|a game by||1C:Maddox Games|
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The German air traffic controllers at Frankfurt are Infamous for being a short-tempered bunch. They expect you to know exactly where you are supposed to park the plane (and how to get there without any assistance). So when the following conversation between a British Airways 747 (call sign Speedbird 192) and the air traffic control was allegedly overheard, it rapidly became the stuff of aviation folklore. The story goes that the pilot of Speedbird 192 began with the usual greeting: "Good morning Frankfurt, Speedbird 192, clear of the active." To which, the German air traffic controllers replied equally politely: "Guten Morgen, taxi to your gate."
So far, all is going smoothly. The BA 747 pulled onto the main taxiway and suddenly stops. Noticed by the air traffic controllers, they enquired brusquely: "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?" The pilot replied: "Standby ground, I'm looking up the gate location now." At this, the air traffic controllers clearly became irritated and said: "Speedbird 192, have you never been to Frankfurt before?" Coolly, the BA pilot responded: "Yes, several times in 1944, but I didn't stop."
We used this story as a kind of pithy introduction, because as 99.9 per cent of us will never fly into Frankfurt (or work for British Airways) we have no way of knowing if this story is actually true or not, but it just sounds too good not to be. And the same is true with most flight sims. Unless you are stupidly rich, you will probably never fly a Spitfire, Me 109 or any other vintage WWII aircraft. So when games companies state that 'this sim has the most realistic flight physics to date' we really have no way of knowing if the claims are actually true. All you can rely on is gut feel.
So, as WWII flight sims go, IL-2 Sturmovik just feels 'right'. From the outset, you've got an intro sequence that isn't some prerendered poxy avi, but a pseudo-authentic black-and-white trailer utilising the games engines. A developer has to be very confident in their game, or just have enormous gall. We'd hazard a guess that the Russian developers probably fall into the former category.
Wot No Yanks?
The most obvious thing that strikes you watching the intro is the total absence of RAF, USAF or Japanese planes. For this is a game set in a theatre of WWII that has been largely ignored by both Hollywood and the games industry alike: the Eastern Front (apart from Enemy At The Gate, but that was a British production). This mammoth struggle between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia was totally unlike any war previously fought. With 20 million Germans and over 30 million Russians losing their lives in the conflict from 1941 -45, it puts the 300,000 British and 320,000 American casualties in the shade. But from 1945 until Gorby and Glasnost, the USSR was the big bad enemy of the West, and so both history books and the media have to some extent marginalised them. But we digress.
So you've watched the intro with your joystick in hand, now what? Well, unless you are a serious propellerhead with gun camera footage in the VCR and a copy of Sagittarius Rising, you'd better turn all the settings right down. Because IL-2 Sturmovik drops you right in at the deep end with a very realistic flight model.
The full monty's there from propeller pitch (the angle of attack of the propeller) through to blackouts and aircraft trim. It may be a flight sim addict's wet dream, but to the novice it's a total nightmare. Thankfully, if this is all too daunting, you can go into a sandbox mode where the plane virtually flies itself. As you gain a little more confidence, you can turn the realism settings up until the plane flies the same way a brick doesn't. Don't worry, it all comes with practice.
A Novice No More
So let's assume you've mastered the basics: stick goes back -houses get smaller; stick goes forward - houses get bigger. You're then thrown into either a quick fix fight, or a full career ladder. The dogfight mode lets you pick up to 28 aircraft (12 enemy, and 15 friendly) and lets you duke it out in the sky. Or, if you want to practice your air-to-ground skills you can go tankbusting, bridge-breaking or just try to sink some of the local shipping. No mean feat as the enemy, unsportingly, tends to shoot back.
if you're into collecting medals, awards and generally being somebody's bish then the campaign mode is where you'll have the most fun. Starting off as a grunt and 'obayink orderz', you start off with a series of basic missions (take off, fly in a circle, shoot something and land) progressing in rank until you call the shots, leading your flight to certain doom against overwhelming odds (at least if you're playing the Germans).
But what sets this flight sim head and shoulders above the rest isn't just the unusual setting and aircraft. There are subtleties everywhere, which you're not really aware of but add one hundredfold to the atmospherics. As you sit on the airfield, you can just make out the sound of an air raid siren in a town a few miles away and as the sound drifts over, it's mixed with the sound of distant anti-aircraft fire. It feels like something out of a film. Even when you're in combat, you can hear the engines of other planes if you get too close and the chattering of machine guns when you're buzzing the troops. Utterly fantastic. The planes also damage in a very realistic manner. Gone are the old 'broken in a perfect line' models that every other flight sim has. Now propellers bend, bits fall off the wing (but you can still stay up) and fire has a terminal effect on your flying ability.
