After watching the recent film about the evacuation of British and French soldiers at Dunkirk, I was struck by how important air supremacy in the Second World War was in order for the allies to successfully triumph over the fascist threat sweeping the world.
Watching the swooping Spitfires and the intense Dogfights as the airforce desperately attempted to protect the small vessels that Churchill had ordered to help evacuate the beleaguered soldiers, I tried to imagine what it would be like to be trapped in the claustrophobic cockpits, desperately attempting to evade the Luftwaffe and capture the enemy in your plane’s gyro gunsights.
The IL-Sturmovik series answers those questions. This is a long running WW2 Flight Combat Simulator series, originally created by Russian game developer Oleg Maddox. Maddox devised the original title as a hobby. It only featured the infamous Soviet ground attack plane that lends the game it’s name.
The series quickly expanded and gained commercial success. It’s now recognised as the most accurate and accessible WW2 flight simulator series ever made. The series brand stuck. Even when the titles branched out to other theatres of conflict it retained its original moniker. A formerly titled sequel Storm of War: Battle of Britain was rebranded to IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover.
The original game, along with its expansion packs and 3 main sequels, features literally hundreds of planes, dozens of detailed maps in almost every possible theatre of war and the opportunity to fly some of the lesser known Axis and Allied powers (Finland, Italy, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, The French and Polish resistance).
The add on pack for IL-Sturmovik 1946 also features a series of alternative history campaigns with numerous American, German and Russian prototype plans that never made it into actual service (being mostly early jet fighters).
Flight Sims are notoriously difficult to access for the layman. I remember spending hours trying to work out all the nuances and controls for MS Flight Simulator. This was, for me, an especially steep barrier to the enjoyment that the title promised. The IL-Sturmovik series flight mechanics are extremely scalable, making the game accessible for amateurs and professionals alike. You can easily customise the difficulty and realism settings, turning the game from a realistic flight simulation to an arcade dog fighting experience.
I played each of the games available on Steam and spent several hours experimenting with these settings. While I enjoyed the challenge and the accuracy of attempting to control these famous planes in simulation mode, I did discover the fun of playing through the campaigns in the arcade setting to be more my style.
The games also include an intuitive and simple level editor which enables you to create custom campaign missions and skins for the planes opening up the series to a massive amount of player generated content. I found a friendly and creative community on the web. There are plenty of sites offering new sound files and music, mods from the fan community which enhance realism further, graphic improvements and crazy scenarios featuring UFOs.
So onto the reviews for the individual games currently available on Steam. I played through most of the campaign missions and added a few mods to the experiences.
IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946
The package from Steam features the original game with all the expansion packs (Forgotten Battles, Ace Expansion Pack and Pacific Fighters) and boasts 229 flyable aircraft and 46 campaign missions. These missions are of incredible quality, with one particular stand out narrative placing you in the pilot cap of Hauptmann Schlammer aiding in the assassination plot against Adolf Hitler. Now, for the history fans screaming at their screen right now, yes I know that didn’t actually happen but these “alternative history” campaigns happen in an imaginative alternate timeline and are part of the genius of this title.
Other highlights are the inclusions of historically true prototypes such as the bastard spawn of a helicopter and an airplane – The Heinkel He-L IIB Lerche. This invention from the Luftwaffe sports vertical take off and landing capability (revolutionary in 1946). This contraption would never have flown but the development team at IL 2 Sturmovik made some tweaks in order to make it take off and it’s a wonderfully flyable plane.
Presentation: The presentation is wonderful, with a digital 450 page plane guide included.
Graphics: The graphics, while stunning at it’s release in 2006, are passable by today’s standards.
Sound: The Sound is a strong point in this game. Engines hum realistically and the ambience is perfect.
Gameplay: Flawless. As accessible as you wish it to be, with an almost infinite number of possibilities and a strong campaign mode
Conclusion: This game has lasting appeal. Work hard enough at it and it will swallow your life. The dynamic campaigns create random and highly replayable scenarios and there’s still a very active modding scene.
IL-2: Sturmovik 1946 is available from:
IL-2 Sturmovik : Cliffs of Dover Blitz Edition
I had high hopes for this continuation of the series. The Battle of Britain was a spectacular aerial theatre of war and perfect for this game series to portray. But the campaign mode is unambitious compared to its prequel and suffers from extremely low framerate. I desperately hoped for breathtaking battles in the heavens, wrapped up in swirling planes and exploding fireballs as I successfully targeted and destroyed the enemy.
