Thursday, June 16, 2011

Situational awareness is key to victory

Wings of Prey
Game Category: Simulation
Developer / Distributor: Gaijin Entertainment and Iceberg Interactive / YuPlay
Release Date: 25 Dec 2009 
Rating: ESRB - Teen

Introduction
Just last month, I did a review of a flight simulation game by the name of Air Conflicts: Air Battles of World War II. That was a pretty good game released in 2006 with lots of different aircraft types to fly and great arcade fun.

Today, I am at it again with another flight simulation game released only two years ago. The game I am reviewing is Wings of Prey from Gaijin Entertainment and Iceberg Interactive.

To paraphrase their sales blurb in one paragraph - Wings of Prey has you fighting in huge aerial battlegrounds during World War II. You also get the chance to be involved in ground military operations as you pilot bomber aircraft in taking out ground targets; not forgetting the occasional sea targets. The game will bring you through six memorable campaigns that include locations such as Stalingrad, the Ardennes, Sicily, and Korsun.

Please be aware that the footprint for the game is a whopping 10 GB. I'd reckon that it is the standard for games in recent times, but as we know quality is better than quantity.

Well, you can rest assured though that Wings of Prey is filled with quality goodness and topped up with magnificent game play and graphics.

One of the more recent World War II flight simulator
Game Play
Once you have seen the sepia-toned movie snippets from the war and loaded Wings of Prey to the Main Menu, you will see two key options. Missions is essentially the single player mode equipped with an excellent tutorial, while Dogfight throws you into the deep end with the multiplayer experience on YuPlay's network service.

I had issues with the multiplayer experience, so I will not be covering this aspect of the game in the review any further. Perhaps you had better success than me and would like to share your opinions, so please leave a comment to this review.

Anyway, I thought that Wings of Prey was more than strong enough to stand on the single player mode alone.

The comprehensive tutorial
Single player mode presents the following modes to you:
  • Tutorial - This is perhaps one excellent series of tutorial missions I have ever had the chance to play. I enjoyed all the training missions, but especially the Simulator optional training mission. This is a decent simulation of flying a real aircraft that requires you to do all the mundane tasks that pilots need to do (such as applying trim). If you are a real-life pilot, you might want a go at this mode with either a Saitek or Thrustmaster HOTAS.
  • Campaign - Here is the meat and potatoes for Wings of Prey. Six theaters of war that has you enjoying twenty specially designed missions for the campaign. To make things more challenging, you will have to complete these missions sequentially.
Just me and my wingman against four bogeys
  • Single Missions - Just when you thought that twenty missions in the Campaign were not enough, you now get to enter each of the six theaters of war and choose further missions to fly within. There are 18 missions in The Battle of Britain, 6 in the Battle of Stalingrad, 6 in the Invasion of Sicily, another 6 in the Korsun Pocket, 7 missions for the Battle of the Bulge, and 6 missions in the Battle of Berlin. Some of the missions need to be unlocked before you can fly them though.
  • Training - Not to be confused with the Tutorial mode, this is a mission generator that allows you to select from 10 arenas you wish to battle in, the aircraft you will fly, and the enemy aircraft you wish to engage. You can also adjust other mission parameters such as weather, time of day, and altitude.  
PS - There is a seventh theatre of war known as Wings of the Luftwaffe, but this is an expansion pack that must be bought separately.

One more enemy shot down
Let's talk about the aircraft available in Wings of Prey. I counted a total of 43 (fighters, bombers, etc.) that you can pilot or fight against. The full list is appended for those who want to know what you are getting in this game:

A-20G, Arado-234, B-17G, Bf 109 E-3, Bf 109 F-4, Bf 109 G-2, Bf 109 G-6, Bf 109 G-10, Bf 109 K-4, Bf 110 C-4, Blenheim Mk IV, Fw 190 A-5, Fw 190 F-8, Fw 190 D- 12, He 111 H-2, He 111 H-6, He 111 H-16, He 162 A-2, Hurricane Mk II, I-153, I-16 type 28, IL-2, IL-2M, IL-10, IL-4, Ju 87 B-2, Ju 87 D-3, La-5FN, La-7, M.C.202, Me 163 B, Me 262 A-1a, P-47D, Mustang Mk.IA, P-51D-5, Po-2, Spitfire Mk II, Spitfire Mk IX, Spitfire Mk XVI, Ta 152 H-1, Yak 1-B, Yak-3, and Yak-9T.

