Article Type: Review
Article Date: December 10, 2001
IL-2 Sturmovik is the long awaited, much anticipated, new release from Oleg Maddox's 1C:Maddox Games and Ubisoft Entertainment. Set on the Eastern front of the Second World War, it re-creates the air war between Nazi Germanyís Luftwaffe and the Soviet Unionís VVS. Lacking the romance of the Flying Fortresses, Mustangs, Liberators, Spitfires, and Thunderbolts that Westerners are more familiar with, it was thought to be a war that was too unfamiliar to be of much interest to western flight simmers at one time, but after several recent flight simulations fell short of expectations, fans of the genre placed high-hopes on IL-2. It doesnít cover the entire front, that would be almost as huge an undertaking as the actual war was, but it covers some of the most important battles of that war.
Setup and InstallationMinimum requirements:
- Pentium II 400 or AMD K6-3 400 Mhz (Pentium III/AMD K6-3 600 or better recommended)
- 128 MB RAM (256 MB RAM or more recommended)
- 3D Video Card with 16MB RAM DirectX 8 compatible (32MB RAM or more recommended)
- Sound Card (DirectX 8 Compatible)
- DirectX 8 or higher (DirectX 8 included on the CD)
- Internet connection or LAN for Multiplayer
The installation only gave me the option of a full install. Iíve got gigs of empty hard drive so thatís not a problem for me, but the option of installation size is always nice. You can also choose to install DirectX 8.0, and software to play IL-2 multiplyer on the Ubi.Com servers.
The game installed easily enough however, and I was quickly flying the Fw-190A4, the plane that Iíd not gotten to fly in the beta version. One thing I noticed is that the default desktop icon that the installer creates wasnít actually routed directly to my il2.exe. I deleted that and created a new icon for my desktop directly from the il2.exe itself.
After installation, the game settings are easy enough to set through the il2setup.exe program. Under the Driver tab choose either DirectX or OpenGL, (OpenGL is recommended by the developer) set the screen resolution and bit mode (16 or 32) you would like, select your video card from the list of choices offered under the Video tab, make sure the Use Joystic box is ticked under Joystick (unless youíre masochistic enough to fly with the keyboard), choose your soundcard type in the, you guessed it-Sound tab, and lastly, for multiplayer, select your connection type in the Network section.
|Main screen |
The user interface screens appear rather spartan (hey, this is the Russian front, donít look for bourgeois trappings here!) but theyíre very simple to navigate, and quite user-friendly.
|Hardware setup screen |
In-game you can either use the simple video options settings, or custom to set some more flight-sim familiar options such as terrain detail, object and terrain lighting, viewing distance, and so on. All the options, both in the game's setup area and through the external setup program are easily changed if youíre unsatisfied with your original settings.
The manual is rather small, physically, gluebound rather than spiral bound, and to me a disappointment. I like the great big manuals like the one that came with Falcon 4.0. The print in it is also small, and compared to the background color of the page it is rather light, making it somewhat difficult to read easily. The information contained within, however, I found to be adequate. That doesnít mean that itís great, it means that itís enough to get you going. There is a great deal of information that could have been included, maybe even should have been included, but wasnít. There is also a keyboard layout sheet, printed on a rather flimsy cardboard, which is always nice to have.
GraphicsThe graphics are simply breathtaking on my GeForce2. These are, without a doubt, the most realistic looking skies youíll see without sticking your head out the window and looking up.
|Yak flying through storm clouds |
The sun glare has actually made me squint from its brightness, and the fields of the steppes look like a wonderfully woven tapestry of green and tan grasses, both at altitude and down low to the ground. The clouds are fluffy and, in the middle of them, blinding. In the heat of battle they can be both a blessing and a curse. You better watch your instruments when flying through one or youíll be quickly disoriented! The graphics are, in a word, beautiful, and can make you feel as though you are actually looking out of your cockpit at Mother Russia itself.
|Bf-109 flying over a Russian forest |
|Blinded by the light |
This doesnít come without a price, however. The very nicely done forests and cities can easily put you into a case of the ďstuttersĒ if your setup isnít configured well, or youíre simply asking too much from your computer.
|Crimean castle |
The rivers and ocean, simply put, are incredible. The water in the rivers actually flows and has current, and the ocean's waves roll in and out on the beaches. Houses, factories, lighthouses, railway junctions, bridges, railyards, outhouses, (yesÖouthouses!) all appear to have been created with great attention to detail. The development team really outdid themselves.
|Factories in Belgorod |
Flying without icons turned on can make it difficult to detect friend from foe in the air as the aircraft have to be fairly close to make out a great deal of details for a positive identification. But setting the visibility distance to high has helped with that. For me, this has brought home the reasoning behind the Luftwaffeís use of yellow ID bands on their aircraft as this is my first indication of who is who in a furball. Also, distant objects show up on my system as black squares. As I get closer they take shape and that dark contrasting shape disappears, itís definitely not a game-stopper, but it removes from an otherwise very immersive experience.
