Wings of Prey is a frighteningly realistic air combat flight simulator game to recreate aerial battle of World War Two.

Wings of Prey is a flight simulator and aerial combat game. It’s immersive graphics and effects let you experience virtually the stress and challenges of flying allied combat aircraft while shooting down, or being shot at, by the Luftwaffe.

Some people play flight simulators as a way to relive the pleasure of flying. You can also use flightsims to help to learn to fly – X-Plane has a version certified for trainee pilots. But Wings of Prey is an unashamedly enjoyable way to recreate the excitement of Second World War Two dogfights and bombing raids.

If Wings of Prey looks familiar to flightsim fans, bearing a strong resemblance to the classic Il-2 Shturmovik, it's because there seems to be a connection between the Russian developers that created both games.

You can start reasonably gently with no prior flying experience in the Tutorial level. This takes you through the basics of piloting a Spitfire Mk II, starting over a beautifully detailed green Kent countryside – more specifically, over Canterbury and its cathedral. A plum-voiced RAF instructor explains the basics of flying as you try out basic manouevers.

Wings of Prey can be controlled by a USB joystick, and we also tried it only with a qwerty keyboard. This may be usable for simple flying and some combat moves, but advanced dogfighting certainly benefits from a two-axis joystick with weapons’ triggers. The Logitech Extreme Pro 3D joystick we used also allows a twist movement to be converted into rudder action, which saves using Z and X keys or even an external rudder kit.

Within the cockpit, most instruments such as artificial horizon give correct feedback, although at the simplest level of three flight modes (Arcade, Realistic, Simulator) you need only to point the plane in the right direction and get ready to fire your cannons to enjoy yourself.

View modes include cockpit and exterior, the latter allowing you to swivel around the plane up to 180 degrees, as well as above and below. You can also fly the Bristol Blenheim bomber, where view modes include either the bombardier’s aim crosshairs, or you can control the rear gunner, picking off attacking German fighters as they line up behind to attack.

More advanced training in Wings of Prey takes you through the over-boost mode used for short-term power increases in dogfights, here labelled with its US name war emergency power (WEP). Other US-isms include the troubling American accents of some of your RAF squadron colleagues – although this could be explained away by the secondment of American and Canadian pilots during the Battle of Britain...

Arcade mode is straightforward enough; later tutorials give guidance in more twitchy Realistic and Simulator flying. You’ll need a good mastery of aerial engagement before you can expect to take on a Messerschmitt in a swooping dogfight without stalling or spinning to the ground.

In the latter modes, pull a too-tight turn and you can also expect to experience the effects of g-force on your body, with the screen dimming and sound level dropping as the blood drains from your virtual head. The realistic flight levels also feature more complex damage models that recreate flying problems with damaged control surfaces. You can even fiddle with carb mixtures and propeller pitch in the Simulator mode.

Use the game’s encyclopedia function for more flying tips, such as use of rudder to recover from a spin. There are also combat manoeuver tips, such as use of the barrel roll and Immelman turn.

Various missions in Wings of Prey are available to start you off, letting you try out the Spitfire Mk IX and XVI, as well as fighter-bomber Hurricanes and the P-51 Mustang.

Further on chronologically, the action moves to the eastern front, with Soviet air force planes defending Stalingrad from FW-190s and Bf-109Gs. Other arenas offered include Invasion of Scicily, Korsun Pocket, and the Battle of the Bulge.

We found Wings of Prey entirely compelling, with real adrenaline-pumping moments. And realism extends to the scratches in the Perspex canopies, as well as difficulty in keeping aim when your machine gun or cannon fire causes recoil on the airframe, with your tracer spraying off target until you compensate.

Sound effects of passing planes and weapon fire add to the experience, and there’s a stirring soundtrack from lauded game-soundtrack composer Jeremy Soule.

But it’s not quite perfect. Occasionally we encountered bugs that left us stuck in one view mode, or we found ourselves entirely off the reference aerial map so without a chance to fly home to the airfield.

Features we missed included mid-mission saving – we couldn’t find a way to pause and save a game in the middle of a battle. Meanwhile RT chatter could get very repetitive, with phrases such as ‘We’re on course, on time and target!’ proving quite wearing after the first few hundred times.

DRM built into the software allows two instances of installation, with a one-time online activation. Thereafter there’s no need to keep the DVD disc in you PC. Online multi-player gaming is also offered.

If you get tired of the allied-centric view of WWII flying, there’s an add-on pack to download, Wings of Luftwaffe ($15), which lets you fly one of Hermann Göring’s fleet and take on the Royal Air Force and the allies.

There are many planes teasingly pictured in the Hangar section of the Wings of Prey game menu, including the B-17 Flying Fortress and Me-262 jet fighter. We would have liked to chance to fly some of these – maybe they’re locked away until other levels are completed? – but at present only P-40E Kittihawk ($3) is offered as an additional plane download.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Wings of Prey: Specs

  • Windows XP SP3/Vista SP1/7
  • Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
  • 1GB RAM
  • DirectX 9.0 graphics card with 256MB RAM
  • 10GB drive space
  • Windows XP SP3/Vista SP1/7
  • Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
  • 1GB RAM
  • DirectX 9.0 graphics card with 256MB RAM
  • 10GB drive space

OUR VERDICT

A few small wrinkles are not enough to spoil the fun of this superbly realistic aerial-combat flight simulator. It’s three levels of difficulty will keep both flightsim newcomers and flying aces happy, and the flight scenarios can be played over again until you gain the expertise you need to succeed in following battles. Highly recommended.

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