Impressions – IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad

Ever since witnessing an unfortunate accident involving a home-built Fieseler Storch and a cement works chimney, I’ve made it a rule never to go aloft in incomplete flying machines. When it comes to incomplete flying machine simulations however, I’m a little less Beardmore Inflexible. 777 Studios and 1C Game Studios claim IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is now 70% finished. In an effort to find out what ‘70% finished’ means, I’ve spent the last few days yoyoing Yaks, pranging Peshki, and sending He 111s to He ll.

Happily, it doesn’t mean half-empty hangars and half-baked flight models. Purchase the £40 ($55) Standard Edition* of this Digital Nature-powered Sturmovik sequel, and you get immediate access to eight flyables that are as feisty and full of fight/physics as they are fetching and flaw-free.

While the base aircraft set doesn’t come with a bona fide Crap Plane – something antiquated and, ideally, bi-planed for those of us that enjoy sightseeing at snail speeds, and surprising sneerers  – in most other respects it feels generous and well-rounded. Since the arrival of the twin-engined Pe-2 and He 111 the early focus on dogfighting and divebombing has blurred nicely. Both of the latecomers feature generic but evocative interactive bombsights for level bombing, a good selection of gunner perches, and – of course – the possibility of fraught single-engine aviation.

Hopefully there’ll be time before release to compliment the selection of cockpit-equipped warbirds with a sprinkle of AI-only machines. Currently you always seem to be up against the ten types in the second image. There are no run-ins with overloaded Ju 52s or Condors, no brushes with Bf 110s, Eagle Owls or Romanian exotica.

If the price of more target types was a few fudged flight models and simplified damage models, I suspect most punters wouldn’t mind much. Where it matters most – in the flyables – FMs are charismatic and – going by the relatively light flak in various forum threads – essentially faithful. When this project was announced some wondered if 777’s depiction of the air war over Stalingrad would smell faintly of dope and castor oil. Thankfully, in the aerodynamics department there’s no sign of anachronistic odours.

IL2BOS steeds feel weightier, pokier, and more robust than their ROF relations but like them they must be actively flown rather than just pointed in appropriate directions now and again. Like ROF’s Camels and Albatrosses, machines such as the Bf 109G and LaGG-3 feel alive and edgy… steel sky salmon buoyed and buffeted by the swirling element in which they swim.

Brutal and granular, damage simulation in the original IL2 was a revelation. While IL2BOS handles stress-related damage and collisions with scenery and other aircraft with more finesse, I can’t say I’ve detected significant progress in the way it treats shrapnel and shell strikes. Wings shear off, fuel tanks flare, and oil spatters windscreens in an eyecatching fashion but – and this might be doing a disservice to the sim’s under-the-hood ballistic calculations – it doesn’t feel as if 777 are really pushing the envelope in this area. Inject lead into that slippery crucifix dancing in your gunsight and generally the crucifix starts streaming smoke. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a target flip onto its back, say, shed a propeller, or inadvertently lower an undercarriage leg.

Self-harm is simulated to a standard that should satisfy all but the most realism-ravenous CLOD and DCS World émigrés. Choose to fly without automated engine management, and then fail to monitor gauges conscientiously or adjust fuel mixtures and radiator apertures adroitly, and you can cook or chill your power plant in numerous erk-irking ways.

Presumably, at some point in the future we’ll be able to consult a manual or participate in tutorial missions to learn about stuff like radiator etiquette and bombsight usage. Right now most of the instructional burden is being shouldered by capable community educators like Requiem.

Whether integrated tutorials appear before the titular battle arrives is anybody’s guess. Early accessers are still scanning the sky for the Tante Ju carrying the campaign engine and the historical sortie folder. At present for solo action there’s a Quick Mission Builder, and a couple of standalone Sturmovik missions, and that’s about it. The QMB allows leisurely familiarisation flights over the vast (358 x 230km) permanently snow-shrouded map. It means diverse dogfights can be swiftly arranged, and isolated groups of tanks, artillery pieces, trucks, and trains endlessly molested with bomb, rocket, and shell. Time of day, weather, and altitudes are all configurable. Though not as flexible or potent as a full DCS-style mission builder, it’s a useful gizmo for practise and experimentation.