Damage EffectsThere isnít anything much more thrilling to a bloodthirsty PC pilot than watching his or her prey becomes a fireball in mid-air. A smoking hole in the ground is probably the next best substitute. Iím happy to report that damage effects in IL-2 are fantastic. It goes something like this: Billowing clouds of smoke, flames licking the sky from the bullet-ridden fuselage of a crippled aircraft, a stream of translucent gasoline trailing behind a doomed fighter, followed by the rapidly expanding ring of a shockwave as the fuselage impacts the earth. If youíre a fan of pyrotechnics and aerial carnage (ground carnage too for that matter) youíll love the first-rate effects in this sim.
|Burning MiG |
|Shockwave effect |
|Shot up cockpit |
The next best thing to watching your quarry bloom into a large yellowish-orange ball of fire before your eyes is watching large chunks of his steed falling off. Speaking from a whealth of experience though, I know that being on the receiving end of that treatment is rough. Feeling your aircraft suddenly pulling to one side, looking out your cockpit window at your wing and seeing huge holes blown in it by cannon fire is a fun, though ego-deflating experience. (I keep telling myself that Iíll get used to it, but I havenít yet.)
The up side to this is that thereís no big hit bubble surrounding you. To hurt you, theyíve got to actually hit you. Weak points on a real aircraft are modeled here too. Taking a hit to your radiator, or multiple hits to your wing root will spoil your day quickly. When your canopy suddenly gets riddled with bullet holes you may, (or if youíre lucky you may not), suddenly be flashed a Pilot Injured message on your screen. Or, even worse, Pilot Killed.
There are times though when youíve got to wonder how a plane thatís so bullet strewn that itís darn near whistling as the wind passes through its many openings can stay in the air. I suppose that itís quite possible. Iíve seen photographs of airplanes from World War II that I wouldnít disgrace a scrap yard with that still managed to carry its passenger(s) back home.
|Damaged buildings |
Leaving your flaps down and entering a power dive will reward you with stuck flaps. Not that I know that from experience or anything… Also not high on my list of recommendations is dropping your landing gear at excessive speeds. They will tear from their moorings and go sailing off into the wild blue, leaving you a chance to practice your belly landing techniques. Another good 'stupid pilot trick' is to dive straight down from 10,000 metres with WEP engaged. At around 600 to 650 kmh youíll begin to hear an odd noise emanating from your aircraft. If you hear that, panic, because youíre seconds away from losing a lot of major airplane parts, like ailerons or maybe even big sections of wing. Itís a nice party trick but not a particularly good evasive maneuver to employ in combat.
Flight ModelsRather than present myself to you as an expert, Iíll be honest. Iím not a pilot, Iíve never flown an aircraft in my life, and so I canít really say that the performance of the 109G2 or the Yak9T, or any of the others, is accurate. I have played many other sims and I know that to me these flight models Ďfeelí right. You donít have a feeling of flying on rails like you find in some sims, nor do you feel like youíve got a snowcone in your hand on a hot summerís day.
The performance of the plane varies under differing circumstances such as altitude, temperature, and weather and thatís the way it should be. Trimming a plane was new to me when I first flew the beta, but I became accustomed to it quickly and wonder now how I ever flew sims that lacked it. Torque, wind, turbulence, stalls a spins, blackout and redout, and more are all there and they all make flying a plane, any plane, in IL-2 an experience unlike that of any flight simulation Iíve ever flown before.
Blackouts come on naturally enough when youíre pulling high Gís, and they fade away in a timing and manner similar to what youíll see in other flight sims. Redouts feel natural enough, and fade away in due course as well. Iíve no complaints there. Iíve noticed though that in other sims, when you get into a situation of tunnel vision, or a full fledged blackout, that when you push your plane into negative Gís and unload you will revive from your Ďblackoutí faster. Logically enough it makes sense to me, youíre forcing blood back into your oxygen-deprived brain. I donít know how the biophysics of this works in real life; itís just something I noticed that is slightly different than other sims.
