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A Great Series
If you look back at the original IL-2 Sturmovik, it's pretty obvious from this debut that the series of games that followed were destined for great things. The original was released way back in 2001 to widespread critical acclaim, largely due to its staggeringly realistic portrayal of combat flight - it is a combat flight simulator, not merely an arcade-level flying game - during and around the period of World War II. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey (that's Wings of Prey to PC gamers) takes a step away from the ultra-realistic simulation of its predecessors however; it also introduces a whopping six theatres of conflict for players to participate in, and all the while allowing you to participate in these theatres' most famous and iconic battles.
Boiled down to its most basic functions, Wings of Prey's gameplay has many of the hallmarks of a classic combat-based flight simulator. Its controls - a great deal more realistic than some arcade-depth combat flight games such as Dogfight 1942 - attempt to recreate with a fairly high degree of fidelity the challenges a real pilot would face in the air, with all of the instruments, dials, and levers that go along with it.
The outcome of Wings of Prey's realistic control system and impressive graphics is a game that allows you to experience the high levels of tension and terror a World War II pilot would have faced, as well as the experience of triumph over adversaries and the resulting victory at a time where the fate of the entire world literally hinged on every mile of territory that any one nation had in their possession.
Arcade to Simulation
There are three levels of realism available for selection in Wings of Prey: Arcade, Realistic, and Simulator. This spread of difficulties offers veterans and newcomers alike the chance to ease themselves in to a level of gameplay they will be comfortable with. Arcade mode possesses various features making flight easier such as an artificial horizon and the adoption of many of the manual controls by the computer so that you don't have to worry about the little details. Simulation is obviously more difficult (though not as tricky as the ultra-high fidelity of flights sims such as Digital Combat Simulator), requiring that you are able to handle the more difficult takeoff/landing physics as well as things like trimming the aircraft.
In a game like Wings of Prey, much of the appeal lies just as much in its content as it does its realistic recreation of the flying conditions experienced by World War II pilots. Content in this case refers to the hardware available, i.e. the selection of planes that are on offer for players to experience. You won't find a roster as impressive as that of, let's say, World of Warplanes, but you do get to fly planes from nations on both sides of the conflict. Various models of planes like the Spitfire, Mustang P51-B, Il2-M, and the Yak-3 are available, and a much larger list of planes exists for the game's multiplayer as well. The unlocking/discovering of aircraft adequately cultivates long-term interest for players who may feel that the combat flight simulation/realism of the game isn't quite reason enough for continued perseverance. It's as much about collecting the aircraft as it is flying them, making it quite an addictive experience for those who are enthusiastic about their World War II aviation.
A Great Combat Flight Sim
Regardless of its easier modes, at its most challenging difficulty Wings of Prey is a game that is impressive in its reproduction of the tension and circumstances that befell pilots of all nationalities during World War II. Though not as hyper-realistic as some flight sims out there, Gaijin's Wings of Prey is up there with the best of them when it comes to possessing a mixture of realism and unadulterated aerial action.
The graphics are a little dated by now, but at the time of release were more than adequate in conveying the beauty and also the fragility of some of the greatest war machines to ever take to the skies. So whether you are bombing ground targets or embroiled in a dirty dogfight with another fighter plane, Wings of Prey has great appeal to offer a very wide audience, from the avid flight-sim fanatic to the less-seasoned pilot.