Game Review - by James Allen
World War II games come a dime a dozen these days (or $550 for a dozen). A majority (and by majority I mean all) of these games concern themselves around the Western Front, and the battles between the Americans, British, French, and other forces against Germany. You have a much less number of games covering the Pacific battles, and approximately zero regarding the battles between Germany and Russia. I wonder why this is: is it because the United States wasn't involved (probably)? Anyways, IL-2 Sturmovik is a flight simulation that covers the Eastern Front action from the air. This is disregarded territory for computer games, and on novelty alone IL-2 gets some points. But, will IL-2 prove to be a great World War II flight simulation, or prove to be the reason why we've avoided the Eastern Front for so long?
IL-2 certainly has an impressive list of features. Firstly, you create you own pilot, with which you can form a career around (more on that later). There are a multitude of different game modes you can engage the enemy in. The first is a single mission, which are available for both German and Russian sides. You can also form missions of your own, with either the quick or full mission builders. The quick mission builder pits your squad in the air against the enemy; you can customize both sides' aircraft, skill of the AI, the location of the conflict, time of day, weather, and objectives if any. This is a good, speedy way to spend a couple of minutes shooting down aircraft, although it doesn't have too much depth to it. If you have the talent, you can use the full mission builder, which gives you complete control over making the encounter of your dreams (as long as it takes place in World War II Russia between planes included in the game). This is almost a game in itself, and is slightly easy to use and powerful at the same time. You can also encounter enemies of a more human nature in multiplayer capabilities. If you are up to it, you can play a pilot career, which you play a series of mission in the same aircraft with objectives such as destroy a bridge, patrol and area, reconnaissance, or escort a bomber. There is also a user-made utility (called IL2Gen) in which you can make your own random pilot careers with any of the flyable aircraft in the game (I mention this because it's cool, and extends the replay of the game as well). If you do an impressive job at shooting things, you can save a track of your tribulations, and replay it later to impress your friends (you DO have friends, right?).
One of the most important things in a flight simulation is to appeal to both beginners and expert users, as it's important to not alienate one section of the population. IL-2 does this very well, using totally customizable difficulty settings. You can go anywhere from super-friendly to hardcore in a matter of clicks. You can change flutter (disintegration at high speeds due to vibration: sweet), stalls and spins, blackouts and redouts, engine overheat, torque, gryo effects, and realistic landings and takeoffs, along with available view options (like cockpit always on, mostly for multiplayer). This is pretty great, as you can tailor the game to your skill level (for me, that is "low") and everyone can have an enjoyable flying experience (unless, of course, you get shot down, which you will). There's even an extensive library of every object in the game, shown with a 3-D model. Also, I might add that IL-2 has some of the best support of any game, and patches are constantly adding new features like more flyable aircraft. If you can't tell by now, IL-2 Sturmovik has some impressive features, which are both comprehensive and wonderful.
The sound in IL-2 follows the trend of greatness that this game has established. All of the sounds in the game appear to be very accurate, from the propellers to the annoying whine of the jet engines. The weapons also have very distinct effects to them, and you shutter in fear at the sound of bullets impacting your fuselage. All of the pilots speak German or Russian (although subtitles are given in-game), but I would have liked to have more variety in the phrases that they say. You can turn over to the enemy's frequency to hear their screams of pain after you shoot them down (ha ha…losers). All of the sounds are directional, too: I remember several times looking back over my shoulder to follow the enemy aircraft as it flew over me (mmm…Doppler effect). The sounds in IL-2 are everything that you could hope for in a flight simulation. The only gripe I have is: what's up with the theme music?
IL-2 Sturmovik's gameplay is very realistic, and the combat model might turn off some beginners who get frustrated easily. First, the flight model is nicely done, as it's accurate and also gives useful physical feedback in a time in which pilots drove their planes to the edge without the help of fancy dials and computer printouts. The enemy AI (and friendly AI) is very good, as it's pretty entertaining to just watch them battle it out in the skies. They will put your flying skills to the test, especially on the higher levels of difficulty. IL-2 gets the patience of dog fighting right on, as it's an exercise in out maneuvering the opposition to get that perfect position to pull off the kill shot. Beginning pilots may be disappointed in the difficulty in actually shooting down enemy aircraft; I'm surprised that this can't be scaled down in the game. It is realistic, as you can have the planes lines up and totally miss them: it's quite a feat to bring a plane down, but it's satisfying when you do, because of all of the hard work required to get to that point. Playing IL-2 is a blast, if you like the World War II dog fighting style of plane combat. The combination of an accurate flight model and challenging AI sums up to a very rewarding game.
The graphics are some of the best that I have seen in a flight simulation (neck and neck with Flight Simulator 2002, I would surmise). First, all of the aircraft are rendered in incredible amounts of detail, right down to the rivets used to hold the plane together. I really like the fact that the paint jobs have little scratches and ings, showing that the planes have seen combat before: this adds to the atmosphere of the game, that you are not jumping into a new craft, but taking part in a greater campaign for world domination. The damage modeling is also superb: just check out some of the screenshots to support this truth. I got shot once, and saw flakes of paint peel off and fly over my cockpit (oh yeah). There are many areas that can get progressive damage, from the cockpit and fuselage to the wings and tail. And it's not just damaged or not, either: you can see individual bullet hits, and watch as your craft disintegrates to nothingness. You know that's cool.
As if the planes aren't good enough, the places you fly in are also super nice. The weather effects are outstanding, as you can fly in clear skies, overcast cloud layers, or full-on thunderstorms. It's quite a feeling to dive into a cloud, following an enemy aircraft, and hope you see them again on the other side. The time of day effects are also very good, as you can see the sun rise and set, complete with tones of orange and red at the end of the day. The ground textures are very convincing, with reflective water and very believable 3-D trees (done with an exceptional shadowing effect, rather than a green blob that supposed to represent a forest). You can fly through explosive flak while over enemy cities, too. Everything also is very reflective, depending on their orientation to the sun. All together, IL-2 Sturmovik has some of the most impressive graphics to date: a true experience for the eyes.
IL-2 Sturmovik is quite simply one of the best (if not the best) combat flight simulations I have seen. It has an impressive list of game features and modes, exceptional graphics, amazing sound, and a compelling and challenging flight model. The developers of the game have done a great job, especially considering that this is their first outing. If a realistic World War II simulation does not scare you, get off your butt and get IL-2 right now. You won't regret it.