Article Type: Preview
Article Date: October 22, 2001
The Word Is Not EnoughOK, time for full disclosure. COMBATSIM.COM pays me the big bucks to come up with superlatives. Sage phrases along the lines of the following: “Awesome. Truly bitchen. Omigawd. So real, I soiled my BVDs.”
Weak. None describes how amazing, immersive, and just plain fun IL-2 Sturmovik is. Describing what this sim holds for the flight-sim faithful is tough, especially when I refuse to use a sentence with the word “paradigm” in it.
I could pile on the hyperbole, but to what end? Forget the hype. It’s inadequate.
IL-2 Sturmovik is the new Czar of Sims. There, I’ve said it.
|Helmut tries out for the 1943 Olympic Messerschmitt Diving Team |
Welcome to the Eastern Front
|The 1C:Maddox Games People are serious about their aircraft |
If you have spent a good part of the last year under heavy sedation or in solitary confinement, a quick overview of IL-2 Sturmovik is called for. Developed by Oleg Maddox and his team of over-achievers at 1C:Maddox Games in Russia, IL-2 combines highly scalable flight and damage modeling with gorgeous graphics. Much of the Maddox team are aeronautical engineering or serious computer science graduates, this overflowing talent pool created IL-2's uncompromising physics and gratuitous eye candy while keeping the hardware burden to an acceptable level. Really, these guys seem wildly over-qualified, as the team’s resumé reads more like the designers for the next generation Sukhoi fighter than humble game developers.
|Cruising for a serious bruising |
The chosen name of IL-2 Sturmovik is that of the spiritual grandfather of the A-10 Warthog and Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft, a “flying tank” built to take, and deal out, gobs of punishment. Other seldom modeled aircraft can be flown in IL-2, including the Yak-9, P-39, MiG-3, along with the ubiquitous German Bf-109. Each of these aircraft is offered up in a bewildering array of variants and sub variants—and each of these in a variety of camo schemes. With such a spread of other detailed aircraft, it seems a bit odd that Sturmovik is used as the title for this detailed simulation of the Soviet/Nazi air war.
What's In A Name?While there is little doubt that Ilyushin's attack aircraft is a significant historical aircraft, let's face reality. The U.S. is the biggest possible market for flight simulations, period. Unfortunately, we of the flight-sim hardcore ranks do not repesent the bulk of simulation sales. Most of those sales comes from Tom Twelve-Pack, the guy who just wandered down the airplane-game aisle after shaking the box for Everquest (primarily because that game had a picture of a hot and nearly naked barbarian chick on it). Our friend Tommy isn't going to know an IL-2 from an Ag-Cat cropduster, and his limited attention span may drift away to B-17 Gunner.
How to rectify this? I dunno. Fact is, from a pure marketing standpoint, IL-2 could use a more recognizable face. Maybe a picture on the box depicting a huge Hollywood-style explosion of a Panzer getting torn apart...with a hot and nearly naked barbarian chick running from it. Too much?
Corporate marketing department headhunters, I can be contacted for further consultation anytime through this webzine.
Our hypothetical friend Tom aside (most kids have imaginary friends--mine were hypothetical), we of the medium and hardcore flight sim mob are slobbering over this one. As the most overplayed band in the history of rock music once opined, It's been a long time since we've rock 'n' rolled. My friends, IL-2 rocks! The Red Sturm, she is Rising.
|Turbines? We don' need no stinking turbines! |
I’ve Got the Newest Build, and You Don’tWith the release of the limited demo version, IL-2 has already attracted the community attention that most here-and-gone sim developers could only fantasize about. There are literally hundreds of different skins and missions already available on a dozen or so web sites, this for a sim that has an official release date that is now slated for November 15.
If you’ve already downloaded the IL-2 Demo, you’ve been given a cruel tease of the Stormovik Experience. If you haven’t downloaded this 102MB masterpiece, get it. Now. We’ll wait here for you.
I, however, have a much more extensive preview copy, and you don't. Neener neener.
|Details, details: The crew scurries from a crippled Li-2 bomber |
What’s in the new build that is not in the demo? Well, this version includes:
There’s little doubt that I would personally drop $50.00 for this thing as it stands now. Really. It is, however, still a beta—though the stability and overall playability of this sim puts many released, patched, and mature sims to shame. I’ve got many hours in it with nary a crash. OK, I actually crash my virtual steeds quite often, but you know what I mean.