When that Tante Ju does finally touch down it will be interesting to see whether it’s greeted with hat hurling or cat calling. Working within the limits of a fairly tight development schedule, 777 have chosen to go with a campaign system that snapshots the Battle of Stalingrad at five crucial moments rather than attempts to recreate it day-by-day. It appears there will be no dynamism or unpredictability to the way the front moves. We won’t be able to join specific squadrons for the duration, flying sorties seamlessly until death, capture or victory clip our wings.

It might sound a bit restrictive, a tad static and impersonal. but recent glimpses of the campaign interface do at least suggest there will be considerable replayability. The question marks on that map up there represent possible missions available during one phase of the campaign (to progress from phase to phase four sorties successes will be required). Fancy unlocking ‘Operation Uranus’ by mixing a bit of Stuka stooging with a few Bf 109 jaunts? It looks like that will be possible. Prefer to stick with Schnellbombers for the entire 20-sortie campaign? Available evidence suggests that will be an equally viable approach.

Fingers-crossed 777’s campaign coders and artists understand the power of randomisation and atmosphere. It will be splendid if selecting the same sortie at the same location at the same stage of the campaign twice in a row doesn’t mean encountering the same mix of friendly and hostile aircraft operating at the same altitudes. In its current state the chilly Stalingrad map is damn attractive (especially at dawn and dusk) but rather empty. To pass as the backdrop for one of WW2’s fiercest scraps, it needs more ground activity… more chaos. Gutted dachas, abandoned vehicles, churned roads, dug-in AT guns, trenches, tracer, scurrying infantry… the fleeing truck and train drivers recently added are a step in the right direction, let’s hope there are similar touches on the way.

No disrespect to the doyens of DotA or League of Legends but the aerial predators  already carving out reputations in IL2BOS’s robust if conventional multiplayer arenas, possess a far more interesting skill set in my eyes. To shine in MP whether at the ‘Normal’ (automatic engine management plus various identification and navigation crutches) or ‘Expert’ (No artificial aids whatsoever) level you’ll need roughly the same mix of tactical savvy, technical knowledge, composure, quick reactions, keen eyes, and reliable wingmen, real WW2 aces relied upon. Sunday soarer with a stiff neck and a tendency to daydream? Probably best to stick to turret gunnery and bomb aiming duties (larger aircraft can be multi-crewed) for the time-being.

Recommending a sim before its campaign component is in place feels a tad reckless, but returning to early access IL2BOS after a few months away, there’s more than enough progress and quality on show to warrant Volga enthusiasm. With beautifully modelled aerodynes, a beguiling (if, currently, fairly bare) battlespace, fit-for-purpose MP, and a decent QMB already present, and a Full Mission Builder on the way, even if the campaign is weak it’s hard to imagine anyone with any interest in virtual air combat or WW2 history coming to regret the £40 they spend on IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad.**

 

*The £70 Deluxe Edition contains two additional aircraft – the Fw 190 and La-5 – which can be purchased by Standard Edition owners as DLC.

**That said, a cheaper ‘Utility’ edition containing a handful of  flyables would have been a helpful option for those on a tight budget.

35 Comments

  1. WiggumEsquilax says:

    The idea of an IL-2 game with a comprehensive tutorial? You must be new here.

  2. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    I’m not logging in online to play SP. Not gonna pay purchasing money to rent a game.

    • P.Funk says:

      Clearly you’re new the world of rogue gaming as a valid license holder. There are… ways to overcome issues like this if all you want is single player. There will always be. How do you think we dealt with that nagging issue of having to have the CD in all the time back before interwebs and clouds and other tosh?

      Solutions my dear. Always there are solutions, and as someone who’s paid your fair share for the product its hard to feel guilty with those solutions.

      • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

        Having started this gaming lark with Maxell C60s as my primary method of data storage I have pirated more games than you’ve had hot dinners. In my comment I said that I wouldn’t “pay purchasing money to rent a game”. I like to support people who make games I like – unfortunately the approach to DRM they’re taking means I can’t support them, here. What I do subsequently to that is another matter entirely.

        But I didn’t need you to explain that to me, my dear.

        • hewhosayszonk says:

          Sir, I believe you have misinterpreted. P.Funk was suggesting that, having purchased a game, many people will then find a way to play that game without the CD / DVD / online requirement.

          If you wish to pretend that playing a game for free is a protest, I can’t stop you. But the only meaningful way to protest DRM is to refrain from buying OR playing the game. Pirating a game to protest DRM is nonsensical.

          • All is Well says:

            Unless I’m the one who’s misinterpreting, I think you got the good Captain a bit wrong there. They’re saying that what they are discussing is precisely the purchase of the game. P.Funk suggested that a viable option is to buy the game and then use a crack to circumvent the Always-Online requirement, but Captain was explicitly saying that he or she did not *want* to purchase the game since that would be a tacit acceptance of the DRM policy. If you buy the game, you’ve supported the developer and their DRM, so whether you crack it or not is irrelevant in that regard. I don’t think Captain was saying anything about pirating the game to protest DRM, rather that pirating and cracking is something they know a lot about.

          • P.Funk says:

            Whatever anybody is saying I don’t think its a very responsible attitude if you’re a serious simmer to not want to support an obviously excellent entry into the extremely narrow niche market of flight simming.

            There are so few sims these days, who gives a damn anyway? Let them have their stupid DRM, as long as its not invasive or a real harm to the end user’s experience. There are worse things than always online DRM, and that would be a world without decent combat flight simulators, and I don’t really cound War Thunder or World of warplanes since they lack meaningful single player content and they err on the side of the most laughably 2 dimensional easy modes.

    • baristan says:

      Same here. Over the last 5 years I’ve saved over $1000 by not supporting games that place an importance on DRM and profits ahead of the customer’s experience. There are so many good games available now, there is no need to resort to pirating. I haven’t felt I’ve missed anything by skipping these games, and not giving EA and their ilk $$$ to continue their practices.

      I have money and spend it on games made for me. (no preorder ‘bonus’, no spyware, no always on DRM, no micro transactions, no lazy console port…) CD Project Red changed their ways, and has received $ from me for every game they have released. Many indy devs value customers as well, but few publishers do.

      It all started with game manual DRM codes, and then the pre-order bonuses in the late 90’s, and won’t end until it is no longer profitable. Most gamers have accepted the always on DRM. Now the Android and IOS marketplace practices are slowly making it to the PC. How much longer until browser hijacking becomes a standard practice for games?

    • Tim Stone says:

      I’m not a fan of the ‘online SP’ concept either. Unnecessary and potentially frustrating. For the record, here’s the official explanation of what works/doesn’t work offline:
       
      1) To download the game and update it you’ll need to be connected;
       
      2) To register a personal account right after you buy the game you need to be connected;
       
      2) To activate your copy you need to be connected;
       
      3) Every time you launch you’ll be offered to choose between Online and Offline modes – choose Online to play Online;
       
      4) To play Historical campaign and obtain all bonus content we’re preparing you need to be connected. The network bandwidth requirements are really low and the amount of sent/received data is minimal. This is how we ensure that the provided experience in Campaign is absolutely original and everyone’s progress is fair;
       
      5) The Quick Mission Builder and Custom Single Player Missions are 100% available in offline mode without restrictions of any kind;
       
      6) Multiplayer mode obviously requires a connection. 
       
      It’s up to you to choose between Online and Offline modes, however the Historical campaign is only available Online, it is the key component of the initial game and it brings you over 70% of the overall new IL-2 Sturmovik experience.

