IL-2 Sturmovik: WWII Combat Simulator
Recreating the feel of World War II dogfights is quite a difficult undertaking. Ending up with a product that not only is playable and accurate but also entertaining, however, can be close to impossible. Ubi Soft makes this attempt with IL-2 Sturmovik and actually achieves that balance for the most part. With missions based on actual battles fought during World War II and plenty of historical reading to compliment them, any history buff will be instantly attracted. Those, however, who are more interested in the gameplay will also be pleased as significant attention was placed here with impressive results.
Adding a touch of variety, there are thirty-one flyable aircraft from Russia, Germany, and the United States with forty other types of aircraft to engage. Although it may take some time to get comfortable flying these machines, if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with one of the most detailed and engaging flight simulators on the PC. Be warned however as this game is also extremely technical and understanding simple aeronautics is practically required to be effective.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
IL-2 Sturmovik offers a number of different options to select before starting. One that you won’t want to miss is the training mode. It doesn’t take long to realize this isn’t a game where you’re going to be able to start missions and be effective. This is where the training mode applies, helping to create simple missions that allow you to become comfortable with the controls and what it actually takes to successfully fly these old fighters. Nothing happens automatically and finding the correct controls and using them in the right order is the first challenge to overcome.
The control complexity can best be noted by the 130 plus control options available. With different functions spread over the mouse, joystick, and keyboard it won't be uncommon to find yourself pausing the game, looking at the key reference sheet in an attempt to locate some specific command. Anything from starting the engine to setting the power level, you’ll need to not only be aware of where these controls are located but also of all the functionality available.
The bottom line with the controls is if the actual aircraft flew in a certain manner, so does the simulator -- even including control over all the flaps, rudders, and prop pitch. With most simulators, this level of detail is not incorporated mainly due to the complexity it adds to just general flying. A simple task like controlling the directions the aircraft moves becomes complicated as the rudder, aileron, elevator, and the prop pitch all become a factor. As you’re flying to the mission objective for example, the aircraft may keep increasing its elevation. This may be due to the any number of things and even if the power is increased or decreased, more tweaking will be required to stay on course to meet the objective. For some players, this level of detail may become tedious while other players will appreciate this and find it makes a more complete experience.
For those who need help getting started, there are different levels of difficulty that can be selected, removing some of the requirements for flying the aircraft. You can, for example, start in the air instead of on the ground, remove the ability to stall and spin out of control, and keep blackouts and redouts from occurring. You may find, especially while learning to fly, that some of these options are better left unengaged, allowing more focus to be placed on the basics. It also permits those players who are more action driven to leave most of the options unengaged permanently, making it possible for them to enjoy the combat instead of being annoyed just keeping the aircraft in the air.
In addition to knowing how to cause the aircraft to perform in certain ways, it also becomes relevant to know what action needs to be taken before problems arise. These situations can be recognized mainly through the interface. Similar to the control system, the interface is also accurately designed to resemble the original cockpit as much as possible. With over sixteen different gauges possible, this too can become difficult to manage until some time is spent in the air. They are placed in natural locations and it won’t take long to get comfortable with their location and functionality. If it becomes overwhelming with all the gauges or the cockpit is difficult to fly from, other views are available to improve visibility. The cockpit, for instance, can be removed, leaving only the crosshairs and a few more important gauges on the screen. There are multitudes of other views available but most aren’t for flying as they show an enemy’s view or give a fly by view.
Besides the training mode, there are other playable options and features available. For instance, either the single mission or the pilot’s career modes can be selected. The pilot’s career is where the bulk of the game is focused and campaigns are fought. Adding a personal touch, however, is the ability to either create or choose a pilot from the pilot roster. If single missions are more your style though, there are plenty of pre-designed missions available with an option given to create your own missions. As far as the other features offered, for those more interested in the historical background of various aircraft or other weaponry, an option called view objects offers 3D models and detailed information on the fighting abilities of the equipment.
Visually, IL-2 Sturmovik will surpass most expectations. The scenery in particular is beautiful, with the clouds appearing almost real. Other things like the military equipment, including the aircraft, are given a large amount of detail and even missiles firing off appear to model real launches. Keep in mind, however, this review was done using a GeForce 2 MX graphics chip so your own results may vary. Some games may or may not max out lower end video cards but this game will require something more powerful to achieve the full graphics potential.
For flight simulators, it’s hard to screw up the sound as the sound effects consist generally of engine or prop noise, weapons firing, and cockpit chatter. IL-2 Sturmovik does manage to perform these issues adequately and adds an extra touch. When flying in a Russian or German aircraft, the cockpit chatter is distinctly different than might have been expected. Depending on whom you’re fighting for, the chatter is actually in Russian or German. Of course it’s translated into English on the screen but what a great way to help immerse in the game.
Pentium II 400 MHz or AMD K6-3 400 MHz processor but 600 MHz recommended, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB 3D video card but 32 MB recommended, and DirectX 8 compatible sound card.
For those of us not familiar with general principles of flight, the manual offers a quick study on various essentials. Simple concepts like thrust, drag, gravity and lift are discussed and presented in a manner that’s easy to understand. Other more complicated issues like the plane’s axes of movement, positive and negative G-Forces, and offensive and defensive maneuvers are also explained. Although it may be more difficult to grasp the various images and diagrams given help to drive the points home.
It’s evident plenty of time was spent recreating these historic battles and aircraft. The immense amount of detail associated with the control system and interface is evidence of this and the result proves it was time well spent. The graphics capabilities also come through with beautiful scenery and detailed aircraft helping add a necessary realism. The only notable drawback is also associated with detail given. There is some concern that many players will be more interested in action than actually flying the aircraft and this probably isn’t a good flight simulator for them. Younger audiences may also have issues comprehending basic aeronautics and should heed the Teen rating it has been given. Overall, IL-2 Sturmovik brings alive the battles fought during World War II and any history buff or fan of fully integrated flight simulators won’t be disappointed with it.