IL-2 Sturmovik Review
By Chris Commodore |
Russian-based developer Maddox has crafted a truly remarkable sim. Combining a first-rate flight model with a lesser-known theater of aerial combat in the Second World War ought to be enough to recommend it to any fan of the genre and time period. And it is. But while the tight flight modeling and plane selection is exciting, your sense of connection with the game is limited to the view from your cockpit. Still, when the view is this good, it hardly matters.
The manual handles the job of orienting the player to the game in terms of the general principles of flight and the setting of the conflict. The historical essays that introduce each section of the aerial war between the Luftwaffe and the Soviet air force (VVS) are a great introduction to the material. Browsing through the section on flight essentials didn't reveal anything new to me, but it's an excellent summary of almost all of the particulars of combat maneuvering. The only thing the manual really needs is an overview of the plane types. This info is present within the game itself, but the rest of the manual is too well produced for this information to be lacking here.
The engine offers one of the most convincing and reliable flight models I've ever played -- at least in a combat-oriented game. Wind buffet and torque effects mean you'll constantly be making compensations in the cockpit for the circumstances you're in. And since the spin and stall models are so incredibly unforgiving (read: realistic) you have to stay very aware of the flow of air over your wings. I wish there had been a better warning for stalls built into the game as you can find yourself flicking right out of a turn with no warning.
As with nearly all decent flight sims, you can adjust the realism to suit your abilities. I found the relaxed settings genuinely enjoyable but I don't think it will satisfy gamers who are looking for more of an action-oriented model like that of Crimson Skies. Even if they do manage to get around the runway traffic, the flight model is still a bit rough. But the sim aspects of the game are where the real joy is anyway.
And while the engine offers unparalleled flight modeling, it leaves a bit to be desired in the graphics department. But that's only because the game is coming out a full year after we've already seen the incredibly detailed models of Combat Flight Simulator 2. The plane models here are definitely well done but they just don't live up to the same standard set by the other game. Given that the planes in CFS2 are among the most authentic models I've seen in a game, flight sim or otherwise, maybe that's is an unfair comparison.
But IL-2 does have loads of visual appeal. While the smoke effects can, on occasion, seem a bit polygonal and the plane models look too blocky at a distance, the environments of IL-2 are breathtaking. The cloud and sky model rivals Crimson Skies' already impressive model. You can actually see the various layers within the clouds. Terrain textures and ground objects are extremely convincing right up until you crash into them. That reminds me -- crash animations and visual damage modeling are both solid.
Even though I'm glad the developers have opted to render this long neglected theater, I wish there had been a little more variety among the planes. While there are over 30 flyable planes in IL-2, this really only means that there are several different versions of the same ten planes. I understand that this is a hardcore market and that the developers are somewhat limited by the subject matter but flying ten different versions of the IL-2 gets a bit tedious. Fortunately there are three kinds of P-39, three versions of the MiG-3 and no less than six types of Yaks. Given the realistic approach the developers have adopted you have to take this limitation as fixed, but it still seems a little thin to me.
Another change you have to anticipate given the nature of the conflict is a much closer relationship to the ground. The nature of the fight in Eastern Europe meant pilots typically had to fly at much lower altitudes than their counterparts over the Pacific or in Western Europe. Combat between the VVS and the Luftwaffe was much more focused on ground support. As such, there are lots of tank busting missions here in each of the game's three campaigns. The campaigns are composed of some really intense missions but there seems to be too little tying the separate missions together into a cohesive campaign.
The quick mission builder allows for fights between planes and bombers as well as ground attacks but litte in the way of real "missions." The complex mission editor offers a wide range of options but seems a bit obtuse. Multiplayer is surprisingly solid on the recently launched ubi.com but, as with most online versions of flight sims, there's very little to do than participate in pick-up team-oriented deathmatches. A co-operative campaign mode provides a bit more direction but doesn't seem to be as popular online yet as the straight deathmatches are.
I've been looking forward to this game for several months now. It certainly ranks up there with CFS2 and B-17: The Mighty Eighth but, like those game, it does have a high learning curve and requires you to approach it in a particular frame of mind. Figuring that the only people still reading this review are already in that frame of mind, I've got no problem recommending the game. Sim fans have had a few titles to choose from over the past few years but the flight modeling and choice of theater are more than enough to make IL-2 stand out.