But while this is the best flight sim we've ever seen, it's not quite the Holy Grail. There are still many aircraft, which are in the game, but are non-flyable by humans. The German side only has the Me109 and Fw190 planes for human control. All the bombers are in drone mode only, and the legendary Met 10 is nowhere to be seen. While there is talk of an add-on pack to activate these aircraft in the future, for the here and now it just isn't happening.
The tutorials are also somewhat flawed. They start off talking you through the basics and telling you what to do, and it's only after five minutes of banging the keyboard and swearing that you realise that they are nothing more than film trailers using the game engine. Not interactive, and not usable. A bit of an own goal there. But these are tiny flaws in a jar of otherwise perfect aviation ointment. Not since Secret Weapons Of The Luftwaffe have the flight sim community got so worked up (and that was a classic). With the exception of WarBirds 3 (which still has a long way to go before it can be called anything other than public beta) there isn't a sim out there that comes close to IL-2 Sturmovik. If you only buy one flight sim in your life, then buy this. You know it makes sense.
Secrets Of The War
As everyone knows Germany lost WWI. And WWII. And the 1966 World Cup. But stereotypical insults aside, the Nazi regime were a talented bunch when it came to the art of developing new weapons of war. The most ambitious of these was the proposed flying wing Amerika Bomber called the Ho XVIII B. It was estimated that the Ho XVIII would have a range of 11,000km (6,835 miles), a service ceiling of 16km (52,492 feet) a payload of 4,000lbs and a round-trip endurance of 27 hours. In addition, the thin design of the plane made it virtually invisible to enemy radar, so it could take off from Germany and fly undetected to Washington, drop its bombs and return to the Fatherland. And this was in 1944. Luckily for the Allies, the plane only made one test flight before the war ended. However, the plane may have gone but it wasn't forgotten. The only example of this aircraft lies at the Smithsonian Institute in America, and during the late 1980s a team from Lockheed paid a secret visit. It wasn't until the public saw the B-2 Stealth Bomber that its inspiration (and much of its design) became public knowledge. Imagine how the world would be today If the Stealth Bomber had flown in 1944. It nearly happened.
Download IL-2 Sturmovik
With every hobby, you get enthusiasts. And with every group of enthusiasts you get the sad, cannot-stop-talking about-it-know-all types who generally bore the tits off anyone and everyone who will listen to them about their hobby. Trainspotters going on about the BoBo Diesel 233 00 class Reg No 16622 may make them spooge in their pants, but to everyone else it's just a train, and probably a late one, too.
So, when last month, we broke the news on IL-2 Sturmovik from the Russian team of developers 1C/Maddox Games, I found myself trying to bore the pants off everyone about the game, and the usual reply was "yeah yeah, A anyone can make good screen shots". Well four weeks is a long time in politics and, for once, has proved to be a long time in game development. Not long after the usual fare of a screen shot CD, a press release and promise of better things to come we actually received some playable code. So V now not only can I drone on, I can wave preview code around too. But instead of snores, and rapid exits, people actually stopped, looked and said "that's actually really good". And for the average punter to say that about a flight sim, is like describing Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel as not a bad paint job. Finally, the flight sim has emerged from the Dark Ages.
Sadly this isn't final code, and is only slightly more stable than a break-dancer in a minefield. But it does give us the chance to get a good insight into what it should be. And the only word of choice is 'fiber'.
The game now has 20 aircraft to fly (including variants) and another 35 other types as AI-controlled aircraft. And the level of detail is nothing short of perfection. The guns, when fired, leave a litter of spent cartridge shells in their wake. And, considering machine guns fire on average 750 rounds per minute, that's a lot of particles on screen. And they're all there, with virtually no loss of frame rate. It's not often you get surprised by a game, but when it happens, it really happens.
Gone too are the old-fashioned background clouds. In IL2 not only are they modelled to virtual perfection, but also when you fly into them you get condensation and even rain on your cockpit. It doesn't just look like you're there, you are there. Also the clouds are great places to hide from aggressive enemy fighters, or if you just fancy lurking in safety till some bombers amble along. Radar really ruined the art of sky camping.
The planes themselves are intricate; transport planes even have the seats modelled in full 3D, although whether you're going to see terrified faces as you fill the fuselage with 20mm shells remains to be seen. Perhaps that may be taking realism just a little too far. But we live in hope. The land units have also now been added, at least to view on an individual basis, as are the train units. This is probably the only fly in the ointment as the full 'in your face' explosions have yet to be added. But skimming the ground in your Russian tank-busters among Panzers and Tigers is something no other game has ever managed to do without it feeling like a version of Scramble in a Lego canyon. Couple all this with slats, ailerons, rudder movement and dive breaks (if you're not a propeller head then substitute the previous words with 'aeroplane bits') all moving exactly like in a real aeroplane. We even let an Austrian pilot have a quick shot, who described the flight models as "responsive, just how I imagine they would feel." We'll trust his judgement on that one.
