IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover Review
By Chris Commodore |
Way back in 1998, David Kaemmer (iRacing) and his Papyrus Design Group, already celebrated for concocting ground-breaking auto racing simulations such as 1989's Indianapolis 500: The Simulation and the first few installments of the best-selling NASCAR Racing franchise, hit the race sim world squarely over the noggin with the debut of its historical F1 title Grand Prix Legends. To say GPL was misunderstood, questioned, and overtly slagged upon its release is an emphatic understatement.
The game was hard – really, really hard, especially with its less than ideal default car setups. It was not at all friendly to rookies – a questionable move in a genre with a solid hardcore base but also a need for fresh players. And its complex algorithms and graphics engine took a real toll on the PCs and video cards of the era – so much so that most found it virtually unplayable. Ultimately, the game was lauded for its high level of sophistication and physics authenticity yet disparaged for seemingly being released too early and without enough consideration for real world factors.
Funny thing about Grand Prix Legends. Over the next few months, Papyrus acknowledged the game's issues and dealt with them, the fan base enthusiastically implemented modifications, and computer hardware caught up to GPL's potential. And by the turn of the millennium, Grand Prix Legends had morphed into one of the great race simulations of all time.
Fast forward twelve years. Russian game design studio 1C: Maddox Games, headed by a gaggle of enthusiasts known for commitment to their craft, releases the latest installment in its IL-2 Sturmovik series of World War II air combat simulations. Entitled IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover, the sequel is hotly anticipated by what has become a woefully underserviced flight sim community.
Yet within days of its appearance, the rumors and the sad truths emerge. The game, many say, seems unfinished. The graphics are apparently a stuttering, herky-jerky slideshow on even the beefiest of machines. Joysticks behave erratically, radio voice chatter is either indecipherable or nonsensical, the needs of rookie pilots are blatantly ignored, the campaign mode is piecemeal and uninteresting, and programming errors and crashes are seemingly commonplace. In short, say the early opinions, Cliffs of Dover (hence nicknamed "Clod" by various wags), though promising in many respects, is nevertheless a mess.
But that was several months ago. I, on the other hand, had a chance to play the Steam version, released on July 19 and the beneficiary of some rather serious patching. And I have three words PC pilots may want to remember: Grand Prix Legends.
The truth is that even today's heavily patched Cliffs of Dover remains, in many ways, darned messy. The control methodology and implementation, for instance, is nothing if not ludicrous. A game that ships with most of its controls unmapped, then asks you to muddle through hundreds of individual actions and program each to your stick manually? Puh-lease. And then to see some of those mapped controls, for completely unknown reasons, stop functioning when you jump in the cockpit? And others remain strangely unmappable? Grr.
And that's certainly not all that's still wrong with the game. Arguably most critically, it remains a nightmare for newcomers. Yes, there are tutorials, but they're confusing and they assume you know far too much from the get-go. They render incorrect judgments of your efforts, and they teach precious little of all you need to know. The game's digital manual, meanwhile, is filled with jargon and clearly caters to the already indoctrinated. Which leaves us again with the question: in a genre that would seriously benefit from new players and in a game so intricate that even flight sim veterans will have a tough time understanding the details, why does Cliffs of Dover do such a sloppy job instructing rookies?
Otherwise, the campaign mode still feels like an afterthought, the radio/voice transmissions still sound garbled and/or irrational, and the menu interfaces still need polish. Indeed, the very stability of the program remains suspect. I've been bopped from the game several times while in the midst of playing it, and couldn't help but notice brief glimpses of my Windows desktop when I jumped from menu to gameplay interfaces. How did that get in there?