Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Wings of Prey - WW2 Flight Combat (PC)

 I've got my Milgeek mojo back! Just in time for the Christmas season. 😊

...What - finally - got me to blow the dust off this blog was the recent winter sale on STEAM. There was a big selection of flight combat sims going cheap and it just seemed rude not to bag them while they were going ridiculously cheap.

Top of my shopping list was Gijan's 'Wings of Prey' which is an arcade shooter in the guise of a 'flight sim'. It a console port and it's about exactly what you'd expect of a flight combat game made for a console controller - but I don't mean that as a criticism...


Wings of Prey - Hurricane MK. II
Wings of Prey takes you from the Battle of Britain to the closing days of the war in Europe. You'll
pilot planes for the RAF, USAAF and Red Army in theaters of war from the English Channel in
1940, to the Mediterrainian and Stalingrad in 1943 to the fall of Berlin in 1945.

'Tally Ho! Bandits at Y, B, X, A!' (Bad Xbox contoller joke!)
Calling this game a 'flight sim' might be construed by some as false advertising, it is a game which perports to portray air combat missions in WW2 but to say that it simulates the actual process of piloting aircraft of the period would be pushing it! Flight mechanics and aerodynamics are very simplified and forgiving and you'll be hard pushed to be able to tell the differences between aircraft types - other than they go faster or slower!

Wings of Prey - Douglas A-20 Havoc
While you'll get the chance to 'fly' a reasonable number are types of aircraft in the game and even
be able to try out some medium bombers (like the A-20 picture above) don't expect to jump into
every seat in crewed aircraft. Even when controlling gun turrets you are little more than swinging
the 3rd person view of these guns around using your controller. Sadly, no first person view!

BUT...I'll go straight to the Wings of Prey's defence here and say that it doesn't really market itself as a 'sim', it definitely couches itself as a 'fun' casual game. It's something just can jump into without having to read a heafy manual (unlike games like 'IL-2: 1946' or 'Rise of Flight' which I got at the same time).

With WofP you be up and in the air and dogfighting in minutes, whereas - in comparison - I tried out 'IL-2: 1946' at the same time and it took me some amount of time just to work out how to turn my aircraft's engine on and even then I could not get my plane off the runway without crashing.

Wings of Prey (PC) - Macchi C202 v P40 Dog Fight
While there are some quite nicely modelled cockpits in Wings of Play they are not fully working
'virtual cockpits' where you can use your mouse to push buttons and flick switches and levers.
They are essencially just another 'view' which adds just a little more immersion.

So Wings of Prey is a game with a specific player type in mind, and luckily I happen to be just that type of player!

Chocs Away! And Stoke Me a Clipper...
So, the basis of the game is a career mode where you undertake a series of mission, the successful completion of each sortie unlocking the next as you progress though a cut down version of historic air campaigns. There are about five missions in each, with missions that include air superiority, escort and ground attack but in true arcade flight tradition many of these are fought from a 'flying start' near the objective. There's no complex air navigation to learn as each objective is clearly marked on the HUD.

Wings of Prey (PC) - Mission Map
The mission map is somewhat rudamentary, you can't plan a sortie or plot way-points or anything
in-depth like that. The mission area (what you can see) is fixed and your objectives marked, so
it's pretty pointless going 'odd-piste' as there are no other 'targets of opotunity'. :(

Some mission - particularly in the later stages - do allow you to take off an land but don't expect extra flying challenges like engine torque (which you have to counter with extra rudder) or cross winds. I only ever crashed once on landing and that's because the snowy airstrip confused me as to how low I actually was!

The missions are 'OK', but I would say that replayability is low. You can tweak the 'difficulty' by altering the complexity of the flight controls, but even at their 'hardest' they still aren't quite on a par with a decent 'sim'. The game is what it is, and the emphasis is on fun.

Wings of Prey (PC) - Desperate Duel Over Stalingrad!
It's all about the dogfights! This is really what you want out of this game, some simple un-
complicated ariel kinife-fights. Though, the AI isn't the most demanding you can pump up
the challenge by increasing the control and flight difficulty a bit.

