Birds of Prey (Third Review)

Title           Birds of Prey (Third Review)
Game Type       Flight Sim
Company         Argonaut/Electronic Arts, 1991
Players         1
Compatibility   All (With JST Patch)
HD Installable  Yes
Submission      Dante Mendes De Patta (

Birds of Prey is what modern flight sim specialists call a "survey sim"; a
flight sim focused on several aircraft instead of a single plane to
model. That's half the fun, because people expend a lot of time just trying
each aircraft, just for fun. And Birds of Prey, as an out of the box
product, excels over the competition with a stunning selection of 40
aircraft to fly. They're classified in categories (single-engine,
multi-engine, supersonic, etc.), shown in the simple but efficient menu
system and user interface. Most of the famous military planes are present,
from fighters (F-16, various MiGs, Tornado, etc.), bombers (B-52,
Tupolevs..), cargo planes and even a civilian airliner (Boeing 747-400).
It's curious that all this data is placed on only one 880kb floppy disk.
The other disk is occupied by a rather interesting and well done intro
animation showing two F-16s entering a dogfight with 2 MiG-29s - it has
that same 'raytraced feeling' of the intro anims of the games Killing Game
Show and Nitro.

The game is focused on a real time campaign environment, with two sides
taking part, Side A (Blue), composed of Western aircraft (resembling
NATO), and Side B (Red), composed of Eastern aircraft (resembling the
Warsaw Pact). The depicted game's map is fictitious, but it's
strategically interesting, with 3 airbases for each Side, and one aircraft
carrier plus several useful ground facilities (factories, powerplants,
radar stations, cities). As the map is rather large for a flight sim of
its generation, the ground facilities and cities are very sparse. Overall,
the scenery is very scant with a few mountains and bases here and there,
but it is not a problem at all. What should be taken into consideration is
the fact that the campaign is real-time, the map is "alive" with planes
doing their patrols, taking off, landing, and anything you do will reflect
in this real-time environment. You can expend some time just cycling with
the relevant keys to see planes on their missions, and entering combat too,
all done by the game's very impressive A.I.

As you start the game, you are presented with the Pilot Record screen,
where you have the stats of your current "Pilot" (Rank, what plane he's
flying, the current time of day, where he's based, etc.). Pressing the
"F1" key from this screen gives you access to the Battle Status graphic,
that shows how things are going for the Air Power and Land Power of Side
A, as well as Air Power and Land Power of Side B - overall, it's a simple
and useful way of telling you who's winning the war.

After the 'creation' of your Pilot alter-ego, clicking "Next" will bring
you to the "Choose Mission Type" screen. At this time, if you want to win
this war, you should start thinking in a strategic way. Two simple
things are needed to win a war in Birds of Prey: 1) Air Superiority and 2)
the destruction of all enemy means of 'rebuilding' their forces. Each Side
has 30 planes each, destroying all these planes and removing the enemy's
capacity to build more planes will give full air superiority to you - then
you just fly over enemy territory causing sufficient destruction to force
the enemy to surrender. It's usual to start the war by some Intercept
missions, where you have to destroy around 6 of their frontline fighters
per mission (in the higher ranks). Then, some strikes on their airbases,
with powerful long range strike fighters (like the F-15E or even F-117),
to disable their capacity to take-off and intercept your bombers (and
remember, one of those enemy aircraft shelters entirely destroyed is a
loss of around 6 aircrafts for the enemy). After this serious bashing of
the enemy forces, you should start to blow up their means of rebuilding,
i.e. demolishing all the factories owned by the enemy. You have then
achieved the all important Air Superiority, and it is just a matter of
time until the enemy surrenders.

The Flight itself
After choosing mission type, you should select a plane appropriate for
your mission. If you choose Interception and select a C-130 Hercules or
something like this, you'll be a hopeless sitting duck and will be shot
down in flames just after take-off, so select a powerful plane - these
cargo planes and others crates unfortunately don't play any important role
in the game, you can just win the war easily using just the most powerful
combat planes available on your side - I think they included these more
exotic aircraft just to show off how well the Argonaut flight model
performs on such different aircraft.

