IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles -- Ace Expansion Pack Review
By Chris Commodore |
Most flight sims don't get two expansions. It's a testament to the industry of the developers and the strength of the franchise that we're looking today at the second expansion for the original IL-2. The first expansion, Forgotten Battles, was meaty enough to be packaged as a full, stand-alone game. And though the quantity of updates here is almost enough to justify the $30 asking price, the $40 bundle that includes the original Forgotten Battles and this latest expansion is pretty much a sure thing for fans of aerial combat games.
Where the first game offered a chance to fight the Germans and Russians, the second let you take the war on from a few more perspectives. This time around, you can fly for a number of European countries and even jump into the cockpit of the planes of other nations as well.
While it's not exactly a criticism, the first game went to great lengths to model slight design variations in planes. Where they might have included 30 totally different planes, the developers opted to include a smaller number of core designs and offer up a number of variations of each. This time around the team is moving farther away from this concept, grabbing designs that don't make sense from a historical standpoint but still offer a chance to sim enthusiasts to have a lot more choice.
The inclusion of planes like the A6M5 Zero doesn't necessarily fit the original Eastern Front concept of the game but it's presence here will give sim fans a chance to try a great plane in a great game. Jets which never saw service in the war are also included here, like the P80 Shooting Star. Other inclusions like the Ta-152 offer gamers a chance to fly a plane that saw limited service in the war but has been passed over by other sims. In all there are twenty new planes here, including variants of the P-51, the Spitfire, the Bf-110 and the Ki-84. There are a dozen or so non-flyable craft as well including B-17s, C-47s and others.
The flight modeling, as before, is first rate and, on extreme difficulty at least, quite authentic. Hardcore sim-heads will enjoy the faithfulness here in terms of basic concepts like stalls or spins as well as more obscure items like feathering props and setting engine mixture. Lightweights can enjoy more relaxed options playing without the worries of engine burnouts, ammo levels or even G-force effects. Still, the game's intended to be a simulation, not an arcade game and playing with limited realism will only make you hungry for more challenging setups.
There are a number of new, one-off single player missions that showcase the new planes. But the real action is found in the seven new dynamic campaigns that you can play online. The session is hosted by the, well, the host, and all the set-up options and results are stored locally on your machine. When creating a mission, you'll set up the action as you would in a Quick Battle. Other players log in as if they were playing a regular co-op game. Options for permanent pilot death and team sizes are up to the server as well. Affecting ground forces and escorting AI-controlled strike forces are how you keep the front moving. Having to do this while combating other players in the sky is what makes it really fun. And that you can take the fight to the waters over the Pacific or the hedgerows over Normandy or the forests of the Ardennes does give a game a slightly different flavor this time around. No more steppes for us.
For the most part, the cooperative missions are friend-only affairs and we haven't found too many that weren't limited in terms of access. The greater number of players seem to gravitate towards the straight dogfight arenas. We've still had some problems with the ubi.com service but the basic options seem fairly reliable.
Graphically, the game has always been a real showcase and the additions here are keeping in line with the overall visual style of the series. The new planes models are wonderfully authentic, from the flaps to the rudder pedals. Cockpits are handled with just as much accuracy as the exteriors. As always, the best thing about the game's visual presentation are the damage effects. Seeing pieces of your enemy's wing spin by your cockpit as you unload your machine guns into him is a real treat.
Soundwise, things could be better simply because I ran into some problems with my Audigy card. When first installed the expansion only offered voice sounds without any of the ambient engine noise or weapon effects. Trying the game on another card, I was not surprised to find the weapons and engine sounds matched the standard set by the previous game.