SteamBirds: Survival is the sequel to the original SteamBirds. Like its predecessor, SteamBirds: Survival is a turn-based tactics flash/mobile game set in an alternate version of the 20th century, during which the player controls various planes to destroy as many of the infinite Axis planes as possible.
SteamBirds: Survival operates on a turn-based system: the player chooses where to move his/her plane(s) and what power-ups to use (if any) and presses the "End Turn" button to watch the combat play out. Once the turn's actions have been completed, the next turn begins, during which the process is repeated. When an enemy plane is shot down, it leaves behind a power-up that can be collected by the player by flying over it. Power-ups do not have to cool down after usage; however, planes have limited supplies of said power-ups. Enemies will appear endlessly, so the battle will end when the player is killed.
The game is not divided into separate chronologically-arranged missions; rather, the game is divided into various planes that can be purchased upon obtaining the required amount of currency in any order.
The original web browser game offers 24 planes, 8 of which must be purchased with actual money. The game is always played in the same scenario (the Battle of London), but the starting enemy formation and the number of enemies that arrive in each wave depend on the power of the plane being used.
The player is not limited on the number of different power-ups he/she can carry.
The mobile game offers only 11 planes (3 of which are premium planes from the Flash version of SteamBirds: Survival), but none need to be purchased with actual money. The game is divided into 11 cities, which require the use of their exclusive plane to complete their 8 missions. These missions have victory conditions (ex: down 45 planes, survive 10 waves, etc.) that must be fulfilled to advance to the next mission in the city's story. Once the conditions are met, the player can either choose to return to the base (immediately opening up the next mission) or continue fighting (allowing the player to fight until death before continuing to the next mission). While the missions must be completed in a certain order, the cities can be purchased in any order the player desires; in addition, the player is not required to complete an entire city's story before entering another one - the player can jump between cities how he/she so wishes. This system is more similar to the original SteamBirds in that the missions are in chronological order and form a cohesive plot.
The player is restricted to only being able to carry 6 different power-ups.