For many years flight simulation games have made various attempts to make their mark on the generation of consoles at that particular time, only to find that their gameplay, graphics, and lasting appeal all suffered at the hands of expectant gamers. The Ace Combat series has been the only one that has fulfilled console gamers’ desires and been able to stand the test of time – so the question really has to be who could possibly create a flight simulation game that could bring action, speed, realism and in-depth gameplay to the current console generation?
IL-2 Sturmovik from 1C Company has its flight simulation roots firmly in the PC gaming market and was for the most part one of the best flight simulators available when it was released many years ago. Such was its success that expansion packs were released and community’s were built on the success of a great game. That was then and this is now, and the series has made a welcome return to the flight simulator market with IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey for consoles, and some of the original 1C Company developers are still onboard within the Gaijin Entertainment team.
From the moment you start the game, the authenticity that will run through the 6 campaigns and 50 single player missions begins with the captured archive footage from World War 2, and this sets the scene perfectly for what lies ahead. The campaign begins at the start of World War 2 with the Battle of Britain, and once you have gone through the tutorial to learn the basic controls of flight you will soon find yourself flying a Hurricanne over the white cliffs of Dover in the first real mission. This is of course is a relatively easy mission as you will fight through some of the toughest air and ground battles of World War 2, from the Battle of Britain right through to the Battle for Berlin – taking in some epic dogfighting in the Battle of Stalingrad, Invasion of Sicily, Korsun Pocket and the Battle of the Bulge along the way.
Each campaign and integral mission is delivered in a very unique style with the voice talents of Joss Ackland – who narrates not only the campaign story but also at the end of each mission reading out a diary excerpt from the pilot’s aircraft you have just flown. This in itself brings the whole sense of realism to the game and allows you to feel that you are actually treading in the footsteps of some extremely brave men. After you have listened to the first of these diary excerpts the immersion factor cranks up another notch and this is to be further enhanced with a musical score from world-renowned composer Jeremy Soule. The narrative diary reading experience of explaining the story is where IL-2 Sturmovik starts to rise above its competition, as too many flight games in the past have had everything required for the gameplay yet the storyline itself has been weak – this is definitely not the case with IL-2.
The flying is where the real action is though, and depending on the difficulty setting selected the experience can be dramatically altered and this is a further reason why IL-2 succeeds where others have crashed and burned in the past. The difficulty setting ranges from arcade through realistic to simulation, and each of these settings offers a different challenge that means the game can cater for all groups of potential pilots. Arcade mode allows for any of the 3 cockpit views to be selected and control of the aircraft is simple with the emphasis on fast action and dogfighting, rockets for example are assisted for ground targets, AI is simple but effective and it’s essentially everything an arcade flight game should be. However when we take the difficulty level up to realistic we find that we are starting to introduce quite a complex flight model, and flying the aircraft starts to occupy your mind whilst you try to down the Luftwaffe whose AI has upped the game a little too. This will lead you to stall and causes some erratic flying, which usually ends up in heading towards mother earth frantically trying to regain control. Once you have understood how the aircraft controls under the realistic flight model though, you then start to feel a sense of achievement with each individual kill as the opposing aircraft spiral to their impending doom.
With the game set to simulator, on the other hand, this is where flight simulation really does land on your console. Firstly you are confined to one view, that of the inside of your cockpit. Secondly, there are some subtle changes to the joypad to allow for the aircraft’s flaps and trim control – yet the third and most important difference is that the aircraft behavioral characteristics are something which no console gamer will have experienced before, and if that’s not enough the AI is cranked to the max and there are bandits on your tail before you can say ‘Mayday Mayday I’m going down’. It’s hard to explain in a review just how realistic and authentic the flight model of the aircraft is in simulation mode, but believe me IL-2 has found something which every combat flight sim junkie with a console has been wanting for years.
Dogfighting and close combat is a thrilling experience
Another area where previous flight based games have failed in the past is speed, and no matter what you would do you just couldn’t get the feeling of speed even though you are supposed to be traveling at hundreds of miles per hour. However in IL-2 there is a vast improvement, and not only the feeling of speed at low level as you chase the fleeing Meschersmit’s 100 feet above the towns and villages of Stallingrad, but also at high level where aerial dogfights see Axis fighters paint patterns with their vapour trails in the bright blue sky only to whizz past your cockpit with tremendous speed – leaving you to wonder how the hell they manged to miss you. It really is one of the games strong points and one which is further enhanced by the extremely well created scenery, hours of developers time has been poured into recreating cities, towns and villages using both old library images as well as modern day mapping – the results are fantastic. Heading over Berlin with flak all around you, with the city already on fire from the previous wave of bombers really brings home what has been achieved with this game, and certainly sets the bar high for anyone tying to compete. Another high point of the combat system is the damage model to both yours and your enemies aircraft, IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey introduces a very realistic damage system whereby you can actually have the canvas of the airframe peppered with bullet holes but still continue to fly as you would expect and only those shots that hit critical hard points on the aircraft will affect performance and see you or you enemy bailing out. You really have to ensure that not only are you hitting the aircraft in front of you but also that your hitting it in the right place to cause maximum damage, engine hits on your enemy will be seen to great effect as the oil leaking obscures your view as you fly through it and leaves splatters on your windscreen with the ensuing explosion not far behind.
The game also features multiplayer modes, so with all that single player action finished it’s time to take to the skies over virtual Europe and test your skills against the best pilots around. As you would expect the modes of play include a deathmatch and team deathmatch mode, which in this case are called Dogfight and Team Battle respectively. They are everything you would expect – pick an aircraft, then aim skyward to shoot down your adversary and prove your worth, great fun. The next mode we move onto though is Capture and similar to Capture the Flag from first person shooters, it involves teams trying to take over each others airfields by landing on them to initially take possession but then having to defend them by protecting the skies above. The last mode is called Strike and sees the two teams go head to head to try to eliminate the enemy ground installations using whatever means necessary. Some players will choose to go with heavy bombers whereas some will choose to protect them with agile fighters, and it really requires teamwork to ensure you will win at the end of the day. The multiplayer experience is great and adds yet another dimension to the game that I am sure will see teams and clan squadrons start to compete against each other in community events.
Watch out for the flak as you approach the target
All in all IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is a fantastic title that has everything you need from a flight game, with its Arcade mode that allows rookie flight fans to jump in and enjoy, right through to its full simulator mode for the hardcore sim fans to finally get their teeth into, it certainly delivers for both types of player. The graphics are superb and each of the 40 plus aircraft are beautifully created for the modern console generation with the stunning scenery acting as crisp well-rendered backdrop. The depth of play with its 6 campaign, 50 single player missions, and multiplayer mode mean you have a great variety of gameplay options. Gaijin Entertainment has taken the flight simulation model that 1C Company built for PC, and made a superb transition to the modern console generation. At the end of the day, IL-2 Stumovik: Birds of Prey soars above the competition.
Lost Gamer Verdict: 9/10
|Title||IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey|
|Developer||Gaijin Entertainment / 1C Company|
|Release Date||4th September 2009|
|Platform Reviewed||Xbox 360|
|Version Availability||Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PSP, DS|