, for the sim crowd, it%26rsquo;ll help to stave off the great hunger caused by the now three-year-plus wait for the real Sturmovik sequel, Battle of Britain.

Feb 4, 2010

More Info

Description<p>WoP is an odd thing &#8211; so confident in many ways but flailing for purchase in others. Still, it&#8217;s effectively two games in one and, for the sim crowd, it&#8217;ll help to stave off the great hunger caused by the now three-year-plus wait for the real Sturmovik sequel, Battle of Britain.</p>
PlatformPC
US censor ratingTeen
UK censor rating7+
Release date:8 January 2010 (US), 8 January 2010 (UK)
Available platforms:PC
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