- All 31 of the different flyable aircraft (this total includes sub-variants), in all their gorgeous detail
- All of the AI aircraft, including Me-262s and other nasty surprises
- A couple of preliminary campaigns for a Soviet IL-2 pilot or a Luftwaffe Me-109 driver
- More missions
- Voice comms that actually sound like radio transmissions
- More maps and terrains for multiplayer
- A generally more polished “feel”
|The Reds don't have a lock on mud-moving—Renovation 'Jabo' style |
Devil’s in the DetailsFor the true WWII airplane and vehicle geek, IL-2 is a festival of details, details, and even more details. The cockpits themselves are amazing. IL-2 offers up none of this sorry 2D/3D switching of cockpit art that many of us have gotten used to. Immersion is God here, and the lovingly weathered 3D-only cockpit puts you right into the Front Office with clearly readable instruments that are operable and useful regardless of which direction your virtual head may be pointed. This becomes critically important when you either duck into or chase your quarry into the amazingly realistic cloud deck.
Externally, each aircraft and vehicle are rendered in unbelievable detail. In fact, if you are as much a aircraft-recognition junkie as I am, you will revel in the anal-retentive detail that the 1C:Maddox Games team has imparted to such obscure aircraft as the Pe-2 and Timothy Leary-designed twin-fuselage He-111Z Zwillig.
|Even more details: Spent shells and a good look up a pretty girl's radiator |
All of the aircraft sport a weathered, well used appearance that would indeed be typical of aircraft operating in such a desperate theatre of operations. Your radio call number is reflected in the designation portrayed on your mount. Skins that are selected within the game are visible to others during multiplayer flights. Visual damage modeling is unsurpassed in the simulation world, and don’t be shocked if your buddy shouts something as deeply Shakespearian as, “Dude, I can totally see through that most massive hole in your wing!”
It don’t stop there, me bucko. Atmospheric effects are as surprising as they are subtle. While flying against your erstwhile and occasionally lucid publisher of COMBATSIM, in the island arena included in the newest beta build multiplayer, I noticed movement about the shoreline of the rendered archipelago. That’s right, campers, there was a wave action on the shore, with terrain features appearing and vanishing with the rising or lowering swell. Unbelievable! Screen shots obviously cannot capture this, you'll just have to trust me.
Really. I saw it move. And I promise, it wasn’t a hallucination brought on by a bad batch of Heineken.
I could wax on for many a Microsoft Word count on the other truly groovy atmospherics of IL-2, things such as the beautiful (and useful) high-altitude contrails, valley fog, and clouds—so I will. The concept of water vapor playing a part in warfare has been well implemented in IL-2. Weather in IL-2 is an incredible, tactically useful thing. Ducking into a stray culumnus cloud when outclassed by an advantageous opponent can either prolong the inevitable or actually allow you to scratch out a decent firing solution should they lose sight. Unlike recent sims such as Rowan’s Battle of Britain or Microsoft’s CFS2, clouds do little if no impact to the framerate and actually obscure airplanes behind or within the offending cloud. Aircraft ducking into clouds also cause the padlock to be broken.
|The Triple-A in IL-2 is convincing—and rather effective |
In fact, IL-2 captures smoke, vapor, and the like in incredible detail. I watch The History Channel a lot, so I know: WWII was a very smokey conflict. The guys at Maddox Games must have that cable channel too, because they have crafted tracer smoke, muzzle efflux, jet exhaust (yeah, baby…you can fly against Me-262s and Volksjagers) and general smoke from burning things in wondrous realism.
Other forms of weather are a factor. Rain and snow, besides making visibility a factor, also makes grass strips a slick, soupy mess. Spray kicked up by the wheels looks mighty cool, besides. Lightning and the ensuing flash effects also gives the lighting rendering guys a reason to ask for a few more rubles. Hey, Oleg—they earned it.
Let's AeroflotOK, I don't really know what Aeroflot means, but it sounds cool and is most definitely Russian. Work for me. I do, however, know how to fly an airplane, and IL-2 is chock full of airplanes with diverse handling characteristics. The eponymous IL-2, for example, is a long spanned, thick winged, heavy bomber with a barely adequate powerplant. It flies like that. I could elaborate, but my editor would accuse me of padding this article. Use your imagination.
The Me-109 flies like every historical description you've ever read about Willy's wonder. It's fast. The beautiful cockpit rendering portrays the cramped office perfectly, right down to the flat lousy visibility. Pull on her too hard, and the Messerschmitt will depart from controlled flight faster than an Anthrax scare from CNN. The geniuses at Maddox, however, have given the virtual fighter pilot cues galore when your are pushing your Emil or >Gustav past its aerodynamic limits. Keep it fast and high, and your chances are good, but low and slow…well, Stalin likes Germans, right?
|A 'Schwalbe' about to meet its doom |
The Yak-9 is a true joy to fly, if lacking the punch of the trickier P-39 variants. The Bells have that nasty big cannon, but have a rude habit of not keeping the pointy end forward while slow. The MiG-3 is a haul ass high-altitude steed, but ham-fisted stick pulls near her ceiling will result in only those old Flat Spin Blues.
