IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Impressions
IL-2 Sturmovik is a love letter to Second World War combat aviation. The dedication to historical accuracy is apparent in every aspect of the demo we played, which showcases 2 levels from the upcoming combat flight simulator by 1C Company. Not just historical accuracy, but spit and polish has been lovingly applied to this product, which will surely please a specific fan base of flight simulator aficionados. We aren't exactly the target demographic for 1C Company's latest effort, but we still appreciated our time with the title. The finished retail game is due to land on the PS3 this September 4th.
It should be clear from the above that IL-2 Sturmovik is no arcade shooter. Although the demo does provide new players with an "arcade" difficulty setting, this does not mean that the focus of the campaign is to provide gamers with thrills (at least not the kind we're normally accustomed to). This game will ask players to control their airspeed, learn complex areal dogfighting maneuvers and even land their plane at friendly bases. Some concessions have been made to make the game playable: there is a HUD overlay that shows distance to the next target, as well as a lock-on camera, two technologies that we're pretty sure didn't exist in 1942. For the hardcore there is also a lovingly-crafted interior cockpit view, complete with free look options and detailed levers and gauges. Free camera look works pretty well, although it is awkwardly mapped to a right-analog-press that can be hard to smoothly operate.
The first thing we did upon entering the IL-2 Sturmovik demo was to jump into a series of tutorials. These short missions serve as a hands-on introduction to flying, narrated by a gruff Englishman whose accent was a bit hard to wade through over the radio. Nevertheless, objectives were pretty straightforward and taught us the ropes of banking, lifting, targeting and shooting. By the end of it, we felt like we had a firm grasp on our MK-II Spitfire a we blasted our way through convoys of enemy bombers over southern England. That is really a huge compliment to the developers at 1C Company, because they have succeeded at making a flight simulator control almost perfectly on dual analog sticks. We wish that the planes in Battlefield 1943 controlled this well.
After the demo, it was time to head out into a real combat mission against live German bombers and fighters. The level "Red Skies over Dover" starts out with players coming up behind a large group of German bombers flying in formation. Diving into their ranks and cutting them apart with machine gun fire definitely provided some thrills, as did dodging the pieces of wing falling off of enemy planes as they spiraled out of control. Once we got too close to an enemy tail section and managed to sheer the left wing right off of our own aircraft. The physics of this encounter really showcased what 1C are calling their "dynamic" aircraft damage system and the result was nothing short of brilliant. We quickly went into an uncontrollable spin and were prompted to continue the mission from the beginning having "died".
Graphics are stunning in this game, but they tend a little bit towards the uncanny valley. Aircraft are brightly modeled and reflect sunlight almost like die-cast models, while seawater has a slightly unnatural sheen to it. However, the detail on ground features like meadows and villages is almost unbelievable, and the game constantly ran at a solid 30 frames per second with no screen tearing.
The second part of the demo put us behind the controls of an American P-51 Mustang, doing a low-level attack run against German tank formations during the Battle of the Bulge. At the beginning we were asked to stealthily follow a frozen river bed to sneak up on the enemy, but quickly abandoned this strategy for dive-bombing the miniscule tanks with our rockets. Enemy fighters joined the fray in an attempt to stop us, but they didn't seem to be able to hit either us or our wingmen, so they were mostly ignored.
While in the middle of missions, sometimes a secondary objective will be announced over the radio and shown on radar. This time we were asked to take out a number of German tanks advancing on friendly troop positions, which we did with ease. This level didn't quite have the impact of the first mission, mainly because hitting stationary ground targets was really easy and because the stealth element felt tacked on with no real consequence to the mission. The best part of the mission was an ending cinematic, in which our American pilot recounted his wartime experiences and gave some backstory to the completed objectives.
Based on our short time with the demo, we can confidently say that IL-2 Sturmovik is a well made product. The graphics and physics engine delivers the kind of performance we would expect from a flight simulator on the PC. Just like its PC counterparts, however, IL-2 Sturmovik is probably aimed at a slightly older, more detail-oriented audience. The twitch gaming, instant gratification crowd would probably find the pacing of this game to be too slow. However, for fans of World War 2 military aviation, this is game is almost a must-buy.
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