After selecting the plane, you are presented with the usual arming screen
- with your plane smoothly spinning in a window, very Elite/Frontier like;
you can choose even the amount of fuel in the plane's fuel tanks, and the
resulting weight increase is accordingly depicted - the game gives the
maximum takeoff weight of each plane and you have to pay some attention to
it, because if you fill your plane with fuel and weapons past the maximum
takeoff weight, the plane will simply refuse to take-off.  I had
experienced this embarrassing event the first time I picked an A-10
for a fly around; it just shows how ambitious the flight model was for its

Once in the cockpit, you start your flight from inside the Hangar in your
chosen airbase (or deck elevator if you choose an aircraft carrier). The
cockpit panel is very complex and detailed, with several analog dials at
the right and some MFDs at the center and left. The cockpit panel is the
same for all aircraft(!), a little disappointing but, how can you manage
to place 40 different cockpits into one single floppy disk? Well,
surprisingly enough, the cockpit panel isn't very useful, I fly usually in
the full screen HUD mode, all the useful information is there.

Well, back to the flight, after turning on your engine, accelerating a bit
to taxi across the grass in front of the tarmac, you reach the runaway and
hit full throttle. Each plane has it's own characteristics and so, it's
useful to take a good look at the manual, specially where it talks about
the take-off speeds of each plane - the modern fighters are fairly similar
in this respect, most taking off at roughly 150 knots. Take-off speed
changes drastically if you're in a Mach-3 SR-71 Blackbird or a slow
Antonov cargo plane, however.

Once in the air (if the Realistic Flight option is turned on), the plane
behaves very realistically, with roll inertia, pitch weight, angle of
attack, speed drain in high G turns and you can even manage to put the
plane into a spin. It's without doubt the most realistic flight model in
any flight sim from its generation. It was only beaten with the release of
DI's Tornado. It just feels 'right', with that same sturdy feeling of
JETPilot, another flight sim much appreciated due to its flight model. You
can even stress the airframe of your aircraft, damaging it. This came with
a price: Birds of Prey was without doubt the most hardware demanding
flight sim of its time. I started playing it on 68030/50MHz, it was very
smooth on that system, but in 1991 (the year the game was released) I
guess most people were using a 68000 at 7MHz or something along these
lines, and it's definitely not very pleasant in a system below the 68030.
Currently, I play it on a 68060/50MHz, it's just silky smooth on this

I play Birds of Prey using a digital joystick firmly attached to my table,
it gives very good response, although the best option would be an analogue
Joystick (yes the game supports it, unfortunately I never had the
opportunity to test one in my Amiga). The keyboard flight control is bad,
a minor problem, it doesn't support the arrow keys to fly, you have to
pilot using A, Q and other ridiculous keys that don't work very well on an
A1200 keyboard, but nevermind. Mouse control is quite slow and unreliable,
i.e. you have to drag the mouse too much around your table in a dogfight -
its not very pleasant either.

The Combat
After you have mastered the art of flying in your desired aircraft, it's time
to fight. The air combat in Birds of Prey is pretty different from the
early Amiga flight sims which focused on one-on-one air combat; Birds of
Prey is more oriented towards multi-aircraft engagements - in the higher
ranks, it's you and your wingmans against 6 or so enemy fighters and
bombers and the ground SAM (Surface-to-Air-Missile) installations. These
usually take part in the engagements too, often very effectively, another
nice feature of a 'live' dynamic campaign.