They all have attitudes. Your mission, comrade, is to pick the right one.
Campaign PeekThis new beta features the framework of the IL-2 Sturmovik campaign structure. From the looks of what we have here, the campaign is not going to be the big selling point of this sim. The beta features two strictly linear campaigns: a ground-attack campaign for the Soviet side and a fighter campaign for the German. Just as in a real war, kills, increased rank, and shiny medals are awarded for blowing up more stuff. Keep in mind, however, that IL-2 is a simulation, so kissing up to the C.O. or Political Officer isn't mandantory for advancement. Come to think of it, neither is surviving, as you can always refly the mission until you get it right.
|Campaign debrief screen |
Really just a series of missions strung together in a fashion that makes historical sense, the campaign is unimpressive at this stage. Oh well—it's a sim, not a wargame.
Sturm(ovic) und DrangOne of the biggest immersive factors in any sim, and one that is sadly neglected by many developers, is the ingredient of sound. This is not a problem in IL-2. If you lack a true four or five-speaker surround-sound setup, you will want one. IL-2 supports surround sound in a way unprecedented in flight sims, with spatial and pitch changes as your virtual head translates around and within the cockpit.
The sound designers of IL-2 have made full use of the latest in 3D surround sound and the range of modern soundcard / speaker combinations. Besides being a huge addition to immersion, sound plays a part in situational awareness if the engine starts to overheat or when an enemy attacks. Speaking of engines, if your engine takes a shot and gets damaged, the engine sounds get worse and more labored as time progresses. The death of an engine can take several minutes and the sounds it makes while dying will have your stomach in knots as you attempt to find a friendly airstrip on which to land. With practice, you'll be able to predict by the sound of the engine how close it is to seizing completely.
The staccatto of gunfire from your tail gunner in a later-model Sturmovic, for example, gives cues as to the attacking aircrafts position as the gun sound traverses from left to right. As your virtual head rotates in the cockpit, the up / down / left / right movements create subtle positional sound changes that aid greatly in enabling you to get a grip on where your head is pointed. The engine roar is always up front—and if it isn't, you've got more problems than just keeping a padlock on your bandit.
Voice comms are enabled in the new build, and they are excellent. I can't understand a damn thing they are saying (it's as if they're speaking a different language or something), but subtitles are posted up on the screen for those of us who are linguistically challenged. The chatter is a huge boost to immersion, especially since they actually sound like they are coming over a tactical aircraft radio. Each pilot in your flight has a different, discrete voice, and the acting is superb.
|Going vertical—next time around, Yak Boy! |
The overall quality of the ambient sounds is likeways outstanding. Every type of aircraft engine sings its own distinctive song, and the doppler effect of approaching or retreating airplanes is well modeled. Turning up my Klipsch speakers to a level even Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap could appreciate is standard operating procedure when IL-2 is on deck.
Comrades! Work Together for Increased Productivity!As in the demo, multiplayer is enabled in this beta version, but still only in the head-to-head mode. Co-op missions are promised in the retail version. Many more multiplayer maps are included however, as is the much more varied choice of aircraft. One interesting arena is an island environment, complete with warships that hammer away at passing aircaft. TCP/IP connections were a snap when tried between high-bandwidth machines. I have had problems hooking up a demo version to demo version game between my cable modem-enabled rig and a buddy with a POTS 56k modem, but I'm not sure if this is typical.
Lag and warping didn't seem to be any problem when only two players were hooked up, though I have heard of substantial weirdness when four people are flying. The IL-2 site promises dedicated servers will be avaliable, so these issues may become academic.
One of the coolest features in multiplay is the fact that others in the multiplay arena will see your chosen airplane skin. There are already dozens avaliable, and modification in an image manipulation program such as PhotoShop is supposedly easily done. Look for some wild schemes in the near future.
Comrades! We Must Conclude for the Benefit of World Socialism!And so we must.
IL-2 is a refreshing simulation that, at this late stage, is in no danger of being emasculated or dumbed down before release. I've been getting beta releases for about a year now, and it just keeps getting it gets better and better. This steady improvement is hard to believe, particularly when this sim was more complete six months ago than a lesser sim such as the tepid CFS2 is even now. The retail version promises to blow your balaklavas off.
|The IL-2 box. You'll want this in your collection. |
Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news!