Outside of the basic 'story mode' (Campaign) there is a Single Mission mode, a Training mode and - of course - a Multiplayer mode. I can't say whether the multiplayer is still active as I didn't try it, but as the game is now nine years old I am guessing it is not.

Single missions, as the name suggests, are non-story led, self contained, sorties you can play within the theatres of war established in the Campaign mode. They add further scenarios to the campaign theatres allowing you to experience different aircraft types or combat types. In essence they enlarge the campaign so give you extra flying time within these battles.

Wings of Prey - YAK-3, Battle of Berlin.

The 'Training' mode is not actually training (it isn't a flying tutorial), it's actually just a 'free flight' mode allowing you to pick any aircraft from within the game and put it up against other types of your choosing. In this way you can get to flight any of the planes modelled in the game but may not have been playable (such as enemy planes) within the base campaign. 

Note: I also purchase the 'Wings of Luftwaffe' DLC for the game and so was able to play a mini-story mode (extra campaign) for Axis aircraft. The base game is largely about flying the aircraft of the Allied nations so being able to experience 'the other side' is quite interesting.

Wings of Prey (PC) - JU-87 'Stuka'
The Wings of Luftwaffe DLC allows you to get into the cockpit of some of the most iconic of
Germany's WW2 aircraft (plus one Italian).

"The nicer an airplane looks, the better it flies."
Aviation cliche.

Supporting - and in truth, somewhat flattering - the gameplay are the graphics. Wings of Prey has, generally, some very attractive plane models (though there are a couple of donkies in there as well) with several variants of iconic models in various theater schemes. And I should make a mention of some of the landscapes, they are a delight to fly over.

Wings of Prey - P-51D Mustang, 1944.
A beautiful and suitably wintery scene, my P-51D 'Mustang' cruises over Bastogne, 1944.

Wings of Prey The Finale, Attack the Reichstag!
A late model Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik turns the tables on the retreating Germans!

The game has a very nice replay function which allow you to rewatch your completed sortie and change the camera angles to get that cinematic record of your best missions. I've had a wonderful time watching the replays of my dogfights, occasional near misses and even when my planes were shot down. It's a pretty solid facility where you can change the camera angles and you can save the replays (in WofP's proprietary data file format) so you can re-re-watch your mission but try out different camera angles to get multiple views of particular moments (you can also slow down of speed up 'time').

All this adds up to (at least for the PC player) a great way for you to capture your favourite moments, either in movie format of in some pretty cool stills...

Wings of Prey - Spitfire Mk. II
Battle of Britain action in my Spitfire Mk. II... My first bomber 'kill'!
Wings of Prey - IL-2 & The Hornet's Nest Mission
Night action over the Russian Front in a IL-2 (early model).
Wings of Prey - LA-7 Over Berlin, 1945
Spectacular dawn dogfight between my La-7 and a German Me-109.

Conclusion
Did I have fun with this game? Yes, I did, and I think it fulfils two equally interesting gaming roles...

First of all, Wings of Prey is an accessible casual shooter that you can pick up and have a 'quick blast' with. I can play this via my STEAM LINK on my big telly with a Xbox controller for some 'sofa gaming' or 'desk' it in front of my monitor with a flight stick setup (and pretend it's a proper flight sim).

Additionally, it's a good little 'segway' game where eventually you can feel your head banging on the ceiling of it's inherent limitations and you may feel encouraged to try something more sophisticated, like 'IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad'. But you don't have to.

OR...Alternatively, if you find you want more, but aren't inclined to do something as nerdy as have to read a proper manual and faff around with a pre-flight checklist and realistic flight mechanics, you could look at the developer's follow-up game, 'War Thunder'. [A multiplayer online game featuring some equality fantastic aeroplane models, the challenge of dogfighting real people - instead of WofP's iinsipid AI - but still with a friendly flight mechanics that you can still play using a controller or even a mouse and keyboard.]

Wings of Prey - LA-7 Over Berlin, 1945
I didn't always have things my own way!

Note: I've actually dipped my toe into a similar MMO aerial dogfighting game - 'World of Warplanes' - and can say that it is, indeed, an experience that is almost exactly half way between that of 'Wings of Prey' and a full blown combat flight sim like the 'IL-2' series.