      • El_Emmental says:

        Oh, thanks for all these information :)

        There’s still a few things I’m worried about:

        [1] About the point 4), do you think it will be possible to simply import the campaign missions as “custom” missions, with the bonuses/unlocks being manually handled (by the player or a third-party program), or the devs will lock everything down ?

        I know it sounds a bit of a hassle for “just a little Internet access”, but there’s always people with a flakey Internet connection, or Internet connection with strictly limited ports (only the very basic HTTP/HTTPS stuff) and no access to the router – like in nearly all university housing (where you can’t even subscribe to your own Internet access because you don’t have any access or right to the line there).

        Punishing these people with an inferior product simply because they can’t have the right Internet access seems quite unfair. And asking these people to crack the game (at their own risk) they paid for, to simply be able to play it, sounds pretty wrong to me.

        [2] Do we have any additional information about what will happen when someone’s connection drop (for a few seconds, or minutes) ? Do we lose any unsaved progress ? Does it lock the campaign mode, “freezing” it up until we can synchronize again ? Does it instantly leaves the mission ?

        [3] About the point 6), does it mean there won’t be a LAN mode ? It sounds quite user-unfriendly :(

      • rpsKman says:

        4) To play Historical campaign and obtain all bonus content we’re preparing you need to be connected. The network bandwidth requirements are really low and the amount of sent/received data is minimal. This is how we ensure that the provided experience in Campaign is absolutely original and everyone’s progress is fair.

        Truly disgusting, and it’s too bad. I’ll stick to ROF. These companies are just crazy. Enjoy piracy and angry customers, idiots.

  3. pixelbaron says:

    Wouldn’t hold your breath on ground atmosphere. Look how the War to End All Wars in Rise of Flight was treated. The only way to get any kind of ambience out of missions in that game is to download a third-party mission generator, and it’s still laughably empty if you go ahead and compare it to something like Wings: Over Flanders Fields. The flight model and the combat is fun in BoS, but I don’t think it’s going to be a game that transports you to the Battle of Stalingrad or anything.

    • P.Funk says:

      The question to me is whether its going to out do DCS which is a damnably dull ground world in a sparkling air world, which is confounding since the majority of the highest quality aircraft are decided focused on mud moving.

      In any event, I will be very interested to see if they can out do the at times baffling or outright nonexistent ground AI or the inconsistencies of AI capability (in DCS tank turret gunners with naught but irons can hit an A-10C pulling 4Gs at 325 knots in a 90′ banking turn in the dead of night).

      • Stellar Duck says:

        I assume you’ve seen the screenshots they posted from Combined Arms in the new engine?

        Any thoughts?

        • Eggman says:

          The Edge screenshots look great, but in regard to ground atmosphere; the main issue with DCS and BoS is maintaining client FPS and server health while having a large number of ground units to give a good impression of the land battle of Stalingrad, or the Normandy landings.
          I’m sceptical to both, but we’ll see when ED release Edge this year, and when IL2Bos releases its historical campaign and full mission builder.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Does Tim Langdell know what they’re calling it? :) True though, for a largely air to ground sim the ground has always been pants. Its ok for a long distance, black and white maverick strike I suppose. I take it EDGE will use the gpu a bit more than current DCS?

          • Eggman says:

            It looks better, supports 4 GPUs and offers better FPS than current DCS (so say internal reports from ED as well as the 3rd party module devs) so I would presume so, yes. Fingers crossed.

        • P.Funk says:

          It does absolutely nothing to support the idea that they’re improving the vital background coding of these units and the entire ground world that makes the ground game as dull as it is. I’d be happy to never see them update the ground unit graphics whatsoever if they poured all their energy into making them actually behave like ground units.

  4. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Does it even rift?
    By which I mean, does this work with DK2 (or even DK1)?

  5. Berious says:

    Lost interest when you said no dynamic campaigns. Doesn’t sound like IL2 is trying to push the envelope at all. Sure the multiplayer will be great and have a long lasting community like all IL2 games but I really want a more compelling single player experience. It’s always been IL2’s weakness and it’s a shame 1C have no interest in expanding that area,

    • P.Funk says:

      Its yet to be seen what the full measure of opportunities for mission and campaign creation will be. I feel that the IL2 campaign production community was at the very least nearly as competitively respectable as the multiplayer community. I do remember there being autogen campaigns as well.

