With its breathtaking terrain and heart-stopping battles, this air combat sim is flying high. We waggle our wingtips at Wings Of Prey.
A much-loved PC combat flight sim is ported to consoles and gets utterly trashed in the process. PC favourite IL2 was converted to console-focused Wings of Prey. The script was written the second the game was announced, but rather splendidly, Gaijin (the port-ers) failed to read it. Rather than hammering flat all of IL-2's subtleties, the Russian team preserved them, producing a game that's stronger than its prototype in several areas. Even better, they flew their new title back to PC simmers.
The terrain navvies deserve high praise. Wings of Prey's depictions of Berlin, Sicily and other European backdrops look superb whether you're skimming them at weather-vane height or catching glimpses through the cloud. You'd have to go a long way to find prettier panoramas.
Cockpits are similarly stunning. Huddled in your armoured seat, the shadows of canopy struts gliding across glinting dials and worn handles, it's easy to forget the keyboard and coffee cup, the curtains and carpet lurking unhelpfully in your peripheral vision.
The biggest surprise has to be Gaijin's touching commitment to truth. Select 'simulation' realism and WoP transforms from amiable arcade trekking pony into rigorous ride-meat- your-peril mustang. Vicious spins send you spiralling earthward. Engine management gaffs leave you dawdling dangerously in the gunsights of enemies. With all the player aids deactivated, even telling friend from foe in the swirling fury of a furball is a challenge.
In the midst of battle, when pieces of slain aircraft are fluttering past and you're fighting to stay conscious as you drag another bandit into your kill-zone, WoP is simply brilliant. The tragedy is that this brilliance is piddled away the moment the sortie ends. An unimaginative campaign approach turns what could have been the pop flight sim of the decade into a cold yet efficient Dogfightatron – a vending machine pumping out vivid but consequence-free sky thrills.
If Gaijin had let us join squadrons and fly randomly generated missions for them until we perished or emerged blinking into a peaceful post-war world, the experience could have been so much richer. The satisfaction of surviving 20 sorties on the trot, nursing a flying colander back to friendly territory, or rising through the ranks… it's all denied us. Nothing as elaborate as BoB 2 or Enemy Engaged's dynamic wars was necessary, just a system that rewarded survival and allowed an unscripted personal narrative to unfold.
I still regard Wings of Prey as a triumph. For short bursts of sky violence, it can't be beaten.