At the end of the day, I felt I got exactly the gaming value out of the game that I spent on it in the STEAM sale. I perhaps would have felt a little disappointed had I originally had to pay a full price for what is such an obvious console port - with little concesion to the extra horsepower that a PC brings to the table and no 'mission editor'.

Wings of Prey - IL-2M Ground Attack Missions
IL-2M ground attack sortie, 1943.
Having completed the Campain missions I feel little compunction to re-play the game again, particularly as there is little way to really crank up the difficulty by way of being able to modify the missions (or create new ones yourself). You simply feel like you want to move on.

Milgeek score: 3/5 - An amusing diversion, but no long term staying power.

Postscript: The game might of had longer legs if Gijan - the developer - had continued producing DLC for the game. A 1939 campaign (featuring Poland, France and the Low Counties, and maybe even Finland) would have been interesting, as would a Far East and Pacific theater mission. But I suspect, Gaijan had by this time seen the writing on the wall and had moved it's interest - and financial model - onto 'War Thunder'.

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PART 2 - 'Wings of [the] Luftwaffe'
As mentioned, I bought the only DLC there was for this game as well while it was on the STEAM sale. Both items came to some ridiculously low price so it seemed daft not to.

Wings of Prey (PC) - Messerschmitt Bf-109
'Wings of Luftwaffe' let's you experience the 'other side', at least from the point of view of
piloting the enemy aircraft. Though the missions don't really give you a sense of thier particular
strategic and tactical problems because of poor mision design by the developers.

The DLC does fill a glaring gap in the story mode of the basic Wings of Prey game. That being that although you take on the German air force as Allied pilots you never get to 'see' he conflict from the other side. It's a bit frustrating playing famous Allied fighters like the Spitfire, Mustang and Mig-1 without actually having a sense of just how competent the enemey aircraft ranged against them was.

Wings of Prey (PC) - Me 109 G2 verses 'Spits' Over Sicily.

The DLC gives you 10 aditional campaign missions that fill this gap as well as access to a large part of the German fighter inventory (and even one Italian one) as well as adding the Bell P-39 to the Allied hanger.

Wings of Prey (PC) - Macchi C202 v P40 Dog Fight
One of the pleasant surprises in the DLC was the incusion of the Italian Macchi C202 fighter.
however, you can only fly this by using the 'Training' mode to set up an encounter with
opposing Allied aircraft - there is no accompaying 'mission'. :(
Wings of Prey (PC) - Desperate Duel Over Stalingrad!
The lack-luster 'Axis' missions do not really give you a flavour of the deperate nature of the
fighting on the Russian front. That and the weak AI mean the game degenerate into little more
than shooting fish in a barrel. That said, I did have a few close calls!

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this add-on is that you can now also have access to some of the Nazi 'secret weapons' of the late war - like the Me262, He162, Arado Ar 234 (the 234 was perhaps the most useless inclusion in the DLC as no appropriate bombing mission is available for it), etc.

To be honest, aside from the novelty of flying the 'opposition' there's little to this DLC as the missions are a bit 'meh'. Worst of all the 'finale' (your mission in the Me262) is, perhaps, a little too historically 'clever' for its own boots which leads to a huge sense of disappointment.

Wings of Prey (PC) - Me 262
I found this mission a bit strange as the Soviet opposition was flying P-39 Airacobras, I found these
quite unchallenging, being obsolete by 1945. HOWEVER, I did some research and was surprised to
read this: "The last plane shot down by the Luftwaffe was a Soviet P-39, on May 8 [1945] by Oblt.
Fritz Stehle of 2./JG 7 flying a Me 262." So there you go, this mission was actually historically
accurate, if not really a fitting final challenge!

If you read some of the reviews of this DLC - dating back to it's original release - you sense just how badly received it was (bearing in mind the full price charged) - and it goes someway, I think, to explaining why Gijan didn't waste time on more DLC or a 'Wings of Prey 2' but, instead, jumped ship to work on 'War Thunder'.

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Link to 'War Thunder' MMO - "Fight with Real Players. Join Now absolutely for free! Virtual Reality Battles. Most Realistic Battles. Historical Tanks & Planes. 10 Million Players."

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