IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles -- WWII 1941-1944 Review
By Chris Commodore |
When it was first released, IL-2 Sturmovik was easily one of the best combat flight sims around. Not being ones to let a good thing die, the team at 1C began work on an ambitious expansion that would add many new features to the game while smoothing out some of the rough patches. But somewhere along the way, the idea of making Forgotten Battles an expansion was abandoned in favor of making it a full sequel that also included nearly all of the content from the previous game.
For those of you who don't already know, IL-2 Sturmovik is a wonderfully authentic flight sim that lets players refight the battles that raged between the Germans and Russians in the skies above WWII's Eastern Front. Yak's danced with Messerschmitts above the frozen steppes while Stukas and IL-2s busted up tank columns. Overall the game was fantastic, even if the campaigns were a bit fixed and left you feeling detached from the action.
This time around the team has opted for slightly more dynamic campaigns. Simply pick a country to fly for, a plane type, and a theater and you'll soon be sitting in your cockpit on the runway. From here you'll advance through a variety of missions focusing on the ground attack/support and escort duties. While the range of missions is nice, they can feel a bit canned or limiting when you consider that you'll have to stick with one plane type for the duration of that campaign. There are opportunities to shake things up with the addition of the new Hungarian and Finnish campaigns but you'll still feel a bit constrained.
The range of planes available in the first game was considerable. Although I had some small issues with the developer's decision to model several varieties of single planes rather than providing fewer iterations of a wider variety of planes. 1C's approach definitely fits the hardcore market they're aiming at but the team has decided to add a lot of new planes as well. And as if to prove that you can have it both ways, 1C has supplemented these brand new planes with plenty of new variations on old models. There are many more 109s and 190s for you, my German friend. A new version of the Stuka also gives the German a big boost to ground attacks.
The P-47 Thunderbolt has always been one of my favorite planes so I'm really glad the team included it. Long before I branched out to other planes, I firmly relied on the robust Jug for all my needs. It fits well here taking full advantage of its ground support orientation. The team has also included the twitchy deathtrap that is the Me 262, Germany's first operation jet fighter. While it's a lot of fun to fly (assuming you don't set the damn thing on fire), it belongs to a new era of jet combat and its inclusion here seems just a bit off, however historically accurate it might be.
There are even plenty of new planes you won't ever get to fly. You'll have the chance to share the skies with standards like the Hurricane and Warhawk which can add a lot of variety to the missions.
But there are still a few more planes you can fly. Forgotten Battles adds new multi-engine bombers to the mix. Flying around in the cutting-edge He-111 is a real treat. Though not as modern (or good, quite frankly), the Soviets get the use of the TB-3 (or "Tubby" as I call it). The new large planes also afford you the chance to man various stations. Imagine being at the lead of a bomber formation when you hear someone call out attacking fighters. From here you can jump to a gunner position and let the AI take control of the flying.
And most of the time it does a good job. The plane AI is consistently challenging with enemies taking full advantage of every opportunity you offer them. Their understanding of energy seems pretty solid and they know how and when to trade height for speed. Even so, I've failed missions because another plane in my squadron collided with me while I was on autopilot. I'm sure it happened during the war, and I'm just as sure that it shouldn't happen in the game. The enemy shoots well enough without Lt. Danski slamming in to my plane. Thankfully, you can set the campaign settings to allow you to continue on past failed missions (assuming you're not dead or freezing your ass off in some god-forsaken gulag).
The flight modeling is first-rate with a noticeable range of performances across aircraft types. Even starting on the runway, you'll notice that planes twist and buck in response to the power of the engine. If these guys would just build corkscrew-shaped runways, we wouldn't have to worry about things like torque -- although I suppose it would make landing a real pain. Once in the air, you can experience a whole range of buffets and drifts and stalls. I still think the stalls seem to need to provide a bit more warning but I like to play the turn and burn game more than most.