The developers still have a lot of work to do on improving the AI -adding rear gunner positions, adding the various naval units, increasing the number of single missions to 24, accurate damage modelling... etcetera, etcetera... You get the idea. It's getting there, but it's not quite there yet. Probably the most impressive claim is with regard to the landscapes. Although we think the cities and landscapes are some of the best ever seen, Oleg Maddox is taking that to an extreme limit, with more than 30,000 city and rural houses on a map. And if you've got the ammo, you can knock 'em down.
But don't think this kind of game will run on a low-spec PC, because it won't. The recommended spec looks set to be around a Pill 600+ with a a top-of-the-range 3D card. IL-2 Sturmovik looks like it will be a work of art. We're just waiting for the paint to dry.
Flying A Plane Legless
Say hello to Hans, a rather Nazi piece of work
There were many legends on the Eastern Front, but one of the most famous was a Stuka pilot by the name of Hans Rudel. The Stuka was a lowly single-engine dive bomber, that later in the war was fitted with two 40mm cannons for tank busting, along with a single 500kg bomb. With this outclassed aircraft, (and in the latter part of the war outnumbered), this pilot was the first (and only) pilot to sink a battleship single-handedly (the Russian October Revolution. He also sank two cruisers and more than 70 landing craft On land, he destroyed 532 tanks, 700 trucks and more than 150 artillery pieces. The list Just goes on. However, all this didn't come without a cost He was shot down 32 times, and lost his right leg in the spring of '45 although he continued flying until the end of the war. However, unlike the majority of Germans who were disgusted by the atrocities canted out by Hitler when the facts came out after the war, Hans Rudel was an ardent Nazi until his death in 1982. Weird bloke.
There are some good things about Americans. They're friendly, talkative and really want to visit England and Europe because deep down many of them are really Italian/Greek/German. And not American, despite living in that country for seven generations. But there is one thing, bless, that Americans generally are not, and that is clued up on European history. The classic flick, The Madness Of King George was originally going to be called George III but a survey of Americans showed that they wanted to know why George I and II hadn't been screened. So we're willing to wager that when the utterly fantastic 11-2 Sturmovik is released in the United States, publishers Ubi Soft will get a spate of requests from a fair proportion of the American gaming community wanting to know if lL-1 Sturmovik is out on budget.
However, for the rest of the world there is no doubt that IL-2 Sturmovik is now the most eagerly awaited release for the whole sim community. Ares High is still using old-generation graphics. WarBirds 3, while being slated for a September release, is still light years behind IL-2 Sturmovik. And World War II Online is so riddled with bugs, that Rentokil would have trouble clearing up the mess. Enter Russian developer and the man behind IL-2 Sturmovik, Oleg Maddox, stage left.
Fun Fun Fun
IL-2 Sturmovik flies in the face of popular opinion that 'the flight sim is dead'. Indeed a quick scan at gives some credence to Oleg's claims that IL-2 will indeed revitalise a rather stagnant genre. In the past two months alone, there have been more than 5,000 posts in the discussion group, compared to only 500 for all the other online sims combined. But why all the interest? After all it's still just another flight sim isn't it? Not quite.
You see, while IL-2 Sturmovik is most definitely an old-skool flight sim, it's also gone back to some basic principles that other game developers would do well to heed. Make the game fun. Make it look stunning. Make it accessible to all. And give it something you cannot get with any other game. And IL-2 Sturmovik delivers on all counts. The game is set on the Eastern Front in World War II, a hellish environment on which both sides fought to the death without giving an inch. While the ground war has been catalogued in some detail (the release of Stalingrad this year being proof of the rekindled interest in the 'Ost Front'), the air war has been largely ignored by both Hollywood and the games industry alike. Certainly at the end of WWII there was very little love between the West and USSR who, although allied against the common enemy of Nazi Germany, swiftly became Cold War foes for the next 40 years. Against this backdrop, the USSR was certainly marginalised in western history books. The other big factor to be considered is that the majority of game development is in the US. The Americans are reluctant to admit the British Spitfire was better than their own P51D Mustang, so the Russians didn't have a prayer. Till now. You see, despite the arrogance of some developers, the flight sim community has overdosed with Pearl Harbor reruns, or American Bombers over Europe. Microsoft's Combat Flight Sim II utterly failed to impress, as there was nothing we hadn't all seen before. IL-2 Sturmovik is completely different.
More Gcse History
The Eastern Front was a very different sort of air war to the one in the West. While the RAF/USAF was engaged in strategic bombing of Germany's cities and heavy industry, the war in the East was far more tactical. The vast bulk of operations were in support of the land war, and as such the evolution of aircraft were very different. The IL-2 Sturmovik was a ground attack aircraft, which was the terror of the Wermacht. Heavily armed, it could knock out almost any German tank or make mincemeat of infantry formations. And the game recreates this in minute detail. Trains, tanks, depots... you name it, it's in the game. But don't expect the targets to rollover without a fight. Enemy fighters, antiaircraft and small arms fire are all there to make life as tough as possible.