The engagements usually start with adversaries miles away from each other,
starting with very long range missiles (if you're flying an F-14 Tomcat,
for example, you can launch the famous Phoenix missile 100 miles away,
just after take-off - almost from the deck of your aircraft carrier).
Then, as the enemy are getting closer, you change to Medium Range missiles
such as AMRAAM AIM-120 or Sparrows, all radar guided (while the Eastern
aircraft will use Alamo and Apex radar-guided missiles). The surviving
aircraft will then engage you in close quarters air combat with short
range weapons, namely IR missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder (and the
AA-8 "Aphid" for the Eastern aircraft). The enemy AI is good in close
range dogfighting, but usually a turning fight ensues and the enemy never
break off vertically or use Immelmans etc. It's not that hard, you have
only to take care to avoid air-to-air collisions, and avoid overshooting
the enemy, who will instantly kill you with a pointblank IR missile shot
into your tailpipe, if you do. I have never been shot down by cannon in
air combat, I don't think they have simulated it; but your gun is very
powerful (despite the disappointing sound it makes) and you only need to
point the center of your HUD at the enemy and press fire to obliterate the
enemy if he's at less than 1.5 miles from you. There isn't any visual
effect when you fire your gun - again, a lack of space in memory or on the
disk, probably.

When they fire missiles at you - usually radar-guided long or medium range
missiles - a beeping sound grows in frequency as the missile is getting
closer - very thrilling and it makes you very nervous the first few
times, because there's a distance marker in the HUD showing how close the
enemy missile is to you - if the distance is zero, you're dead - the plane
simply explodes with one hit and you die instantly - yes, very harsh, but
that's life. I think it's a refreshing change from the usual flight sims
where you stand 4 or 5 direct missile hits and continue flying in one
piece. But the good news is its quite easy to avoid these long or medium
range missile shots, just wait until they're less than 10 or 9 miles from
your plane (the sound will change slightly) then start pulling Gs in a
left or right turn while dropping Chaffs - with the correct timing and
practice, you'll deny any radar-guided missile shot anywhere and anytime.
The IR missiles are a bit harder to avoid, as the enemy usually fire them
at pointblank range, straight at your tail pipe - it requires some luck
and joystick wiggling, and frantic pressing of the "F" key (for Flares) to
evade this type of attack.

If you get confused by the ongoing battle raging around you, you can press
Return to take a look at the Map - the action will be frozen, and you have
time to plan your next movement based on the positions of all aircraft,
ground installations AND missiles at that given  moment in time during the
engagement - it is very useful to actually see where your enemies are and
how close they are from your homebase (remember, if they bomb your base,
you'll be moved to another base, and it could be further from the primary
targets that you have in mind).

The wingmans (you can turn them On or Off in the Pilot Menu) fight bravely
and they have a good all-round A.I., despite the fact that they can
shoot you down by mistake (its very rare, but it happens!). Curiously,
the enemy also suffers from "friendly fire" (pay attention to something
like "8:26 - Side-B Mig-29 was hit by AA-10 Alamo launched by Side-B
Mig-29" in the debriefing display).  An interesting twist in Birds of Prey
is that, if you shoot down anyone on your own side (like your wingman, or
bomb your own base), you'll automatically fight for the opposite side, but
if you're on the opposite side and keep on committing these acts of
aggression against people on your own side, nobody will want you on either
side anymore.

Air-to-Ground ("mud moving")
Bombing missions in Birds of Prey are part of the key to success in a
campaign; just like the Allies over Europe in WWII. You have to bomb the
factories so the enemy can't rebuild their air defenses and so you can
reach a state of Air Superiority over enemy territory. There are larger
bombers with awesome range and bomb loads (B-52, B-1B, Tu-26 Backfire
etc), but they don't have air-to-air defense capability (and please don't
trust your life to a bunch of AI wingman escorts). So, it's advisable to
use these heavy bombers only after you get achieve Air Superiority. While
the enemy fighters are still popping up from their bases, you should use
advanced strike fighters like the F-15E, Tornado, etc. They can pretty
much defend themselves against attacking enemy fighters. The F-117 Stealth
Fighter (only available while fighting for Side A) is also interesting for
its capability of attacking targets surrounded by SAM sites and close (and
undetected) to airbases with their interceptors. Also for naval attacks,
the Tu-26 Backfire bomber (Side B) with its anti-ship missile "Kingfish"
is great for taking out the aircraft carrier belonging to Side-A.

