At first glance Gaijin Entertainment’s Birds of Steel seems to be a game in the midst of an identity crisis. Not quite enough of a simulator to satisfy those hardcore flight simulator fans, and definitely not combat heavy enough to appeal to a gamer looking for that arcade action shoot em up. So is Birds of Steel just a mediocre game trying to walk the middle of the road, appealing to as wide an audience as possible but just ending up appealing to no one?

Birds of Steel puts you in a cockpit to fight in the skies through many famous and some lesser know battles of World War II. The main campaign, comprised of about ten missions,  begins at Pearl Harbor and carries the player through many of the famous battles of the American Naval Pacific Theater. But that’s only half of it! You can play nine or ten missions from the other side, attacking American planes and ships from inside a Japanese war plane.

In addition to what Gaijin calls the “Historical Campaign” there are a bunch of one-off missions and a few “Dynamic Campaigns” to keep the game going. It isn’t that these other missions are any less historical than the main campaign, they aren’t set in the future or during the revolution or anything, they differ in that they allow the player to step out side of history and change the outcome of these air battles.

Whether part of the campaign or one of the single servings each mission is pretty similar and made up of a few small primary objectives. By small objectives, we mean small; taking off is typical objective, as is follow the squadron leader… in a straight line. Most of these missions take between three and twelve minutes to complete and are a little weak. The scenario editor however is really cool. The editor lets you play around with history. Ever wonder how German vampire pilots would do against Japanese alien werewolf bombers? Well keep wondering, the editor doesn’t let you go that crazy but you can do some amusing things; like setting an objective where fighter planes have to take out anti-air guns. It’s like trying to fix a machine that requires a wrench but all you’ve got is a hammer… and the machine is specifically designed to destroy hammers. The mechanics and physics of flying and the aerial combat are solid with a few difficulty settings to adjust adding and removing player assists, plus the requisite third person and cockpit views are here, putting plenty of options at the player’s finger tips to get themselves comfortable.

The skies of World War II have never looked this good. Sear your retinas by flying into the sun, get hypnotized by the reflective living ocean, or count the dings on your meticulously detailed fighter; no matter how you look at it, as long as it’s with your eyes, Birds of Steel is visually impressive. The sun light playing through clouds and haze while you fly over varied and accurate land and seascapes serves to pull you into the experience.

There are over one hundred unlockable planes in Birds of Steel. Ranging from pre-WWII biplanes to the late war invention of the jet fighter to some really obscure Australian hardware. Each of these planes is special and unique with the same remarkable level of detail; they all feel, fly, and even sound different. This is the heart of Birds of Steel. In answer to our earlier question, this game is designed to appeal to lovers of WWII era war planes. It’s like Forza, and in that regard Birds of Steel comes through with flying colors.