Time to dust off the old joystick and take to the skies
Ever since Strike Commander way back in the early 90’s I’ve loved combat flight sims, but I’ve never really found one that I could get into. They tend to be way too hardcore for my liking, or too simplified to be any fun. Wings of Prey however, caters to all levels of skill.
The first thing to do when you start up the game is dive into the tutorial missions as they’re very well put together and should help all levels of gamer. Once you’ve mastered the tutorial, there’s a choice between the single player campaign, single missions, training, or multiplayer. The natural place to start for me is the campaign, so I dived on in.
The next thing you need to decide is what difficulty you will be playing at. Wings of Prey offers you three choices: Arcade, Realistic or Simulator. Unlike most games’ difficulty settings, Wings of Prey doesn’t alter how good the enemy are or how many there are. Instead it changes how much control you have of your aircraft. In arcade mode there is very little to worry about other than your throttle and landing gear, and you will have no problem keeping the plane in the sky – all you really need to do is aim and fire. Turn up the difficulty to simulator though, and it’s a whole new beast. Not only do you have to fight off the enemy squadrons, but you have to fight to keep the plane going as well with radiators and prop pitches to worry about.
The campaign was somewhat of a letdown for me. There are a number of theatres of war to progress through, starting with the Battle of Britain and culminating in the Battle of Berlin. Each campaign starts off with some war footage and after each battle you will get an excerpt from a pilot’s diary which is a nice touch (although more on this later). The problem for me was that every mission is essentially the same: Take off, shoot planes and (optionally) land, or take off, destroy ground targets, land. The fighting itself is intense and great fun, but a bit too repetitive. For me it could have done with a bit of variation. In fact one of the most enjoyable (and unexpected) parts of the game was when I was asked if I wanted to rescue a downed pilot while I was fighting over Sicily. This involved me landing behind enemy lines and picking up the pilot, then taking off again to return him to base. I would have loved to see more events like this to break up the monotony.
During the campaigns, you will eventually get to control your own squadron, although I found it’s usually quicker to just do things yourself. You can give basic orders such as “attack my target”, “cover me” and “stay in formation” but it becomes a bit of a hassle constantly telling them what to do. I found it easiest to tell them to cover me, then go and do it all on my own.
Worth picking up just for the graphics alone
Of course with campaign mode being about historical re-enactments, you won’t have any choice over the plane you fly, how many enemies you face, the weather… etc. This is where training mode comes in, as you can fly any of the planes in the game (provided you have unlocked them) and choose where you will fight.
Graphically Wings of Prey is quite stunning, and you’ll need an equally stunning video card to run it on full settings. The game won’t even let you attempt ultra high detailed textures without at least 1024MB of memory on your graphics card. Even at lower settings however, it is really a beautiful game to look at. Flying to your objective can take a while, but it’s hard to care when you’re taking in the breathtaking scenery. Even getting close up to the ground textures and buildings the detail is still there – a very impressive job for such a large scale world. Also impressive are the trails of smoke coming from damaged engines, and the bullet holes in your fuselage thanks to the realistic damage model.
Audio is also great for the most part, although I found the differences in volume between certain views to be a bit annoying, mostly with the engine sounds. I know the view has changed so you are now looking from a different distance from the engine, but you’re still flying a plane so I would have preferred it to remain constant. I also found I had to heavily tweak the volume sliders to be able to hear orders in the tutorials as the radio volume was completely drowned out most of the time. Also, going back to the pilot’s diaries, I found the American guy reciting them to be very off-putting. For a start it’s hard to listen to an excerpt from a Russian pilot’s diary read in an American accent, but more than that he sounded so bored and lifeless. I ended up skipping most of the diaries because I just couldn’t listen to him anymore.
If you’re looking for a good all-round flight sim, Wings of Prey is a great choice. It has its faults like all games, but it is worth picking up just for the graphics alone. With the different difficulty settings anyone will be able to pick it up and play, and there is arguably more enjoyment to be had (and life to be drawn from the game) by turning up the difficulty.
The Bad: Poor voice acting, Gameplay is somewhat repetitive