As a rule, I never follow the somewhat poorly conceived mission orders
issued by the game; I plan my own missions, according to what I think is
most important for the ongoing campaign. Fortunately, the game is
open-ended enough so there is no problem with disobeying orders and
creating your own strategy and mission orders. To provide me with the
freedom to do what I want, I usually select the Border Patrol missions
(requiring that you fly for HOURS from A to B without ANYTHING to do at
all). Once this is selected, I choose a powerful strike fighter (or
bomber, or whatever I think is best for the mission), load its ordnance
and fuel, then enter the cockpit.

Once in the Hangar, I hit the Return key - it brings up the game's map -
already discussed, but again, it's a very comprehensive feature. You can
zoom in and out freely, scroll around, and everything is correctly marked
with names clearky displayed. You should start the mission by marking on
the map a waypoint for your autopilot to bring you over the target you
have in mind - usually trying to keep away as far as you can from SAM
sites and enemy airbases.

The Autopilot function in the game is also very comprehensive and
impressive for a game of this age; you can set factors such as "Arrive
Further" or "Arrive Near" the marked target, the altitude you'll be
flying, and there's a couple of pre-defined waypoints directing you to any
of the 3 airbases, or the aircraft carrier, on your side. Engaging
autopilot, the game will display a view of your plane in a "fly past", a
time skip is done and you are returned to the cockpit view, with you
now located more or less where you placed your waypoint - another good
point in this game's favour - it's a bit like the autopilot in the game
Wing Commander.

If you're intercepted while in autopilot, the game displays the message
"hostile near" and disengages the autopilot for the combat, sometimes this
happens very early into your trip, you then have to fight or try to evade
(low altitude flight etc.) manually. Once over the desired target and
ready to drop your bombs, you must remember to be careful to avoid the
'blast radius' from the explosion of a big factory or installation - again
an impressive and pioneering realism feature in a flight sim so old. The
only thing missing in the air-to-ground operations is
Anti-Aircraft-Artillery (AAA), i.e. guns firing at you from the ground -
there's only SAM missile sites.

Curious/fun things
One of the stars of the game is the Harrier jet, and the way it works,
more precisely its flight model. It has 2 keys to move the thrust nozzles,
and with some practice you can perform perfect vertical take-offs (nozzles
at around 86 degree angle and go full throttle - watch the plane going
upwards with the Tab key). It's a Harrier Gr.3, the variant that the RAF
used before the Harrier II Gr.5 or Gr.7 replaced it in the early 90's. It
can't perform a vertical take-off with a large cargo load (the game
simulates this), so you should do a STOL take-off, and the game simulates
this as well. You can use some of the VIFF tactics in air combat too
(vectoring the thrust to achieve ultra-tight turns and also to avoid
overshoots), pretty nice, but beware, it requires lots of practice to
avoid losing control while maneuvering. The only problems with the
simulated Harrier are the rudders while you're hovering. They don't work
well, i.e. you can't control exactly were you want to point your nose (I
doubt that a real Harrier has this rudder problem) and, the weapon points
are wrong - 3 per wing, while a real Harrier Gr.3 has only 2 weapon points
per wing - it's also a problem with other planes too, but these are minor
problems. Overall you end up with a very good Harrier simulation in the
package. You can even manage to land the Harrier on the rooftop of a
skyscraper, just for fun.

There is also the famous F-117 stealth fighters and the B-2 stealth
bomber, and yes, they really are non-detectable by the enemy radar (making
it very difficult to shoot down if you're a Side-B MiG or Sukhoi pilot -
you have to go for a guns shot).  Just like in real life, they carry only
bombs (a couple in the F-117, and dozens of bombs in the B-2 - pretty

Carrier landings are very hard. Usually you end up with the plane damaged
due to the heavy landing. Damage is also done to your plane by airframe
stress during excessive maneuvers . As I've said, one missile hit and the
plane disintegrates instantly.