That was quite a mouthful, but how do these aircraft look like and how do they perform? Well, that's where you should venture into the Profile option from the Main Menu. Within there, you will find a Hangar where you can view aircraft in all their splendor. You can read up about them as well as list their weapons manifest.

Ain't she a beauty?
You get three views when piloting an aircraft - an external 3D view, an actual cockpit view, and a virtual cockpit view that superimposes flight information on your display just like modern heads-up display do. I preferred the first two modes in the game as they helped to maintain the realism of the game. It seems artificial seeing a virtual simulation in front of me while piloting a World War II plane.

Tally-ho!
Let's cover the types of missions you get to play in Wings of Prey. The missions are quite a mixed bag which is a good thing. There's the standard air interdiction missions, capper missions, recce missions, bombing missions, and even the odd escort or runway touch-and-go missions.

Missions in the campaign usually have a primary objective followed by secondary objectives. You get to unlock World War II pilots for completing a campaign mission, you can view them from the main menu under the Extra option. Mind you, some of these battles can last quite a long time and you have the potential to be led astray especially if you try to pursue and take down every enemy aircraft. Remember your missions objectives, and don't dally unnecessarily.

Bomb those ships!
Graphics
Wings of Prey feature impressive graphics, but you'd better make sure your PC is able to cope with the taxing demands, otherwise, the frame rate will start to stutter and as a result game play will be affected. Screen resolution and graphics configuration is set up externally before you enter into the game proper. The aircraft models are excellently detailed right down to the textures. You will also note during flight that the cockpit is incredibly detailed; you can even see the scratch marks on the canopies and groan at the muntins that obscure your view. Situational awareness is key to victory.

Another part of the game that does exceedingly well would be the terrain. Never have I seen such detailed terrain - the trees look so alive, buildings are highly detailed, and roads look like the real thing. To supplement this would be the sky and weather effects. Clouds look like puffy cotton wool, like real clouds do, mind you they even cast shadows. And just you wait till you try flying a mission in heavy rain during the night.

Finally, there's the impressive documentary style videos that show stock footage during World War II, most of which I don't ever recall seeing before.

Caught in the crossfire over Sicily
Audio
Music for Wings of Prey is pretty riveting stuff and lovely to hear. The reason because it's from famed game music composer Jeremy Soule. The sound effects were also realistic enough to make me believe that I was being fired upon by a Messerschmitt who was at my six. Voiceovers comprised radio chatter that were generally intelligible and meaningful.

Oh oh... I hear everything but my propellers
Pros:
  • With more than 40 detailed planes to pilot I feel like I have just gone to aviation heaven.
  • There's a great variety of missions and a mission generator for infinite replayability. 
  • High quality graphics and excellent music and sound effects that really puts you firmly in the role of a World War II pilot. You will shudder at the exclamation of "Jerry!" or quiver at the sight of flak guns firing at your bomber during your ingress for low-level bombing.
  • Three modes of difficulty for every mission - Arcade, Realistic, and Simulator. 
Knowing Russian helps
Cons: 
  • The campaign missions must be completed in strict sequential order. 
  • You get to unlock pilots which to me weren't the best reward for completing a difficult mission. I would have preferred to unlock new aircraft or locations.
  • Simulator mode will really be taxing so best get a 6DOF HOTAS before you crash your aircraft on takeoff or landing.
  • As usual, a simulation game like this has quite a number of key controls for it. Unfortunately, the most problematic for me was the mouse, as any movement would cause my camera view to pan.
Oh goody... I unlocked another pilot.
Conclusion
Wings of Prey is in my opinion a magnificent World War II flight simulation game that brings you on an incredible ride through some of the most grueling battles of aerial warfare. The flight model can be made simplified in arcade mode or ramped up to extreme difficulty with simulator mode, the choice is entirely up to you.

With tons of things to see and do in this game, you will be hard pressed to even consider playing any other flight simulator game for a long time. No game is without its problems however. But I do tend to think that the problems I have listed above are more inconveniences than anything detracting to the overall fun in Wings of Prey.

This title comes strongly recommended for all World War II and aviation aficionados.

You need to rely on the handy map feature now and then
Daily PC Game Review Score: 8.5 / 10
Review Date: 16 Jun 2011

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