      I would find it hard to believe there’ll be less than old IL-2 offered, but then these Russian developers are slippery bastards.

  6. sqsn says:

    As a long time simmer I think I should clear some things up.

    BoS is the game that killed the I2 series. Jason Williams literally came to 1c and convinced them to cancel development on Il2; Battle of Moscow. The true successor to the Il2 series made by Il2 developers. Jason Williams is someone with no background in flight sims, someone who worked for a hardware manufacturer and saw an opportunity in buying NeoGB – a company that made a WW1 flight sim.

    Under Jasons brilliant guidance, the renamed NeoGB started making DLC the likes of which that would make bethesda with their horse armor envious. He managed to milk the ww1 flight sim fans, at east the fanatic ones, for all they were worth. And in the process drove off all the hard core simmers, thanks to his complete disregard for historically accurate performance.

    Now this Jason Williams is tainting the Il2 name, one of the most esteemed in all of combat flight simming, by making a game that follows the lead of Rise of Flight. One filled with micro-transactions, with little care given to historical flight performance and no care given to the machines used at stalingrad. This is a game where the 190 is given free reign over stalingrad, even though it never served there. While the iconic Ju-52, which played a vital role at stalingrad is simply absent… I think some of this has to do with what planes will sell to the “light sim” audience 777 is targeting.

    For everyone who is reading about this game and might be thinking “this is a sequel to Il2” – it is not. This is a cash grab by a developer who has shown a clear disdain for its community time and time again. A developer who cares more about making 1.99 off of colored scarves rather then updating the flight models of aircraft that are clearly inaccurate (they said it was too hard to do and their engine made changing fms impossible, but they added altimeters for money!

    I think this article is a case of PC world not having enough experience to properly rate something as specialized as a flight sim. They hear the BS of the developers and take it a face value, whereas the flight sims fans already know the story.

    As a long time CFS (combat flight sim) and most of all, an Il2 fan, please don’t buy this game. It is a disgrace to the Il2 name, a fast and cheap money grab that takes advantage of people from lighter sims, like War thunder and World of Warplanes, to make money. This is IL2 dragged through the mud, with bad physics thrown in, and microtrnasactions tossed in.

    This is a game made by a man wanting money, with no love or care for aviation, let alone ww2. Dont give opportunists like this your money

    • Eggman says:

      Baseless speculation.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Your dislike of RoF, Jason Williams, and DLC seems to have blinded you to a few widely accepted truths.

      *** IL2BOS uses a different business model to RoF. You don’t need to purchase DLC to enjoy it.
      *** In terms of quality and value-for-money RoF DLC has nothing in common with Oblivion’s horse armour.
      *** If IL2BOS really was “a fast and cheap money grab that takes advantage of people from lighter sims, like War thunder and World of Warplanes” why have 777 bothered to model CEM in such detail? I suspect, as with most serious combat flight sims, 90% of buyers will never manually adjust their radiators, prop pitch etc.
      *** “BoS is the game that killed the IL2 series.” No, that would be CLOD. If you want to mortally wound a much-loved sim series then releasing something buggy, baffling, and very late, is an excellent strategy.
      *** Considering 777 have a “clear disdain for their community” they are being remarkably diligent about keeping them informed. link to forum.il2sturmovik.com.
      *** The decision not to include the Ju 52 as a flyable (the campaign menu screen suggests it may make it into the game as an AI aircraft) is sad but hardly surprising. Historically, very few combat flight sims have shipped with cockpit-equipped transports.
      *** As I understand it, the Fw 190 won’t feature in the campaign.

      “I think this article is a case of PC world not having enough experience to properly rate something as specialized as a flight sim.”