SoundThe sounds are rich and well done; nearby flak bursts can make me jump if Iíve got the volume turned up, machine gun and cannon fire are explosive sounding, (pun intended) and the voices of your fellow airmen are well done, though only spoken in Russian or German. Thatís great for realism, but if you arenít fluent in the language youíll be quickly lost without subtitles. One thing that I personally wouldíve liked is female voices on the Soviet side for the many women VVS pilots. Oleg had said at one time that he planned on including them but apparently it got left out. Perhaps a patch later down the road will include the ladies.
Environmental Effects Whatís the Russian front without its famous (or infamous) weather? Snow, rain, thunder and lightning, haze, ground fog, sunlight, moonlightitís all here and all well done.
|Rainfall on the steppes |
Lightning bolts create a brilliant flash of light in your cockpit that will make you wonder if youíre not being shot at from close behind! The rainfall looks quite real and the sounds of raindrops falling on your airplane while you ready for takeoff are very impressive and immersive. The sound of the wind whistling past as you sit in the rear gunnerís cockpit of an IL-2 is an excellent touch. For a challenge, try taking off or landing in a stiff crosswind some time, itís sure to kick your adrenal glands into action.
|Early morning ground fog |
It seems that the early morning or dusk missions with ground fog in the low-lying areas tax my video card, but itís difficult to say without a frame counter. It looks lovely and incredibly real just the same.
|Taking control in the training mission |
There are nine training missions available. They are made primarily with beginners in mind and I think will serve that purpose well because thereís a ďtrainerĒ so to speak, splashing instructional text on the screen informing you how to perform various aeronautical tasks, and the user can also take control and fly the plane him or herself, which is a very neat function. Users can also create their own training missions.
|Difficulty screen |
There are difficulty settings available for players of all skills and experience levels, and youíll find that they cover the traditional options found in most combat flight simulations like invulnerability, unlimited ammo, realistic gunnery, blackouts and redouts, icons, and so on. Rather than a simple ďrealistic flight modelĒ setting, there are several individual options for that such as wind and turbulence, flutter effect, gyro effect, torque & gyro effect, and others. These settings can be toggled individually, or you can simply choose one of three pre-set options: easy, normal, or realistic. What it all amounts to is a highly configurable set of options for the player to change the level of challenge for his or her tastes.
AIAs hard as this may be to believe if you havenít yet had the opportunity to fly IL-2, Iím telling the truth when I say this. The AI is so good that itís hard to tell the difference between AI and human pilots online. They know how to play drag and bait, they will use section tactics, they will use their aircraftís strengths to their advantage and try to get you to use your aircraftís weaknesses against you. They ARE that good. Luckily for mere mortals like me, their skills are scalable from Rookie (pretty easy targets) to Ace (make sure your parachute is strapped on tight). One thing that even very experienced sim pilots should NOT expect is to get several kills in a single mission. You will find that in some missions just surviving and landing back at your base will reward you with a triumphal feeling.
To cite a good example of just how human the AI can be, on this very evening that I write this, I flew an online co-op mission. My Bf-109G-2 took a hit to its radiator and before long I started to hear the spine-tingling sound of my engine overheating and dying a slow death. My AI wingman, (I was in the #1 spot, an AI pilot in #2, my friend Rjel was in #3, and he also had an AI wingman in the #4 spot), broke off combat, and escorted me back to our home base. After I crash-landed, my AI wingman turned tail, began climbing, and headed NorthEast back into the fray. As I had nothing better to do since my plane was a molten-engined wreck, I watched him to verify that he was indeed headed back to battle after escorting me to safety. He did. They say chivalry is dead? Not in IL-2.
But, they are also capable at times of inexplicable behavior. They seem to be far better at engine management than the human player is capable of. They also show a tendency towards aggression to the point of accidentally colliding with or firing on friendly aircraft, including the playerís. The AI gunners on bombers are also uncannily accurate, and the AI gunners on the Sturmoviks seem to have a much larger field of fire than what the player will have if he or she takes the gunners seat during a mission. This can make attacks on aircraft with AI gunners seem like a suicide mission.
The extreme accuracy of the AI's gunnery is doubly frustrating for me as this behavior seemed to have been corrected in the 4th beta but it has found its way back into the full release. Thankfully the AAA gunners donít seem to suffer from infallibility, as their fire is deadly enough as it is! All in all though, the few behavioral quirks shown by the AI are far from a game-stopper, and will, hopefully, be fixed at some point in a patch.
Single MissionsTwelve VVS and, eight Luftwaffe (twelve Luftwaffe with the first add-on patch installed) single missions come pre-made. Tasks from mission to mission vary from ground attack to fighter sweeps. This is also, obviously, dependent on the aircraft youíve chosen to fly. You wonít find any IL-2 missions where youíre tasked with clearing the skies of Luftwaffe aircraft. I havenít had time to try them all, but the ones I have played are quite engaging and challenging.
These are, as the name suggests, stand-alone missions made solely for flying in a wartime environment with a little more structure and purpose than the Quick missions, but without the longevity and commitment necessary for a campaign. Like the campaign though, the single missions are historically based. For instance, in the first IL-2 mission (IL2 N1) youíre tasked with providing cover for the evacuation of Vitebsk as Colonel-General Hothís 3rd Panzer Army is pushing into the city.
CampaignThere are three different Pilot Careers to choose from: you may fly as a Luftwaffe fighter pilot, a VVS fighter pilot, or a VVS bomber pilot. You accrue medals, promotions, and kills with your virtual pilot, and as the campaign progresses you will gain rank and responsibility along with the opportunity to fly the newer aircraft as they reach the frontline VVS or Luftwaffe units.
The campaign, or "Pilot Career" as it is called, is not of the ďdynamicĒ variety, itís the scripted sort, which isnít as big a step backwards as it first sounds. The reason behind this, at least this is my understanding and Iím sure Iíll be corrected if Iím wrong, is that the development team wanted to have historically accurate campaigns.
There are semi-dynamic aspects of the campaigns because the same mission will not necessarily fly exactly the same way each time, the mission itself and the mission goals will be the same, but what happens in the mission itself may vary. Also, the missions branch, that is the next mission assigned to you will vary dependent upon your performance in the previous mission. One plus to IL-2ís mission style is that you wonít feel like youíre flying the same mission over and over like in MicroProse's European Air War (EAW). By the same token, you wonít have that feeling of ďnot knowing whatís nextĒ that you felt with the dynamic campaign in EAW. Just the same, I feel that even though the campaigns in IL-2 are very well done, though they are probably also the simís weakest link. With the release of third party campaign builders, creating your own campaign is a breeze.
MultiplayerFor many dedicated simmers, the ability to play a sim online with others is an extremely important feature, and the inclusion or non-inclusion of this feature has been shown in the past to affect a simís overall success. 1C:Maddox Games has obviously been listening to the community because it has multiplayer.
Players can compete in both a dogfight and coop mode. Dogfight is, essentially, a furball with only human players involved. Team play works very well in this mode as players from aerodromes of the same color (red, blue, green, etc.) compete against players from different colored bases. Coop, my favorite, offers the ability to fly with and against both human and AI controlled aircraft in a mission style identical to what youíd find in an offline single mission or pilot career.
IL-2 really has excellent multiplayer, people that have been unable to fly other sims online due to their connections giving them a poor playing experience have found that IL-2 will run exceptionally well for them. With both IP and LAN capabilities, players can find others to connect with at places like Ubi.Com, Hyperlobby, Gamespy, and Kali. Ubisoft had their game playing service, Ubi.Com, come as a preset option in game, and the software for it is included on the CD.
Unfortunately, it seems, that Ubisoft didnít put as much care into creating the IL-2 servers as 1C:Maddox Games put into the multiplayer aspect of IL-2. There have been a lot of user complaints about connection issues while using the Ubi.com service, but a fix is reportedly on the way. Playing IL-2 on a direct IP connection, on Hyperlobby, or on Kali through the Kali server, all work very well and lag is usually a non-issue. Having not tried Gamespy I canít make a comment on how well it works, but from what I have read it also works very well.
CommsThe in-game comms in IL-2 are very similar to those found in EAW; while some may feel that a brand new sim should have a brand new type of comms system, I find the familiarity comforting. There are the standard Wingman, Flight, and Ground Control commands, as well as commands to control other flights, as long as theyíre in your squadron. One thing that I find myself wishing for is a Section command, ala Falcon 4.0. I find the ability to split my flight into two sections to be quite useful in combat and miss it in IL-2. You also have the offline ability to change radio channels and listen in on the enemies comms if you so like.