There is a seagull flying along the runaway on the airbases, when you're
taking off usually you hear its cry and sometimes you see it passing by;
sometimes when you 'carpet bomb' an enemy airbase with a B-52 or Tupolev,
you kill these poor seagulls - just read the debrief text where they say
something like "9:36 - a bird from Side B was destroyed by a MK-82 bomb.".
Yes, I'm serious - I'll take a screenshot of the debrief screen and send
it to you if you don't believe it!

In the northeast of the first Airbase of side A, there's a huge hole in
the ground, several hundred feet deep - I actually did a vertical
descent with a Harrier in this curious natural feature; when I touched the
hole's floor with the Harrier's wheels, I suddenly disappeared and
re-appeared on the other side of the map - wow, a bug or a secret teleport
thingie in the game?

Ah, the X-15 flight...I almost ended this review without commenting on the
X-15 - something never attempted before! Yes there's a Mach-6 X-15
aircraft that can be dropped from a B-52 bomber, very cool, when you
engage full throttle and point it up, the sky becomes darker and darker
and you see stars everywhere - yes, you reached the edge of the atmosphere
- almost in space! Suddenly, though, the engine stops and you glide your
way home - but I never managed to land the gliding X-15 successfully -
it's the hardest thing craft to control in any flight sim!

There's also a cool mission to drop paratroopers and jeeps from a C-130,
fly a SR-71 Blackbird in a reccon mission (actually useful for your
campaign, to check if the enemy is rebuilding any previously bombed
target), there's even in-flight refueling (although it's entirely
automated and kinda boring, not as good as the in-flight refueling
featured in Activision's Fighter Bomber - but at least you can call the
refuel tanker anytime you want!); the list of fun things to do in Birds of
Prey is almost endless. It has so much in one package that it deserves a
90%+ score in this review. It's one of the greatest Amiga flight sims ever
and I still play it(!), a tribute to the lasting appeal of the game.

Graphics and Sound
Well, the graphics in Birds of Prey are good for their time, above average
in fact, but the landscape graphics are not as detailed as in F-19 Stealth
Fighter, and the aircraft graphics and objects are not as detailed in
Fighter Bomber, for example. But it has good features, like simple
lightsourcing (according to the position of the sun), and you can disable
curious things such as the "checkered dots" patterns in the graphics.
There are even simple trees in the ground in some areas. The aircraft
graphics are well done with features such as moving wings for the F-111,
Tornado, F-14 etc., and you can see the weapons hanging bellow the wings
(As far as I know, this was the first flight sim to feature this, at least
on the Amiga). You can 'lock' the horizon rotation by pressing a key, then
the game activates a nice coloured sky and horizon, slightly resembling
the game TFX. The explosions are weird - a flash in the screen followed
by the aircraft or object decomposing itself in a mess of polygons. The
sound is pretty good, with nice surround effects, the growing 'beeping'
alert of incoming missiles, and the excellent jet engine sound (and
propeller engine sound for the appropriate planes). You can hear the enemy
missiles flying past you, it's very impressive. Also the Tanks on the
ground are very noisy, you can hear them when you pass over in your A-10.
The only weak sound, in my opinion, is the gun sound.

After this huge list of features and things to do, I still think I've
missed something out, the game is so comprehensive and feature-packed that
it is hard to comment on all the things in just one review. It is one of
those games that deserves an entire book to be written about it (like the
famous 'strategy guides'). It's worth every cent I paid for it, surely,
and I didn't have any problems with it (although people with low spec
hardware gave it a hard time). Finally then, Birds of Prey is one of the
best Amiga flight sims and one of the most feature packed of all time in
the history of the flight simulation.

Category list.

Alphabetical list.