E3 2009: The Five: IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey
What's this about? The most successful PC flight simulator of recent years, IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, is coming to next-gen consoles. The IL-2 Sturmovik series is deep, rewarding and really popular with the small flight-sim audience. And the console space is largely empty of Spitfires and Stukas. Could this be a match made in the clouds?
1. 1C Company knows that the platforms are very different, so you can choose your level of simulation. At the "arcade" level, you have unlimited ammo and are more resistant to damage. Play "realistic" and there are more limits on just what your plane is capable of. For the ultimate challenge, play "simulation," which limits your perspective to the cockpit and keeps everything historical. I was only shown the arcade mode, however, so I never got a sense of just how many holes I could fit on a wing.
2. Every platform has a wide range of experiences. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions will have a dozen flyable planes, the Nintendo DS has 13 and the PSP 14. The planes range from agile fighters to dive bombers to the star of the show, the IL-2 Sturmovik close-support bomber. Missions will be equally varied -- dogfights, recon, escort, bombing. It's the entire European air war on your television.
3. The main SKU has six historical campaigns drawn from the biggest air battles of World War II. Considering the developer, it's not surprising that half of the campaigns star the Soviet Air Force fighting over Stalingrad, the Korsun Pocket and Berlin. In total, there are over 50 different missions, making it eight to 10 per campaign.
4. Since the flight-sim audience has always been wedded to realism, 1C couldn't punt on the terrain. Satellite imagery and period aerial photography have been used to make the 3-D world as convincing as possible. You skip the treetops, bomb an already shell-shocked Berlin, or pump bullets into the English Channel. The whole thing looks great, but there's not that much reason to be flying that low most of the time. And let's be honest -- how many console gamers will notice that they are flying over 1940s Sicily? Still, this is a commitment to the values that made the PC series the new standard in flight sims.
5. Four multiplayer modes will give you something to do once you've burned through the campaign missions. Dogfighting will be very popular, of course, as will the Deathmatch mode, where your team tries to take out another. Multiplayer success will depend on the multiplayer population. If the online audience is further fractured by the three simulation modes, then finding the game you want to find may be more difficult.
The Crispy Forecast: Almost no one makes historical flight sims anymore, so maybe all they needed was a move to the console environment. Bigger potential audience, a platform that requires some streamlining and simplification? What could go wrong? While Birds of Prey looks smooth in action, is there a Battlestations: Pacific demographic that it can mine?
This preview is based on a developer-driven demo of a near-final beta build at E3 2009.