Your wingmen, indeed any friendly pilot, will talk to you and to each other a great deal when the fighting starts, the chatter is incredibly immersive, butÖand thereís always a butÖthe subtitles annoy me. The text is much too large and can quickly take up a large portion of your screen when the bullets fly and your wingmen are screaming for help or congratulating you or one another on a kill. I would like to see an English version of the voices done in appropriate accents. Sergeant Schultz need not apply.
For multiplayer there are two types of communication with your human counterparts. Text chat and voice chat. The text chat is somewhat clumsy, as you must enter your text, push the enter key, then choose to transmit your message to ďAllĒ (all players in game) or to ďMy ArmyĒ (only players that are from the same color aerodrome as you). Iíve not used the voice chat in game, but my understanding is that itís average at best; it is, however, there at your disposal and may be utilized if desired.
View systemCockpit views come in the basic snap, pan, and padlock varieties with the option of toggling between snap and pan views through a key command. You may also use your mouse to rotate your view around the cockpit. You can choose between a normal cockpit view, a wide cockpit view, and a gunsight view.
Normal is, well, the normal view you would have in front of you if you were actually sitting in the pilotís seat of the airplane. The wide view is just a wider viewing area (hence the name), which is excellent for ground taxiing or for SA while en-route to a hot zone. The gunsight view magnifies (zooms in on) the view in front of you, which you can use to help identify a distant bogey and avoid those embarrassing moments when you realize that you just made a blue on blue (or red on red) kill.
These views are all functional when viewing objects externally. In other words, any view system you use internally, that is in the cockpit, you can use externally while youíre looking at wingmen, enemy aircraft, or whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. If youíre narcissistic like I am youíll particularly appreciate the gunsight view for giving you the means of producing excellent self-portraits.
|Normal View |
|Wide View |
|Gunsight View |
The padlock view is different from the padlock in any other flight sim Iíve ever played. This padlock is not an all seeing eye. You canít padlock a target more than 3km away from you, and padlock will break when the target leaves your view for a few seconds because of its positioning to you, clouds, mountains, whatever. If you canít see it, you canít padlock it. If icons are turned off in the difficulty settings neither will padlock distinguish between friend and foe, it will simply pick up the closest object to you.
|No-Cockpit View |
For the novice pilot you may also fly with a no-cockpit view. This is an excellent aid for beginners I think because of the much more open views.
|Full Mission Builder screen |
The full mission builder is a powerful and flexible tool for creating your own single missions. With fifteen maps from which to choose covering such East Front hot spots as Smolensk, Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, and more you can create any sort of scenario you desire. Air to air melees, naval encounters, tank battles, artillery duels, you can create them all in almost any weather, at any time of day, and either participate or just watch the action unfold. Other than playing the game, the full Mission Builder is my favorite part of IL-2.
GameplayThis is what makes a game, and IL-2 is very good at it. You are literally surrounded with choices. Scores of different aircraft (thirty-two in all now with the release of the first add-on aircraft), the ability to create complex quick missions, pilot careers (campaigns), the powerful mission builder, the AI offers challenging opponents and clever wingmen, great multiplayer capabilities, this sim has what it takes to survive for the long haul on any flight sim fanís hard drive. Make no mistake, the bells and whistles are all great stuff, but itís the fun-factor that makes gameplay and IL-2 has got it in spades.
ExpandabilityCustom skins have abounded on the Internet since the release of the demo last August. These skins are only usable for multiplayer, however. Offline you may only use the Ďstockí skins. There are third party aircraft and cockpit modelers, but the method of making aircraft and cockpits for use in the game are quite complex and cannot be instituted without the approval of 1C:Maddox Games.
ConclusionSet in a theater, for us in the West, thatís off the beaten path was a brave decision by the developer and I think that that very difference alone contributes to the unique charm of IL-2 Sturmovik. This sim isnít perfect, it has a few flaws, but itís darn close to it and compared to some recent releases it is perfect. For whatís been called a dying genre it is just what the doctor ordered. I could go on and on here but Iíll just reuse a tired old saying: Run, donít walk to your nearest software store or retail outlet that has IL-2 Sturmovik on the shelf and buy a copy today. If you are a fan of combat flight simulations you wonít want to miss this one. Youíll be sorry if you do.
An Instant Classic!
Review System Specs:
- CPU: P-III 866
- RAM: 512MB
- Video: GeForce2 MX400
- Sound: SoundBlaster Pro
- OS: Windows ME with DX 8.1