      Here’s an alternative hypothesis. This article was written by someone who has been flying combat flight simulators since 1983 and likes the majority of what he sees in IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad.

      • Richard Burton says:

        Well said, Tim! Good article too as always. Well, as someone who almost started flying combat sims as far back as you did (Microprose’s F-15 Strike Eagle on Atari 8-bit was my first) I’ll definitely be buying Battle of Stalingrad. The fact of the matter that “sqsn” seems to have conveniently overlooked (intentionally or otherwise), is that if we boycott buying this, what alternatives are there again?? I think Jason Williams is a visionary who should be applauded for going out of his way and spending his time and money to produce something like this for us flight simmers. Love him or hate him, at least he took the trouble of making this possible while the major mainstream software publishers (that shall remain nameless but you know who they are) have pretended that flight sims are dead. Yes, while the major software houses continue to put out games for morons that seem to be more dumbed down as every year passes (yes, the gamers themselves as well as the games to match their IQ levels), I will say that Jason Williams did a marvelous job for us flight simmers and military aviation buffs alike. Cheers!

        • phelix says:

          Yes, while the major software houses continue to put out games for morons that seem to be more dumbed down as every year passes (yes, the gamers themselves as well as the games to match their IQ levels)

          So, uh, everyone who is able to enjoy a ‘dumb’ game is a moron? Suppose I come home after a tiresome day at work and play, say, some Arcade Battles in War Thunder? Am I a moron for choosing something that does not require complete mental concentration for upwards of multiple hours?
          Simplified flying games and high-fidelity flight simulators need not be exclusive. What if I told you I’m able to enjoy both, which has very little to do with IQ? Maybe I shouldn’t be taking your comment at face value but I found it needlessly condescending.

    • El_Emmental says:

      While I can’t say anything about flight sims (my first true experience was IL-2, even if I had a little fun with a few early 90s titles), Jason Williams was the Product Manager at NaturalPoint (it is public information – it’s even on his LinkedIn profile).

      As everyone knows, NaturalPoint is behind the TrackIR devices.

      As some may know, NaturalPoint did some unethical commercial practices, to prevent competition from setting a foot in the niche market that is head-tracking for gamers/simmers, and also to kick out the ‘do-it-yourself’ (soldering a few LED lights) solution known as FreeTrack.

      I’m perfectly aware NaturalPoint (now basically an empty shell – no new product or innovation for several years) needed to survive, and that selling a kit for $150 when it could be done for $30 ($50 fully ready at worst) is basically commercial suicide (and ripping off their customer imo), but what they did is still unethical in my book.

      Now, I have no idea who made these decisions so it would be silly to directly accuse J.W. of doing that. But that still hurts his trustability in my opinion: NP wasn’t a huge company and he had a high position, there’s a high probability he was involved in these decisions. And, he never said a word about it. I understand it could be burning bridges (the flight sim industry is a small world), but he could still hint that the market was “difficult” and not all business decisions were taken lightheartedly… You know, showing remorse. Since he didn’t, I don’t really like him (until proven otherwise).

      Disclaimer: I don’t really care about the problem itself anymore, head-tracking will enter in a new age with the VR headsets and NaturalPoint will disappear, it’s too late for the TrackIR/FreeTrack issues. I just don’t like companies (and people) abusing their power to impose a de-facto monopoly on a market, preventing competitors from entering (preventing fair pricing and innovation) and users from DIY-ing (preventing fair pricing and modding).

      (ps: I enjoy RoF immensely and expect IL-2 BoS to be interesting, don’t get me wrong – it’s just the NaturalPoint part that I dislike)

    • rpsKman says:

      “This is a game made by a man wanting money, with no love or care for aviation, let alone ww2. Dont give opportunists like this your money”

      You sound a tiny bit dramatic, but thank you for this viewpoint nonetheless. I guess that’s what I sound like when I talk about racing simulators.

  7. Ross Angus says:

    Requiem has the perfect pilot vocal intonation: utterly calm and unflappable.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Hahahaha! I didn’t watch the video till I read your comment.