But the game isn't all eye candy. The physics are as accurate as you want them to be (so you can start off with easy flight models, then slowly work up to the big league). If that isn't enough, there are 18 different aircraft to fly (although Maddox hopes to have more in place before release in November). As far as flight sims go, this is the closest you'll get to the real thing. What more can you wish for?
In Their Own Words
These days we can always reload a mission if we fail to complete it. But during WWII, pilots didn't have that luxury...
While life as a pilot may have seemed glamorous from the outside, for the guys in the air, life varied from boredom to stark terror. The words of a JU88 pilot on a bombing mission gives some insight into what life was like.
"When I prayed that night, I felt no assurance God was listening. IWo of our crew were out of action, and two young recruits no more than 19-years-old, took their place. As we were going to the target, I saw a fighter pass above the gun turret Before I could react the plane shuddered and a wall of flame swept through the aircraft. One of the bullets must have hit the incendiary bombs, and all I could hear was our captain shouting 'Emergency! Jump!' I swung round, but a wall of fire prevented me getting to the escape hatch. So I did the one thing we are instructed not to do, bail from the turret The reason is the slipstream is so great you can have your legs cut off leaving the tunet. I knew I had no choice, so I prayed 'Oh Lord, please help me' and rolled into a ball, stuck my head out of the tun-et and was sucked out. Once I was clear, I pulled the ripcord and the silk opened out I looked down and all I was missing were my boots. I was very badly burnt and I never flew again, however hard I tried to persuade the medics. It broke my heart to see my comrades take off for attacks near Berlin, and quite a few not returning."
So next time you play a realistic sim, remember how lucky you are that there's no chance of having your legs ripped off or your skin burnt, and that you're actually having fun each time you take off rather than crapping your pants with fear at the thought of being blown out of the sky.
A WW2 flight sim that concentrates on the war between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR from 1941-1945. With 17 aircraft for you to fly in place for the initial release, and another 14 more pencilled in to be drip-fed (hopefully) once the game comes out, this should encompass virtually every fighter and most bombers used by the main protagonists.
What's The Big Deal?
Produced by flight-sim genius Oleg Maddox, it's the cutting edge for a 'new breed' of propeller dog fighting games, which until now have been sitting in graphical limbo since 1997. Not only that, but it concentrates on the Eastern Front, a theatre of WWII that is usually ignored.
Every game genre has its personal god: John Carmack for 3D shooters, Warren Spector for RPGs, Peter Molyneux for god games, and so forth.
Well, the flight sim community also has its own deity: Russian-born Oleg Maddox, and he has come up with a wonder for the great unwashed.
Sergei Ilyushin's rugged 11-2 was feared by the Germans, and known as the Swan Tod (Black Death). Its main purpose was as a 'tank buster' and it proved capable of destroying the heaviest-armoured German tanks, including the much-feared Tigers.
Around 40,000 of the aircraft were built, making it the most-produced aircraft in history. It certainly made a big difference to the battles on the Eastern Front, yet until now, this remarkable plane has been largely ignored by most flight sim developers. Some cynics have suggested that as most flight sims are made by Americans, they tend to ignore/relegate both the equipment and the efforts made by the USSR during the Second World War. Certainly in other sims, the flight models of some US aircraft are, one could say, generous. But we digress...
So what Oleg has done is focus entirely on the Eastern Front air war. And 'focus' is the key word here as the graphics, gameplay and flight models are done to such detail as to make any self-respecting propeller-head kiss the sky and thank God he's alive. Quite sad really. It's as if Oleg has gone through everyone's wish-list for a flight sim, and made 99 per cent of 'em possible. You want smoke coming out of the engines when you start? Done. Con trails from the wings when you pull a hard turn? Sorted.
Full cloud effects, so you can hide if the going gets tough? Easy. Internet play that supports more than 32 aircraft? No problemo.
The initial crop of aircraft you can fly is quite limited - at present, only the IL-2, LaGG-3, MiG-3, P-39 and Bf-109 are. available to fly (apart from the 109, the rest are Russian), although with the sub-variants this comes to 17 different choices.
Considering the game has already been in development for nearly two years, it's a good indication as to the level of detail they're aiming at. They've even added supply trains so you can strafe and gloat in satisfaction when the engine explodes. There are another 21 non-flyable planes, whose aim will be to turn your plane into Swiss cheese, and from what we've seen of the early AI, they do a rather thorough job too. And every type of each aircraft is modelled differently, although you'll probably discover this the hard way. So what more can we say about IL-2 Sturmovik? Well, it looks fantastic, sounds fantastic and (hopefully) is fantastic. Roll on the review code, that's all we can say.