A turn-based aerial dogfighting game may sound bland in writing, but as SteamBirds conclusively proves, it's the whole nine yards of awesome. Working from a top-down perspective, you fight a series of increasingly difficult enemies with your small squadron of planes. Set your course, unleash a fancy ability if necessary, and try to maneuver yourself to a direct line-of-sight to your foe to set your guns blazing. And, you know, don't get shot down yourself.
SteamBirds takes place across a fictional past where fusion aircrafts utilize super-heated steam to wage powerful warfare in the skies. Each stage is a small chapter highlighting battles that took place during this time, the outcome of which is determined by you (assuming you win, of course). You control the red planes on the left side of the screen. Set each craft's flight path by moving the arrow that extends from its nose. When you're all set, end the turn and watch the show.
Planes only fire at each other when they're close enough and facing the right direction. Fortunately, you have a few tools that can help you get out of sticky situations. At the end of each plane's flight path you can choose one of two abilities assigned on a per-level basis. At first, your planes' special abilities are limited to a defensive shield, a speed boost, and a quick-turn option. Later you get access to weapons such as missiles and bombs, but naturally your enemies at that point require a lot more finesse to deal with.
Analysis: SteamBirds emanates perfection from just about every part of its construction. It's an easy game to play, requiring only the mouse to control, and new elements are introduced at a gradual pace, giving you plenty of time to acclimate. SteamBirds' subtleties definitely take some practice to master, though, and in later levels, you'll discover just how important strategy and patience can be.
Visually, SteamBirds is simple but very well designed. The green relief maps give the game a feeling of age and strategy, while the bright explosions, green poison gas, and white ammunitions fire provide a stark arcade contrast that stands out in more ways than one.
Brilliant casual gameplay design, SteamBirds weaves action and strategy elements with a bit of storytelling to create a stunning experience.