IL2 Sturmovik: Birds Of Prey

Fasten your seatbelts and put your trays in the upright positions, please. It’s time to take to the skies and fight your way through five of the greatest air battles from World War II.

IL2 is, at it’s heart, a flight simulator. There’s no two ways about that, everything about it screams sim – from the cockpit interiors to the beautifully realised landscapes and the realistic damage models it’s all about the realism. The one concession to the average gamer on the street is the Arcade mode – an easy to handle, and low maintenance mode that allows you to enjoy everything this game has to offer without having to worry (too much) about the more delicate handling of your plane.

If you’ve played any game involving a plane flight you’re pretty much ready to go with this title, although you are expected to complete the simple tutorial before you’re qualified to face the horrors of war. With the game set to Arcade mode you can put your plane through it’s paces and, generally, come out in one piece. During the tutorial phases you are given the opportunity to train further and unlock the Realistic and Simulator modes. This is where the game kicks into full-on sim mode, as both of these make the plane handle in a more realistic manner. For example, in Arcade mode, you can bank your plane and turn with very little loss of altitude – carry out the same turn in Realistic mode and you’ll find yourself dropping through the sky like a stone. Arcade mode allows you to be heavy handed with the controls, wrenching the sticks to their extremes has no consequence. With Realistic and Simulator, however, you have to treat the controller as if it’s made of the most delicate material imaginable and only minor stick movements are recommended. In fact, I found that if I even looked at my plane in the wrong way it would throw a wobbly and stall – a move which, unless you’re nifty with the sticks, will see you and the earth becoming re-united incredibly quickly.

Don’t let that put you off though. The game is fully playable in Arcade mode, so go right ahead and enjoy it. The higher control modes are, essentially, just raising the difficulty level. In Arcade you can have the skin shot off your plane without it affecting the performance, with the higher modes the holes in your wings will affect perfomance. The beauty of the Arcade mode, though, is that you get to enjoy how much work has been placed into the damage models. As your plane suffers increasing levels of damage more holes appear in your wings or fuselage – something which is a lot more effective than your standard “little bit of smoke – dark smoke -fire!” method of vehicular damage measurement, which has been used in everything from GTA to Red Faction!

The game is full of neat touches like that. Fly directly behind a German plane and fill it full of lead and you’ll find that your view is obscured by bits of debris, oil and soot.  This is effective enough in the default follow camera of Arcade mode, but really hits home if you’re playing in-cockpit as your already limited view is restricted even more. I think that’s one thing that surprised me – playing with the cockpit view on really shows that the real pilots of the time could see, well, cock-all through the glass bubble surrounding them and it really is no wonder that the game offers an achievement for players who make it through a campaign on Simulator difficulty and cockpit view – where you are, essentially, relying on the little you can see through the window and the limited information supplied by the instruments to carry out a successful mission. When you think that some of the missions, such as the bombing runs or generally anything involving a firing a rocket at a target, can be an absolute bitch to do in Arcade mode this really is a massive undertaking.

As you’d expect from a game that sees you flying over a beautifully rendered Dover (I buzzed the castle, just because it’s ages since I was last there and I fancied seeing it again) the dialogue is full of plummy British accents urging you to jolly well attack that target and the like. This is the one bit of the game that I found the most disappointing. I realise that in the 1940s everything probably was a bit plummy but nowadays it all sounds a little bit twee and stereotypical – almost as if it’s an American movie and they want us to know we are definately in Britain.







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