You don’t get anything that involving. The campaign is a series of standard, small scale sorties with very little mood set. The narrative is told in text and rarely reflects the action the player is about to engage in. On one occasion I eliminated multiple Nazi Bandits and was branded a coward as I returned home!
The massive shortcomings in the AI struck me as I played through the training mission. Ten minutes into soaring through the air in my beautiful Tiger Moth plane, my instructor informed me that he was going to take over piloting duties. Seconds later my two seater weapon in the skies plummeted into a cornfield. We were promptly engulfed in a fireball from which no dedicate pilot could ever hope to survive!
The AI issues and choppy framerate, while overpoweringly frustrating, were nothing compared to the seething anger I felt attempting to understand the control mechanic of the game. This is obviously an attempt by the developers to create a more simulation heavy game. Gone is the ability for the player to choose his or her flight experience. You need to know the cockpit controls and there are a lot of them! The mouse controls each knob and switch and only dedicated simulation enthusiasts will really appreciate these touches.
Cliffs of Dover contains two campaigns. The first tells the story of an RAF pilot struggling not just with his aircraft but also his fellow airmen. This sounds like an interesting plot, but its execution is poor. The text only narrative lacks correct spelling and often contains grammatical oddities.
The missions in the RAF campaign are a complete mess, objectives are often unclear and buggy. On more than one occasion I completed every task assigned to me but was told that I had failed anyway.
The second campaign splits into three parts. You fight for the Luftwaffe and again experience frequent mission failures without explanation. After a few hours, I felt compelled to just give up.
Presentation: Dreadful. The introduction music is choppy, stops and starts and then disappears. The narratives in the campaigns are told through poorly written text.
Graphics: The planes look pretty good in the still photos and the models are fairly well detailed. Also the coastlines and environments look realistic and are the best parts of the game.
Sound: Tinny and terrible, this is a definite step down from its predecessor.
Gameplay: Frustrating, needlessly complicated and the low, stuttering framerate will drive you insane.
Conclusion: This could have been a fantastic game, full of potential promise but it’s a poorly executed mess. Avoid!
Cliffs of Dover is available from:
IL-2 : Battle of Stalingrad
If the buggy mess that is Cliffs of Dover disheartens you, then take heart; Battle of Stalingrad is a return to terrific form for the IL-2 series. This scales back the insane ambitions of the previous title and injects some solid gameplay, tight missions and genuine fun back into the franchise.
Like the original IL-2 this brings you back into Russia, as a pilot for some of the USSR’s most popular planes. You will fly over the snowy planes of Stalingrad, shooting down Nazi’s and engaging in one of the most brutal battles of the second World War. Stalingrad is accurately detailed and although navigating through the endless wasteland of white isn’t as visually exciting as flying low along the English countryside, it still manages to captivate as you soar across the skies.
Thankfully, rather than attempt to detail every knob and gadget in the cockpit for the ten aircraft on offer, the developers have simplified the control mechanic. Starting your plane is as simple as opening up the radiators and punching the start button. The game then takes over and soon you are in the air, navigating, dogfighting and bombing. There’s a significantly lower number of air planes available compared to the previous titles. But there’s an even mix of easy to handle fighters and bombers to control.
The campaign allows you to fly on behalf of either the Russians or the Germans, generating unique missions from the Battle of Stalingrad to fight through. I found playing through random missions fairly interesting but the game engine seemed constrained to only showing a dozen planes in the air at any given time. I was expecting a mass of planes flying in squadron formation and it detracts a fair deal from the experience not to see this.
The graphics are top notch and the multiplayer is an incredible experience, unleashing up to 48 players in an intense aerial battleground. These battles run incredibly smooth. No framerate issues and it’s an atmospheric experience to see the detail on each model as it flies past your cockpit.
Presentation: A vast improvement over the Cliffs of Dover. It’s atmospheric and the text between missions informs and excites the player before take off!
Graphics: Planes are stunning, the lighting effects make the bleak Russian environment look beautiful. The shadow and flame effects are realistic and captivating.
Sound: Properly sampled and accurate sound effects – some of the best in the series.
Gameplay – Engaging and surprisingly easy to pick up. The multiplayer is especially the highlight. Both fun and not frustrating. Take to the skies and eliminate the enemy!
Conclusion: The best in the series to date. It’s fun and will delight sim enthusiasts, history buffs while not leaving out casual players. It will undoubtedly satisfy your urge to take to the sky and reenact some of the greatest aerial battles in history!
Battle of Stalingard is available from: