IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad Preview (PC)

For such involving flight sims, the IL-2 series has always managed to strike a welcomed balance between hardcore and casual in its approach. Since inception, both admirals of the skies and airbound newbs have been able to access and enjoy each series entry’s complex ballistics systems, advanced physics models, and painstakingly accurate depictions of cockpits and their control systems with relative ease.

I say relative as someone who likes, but has never really been any good at flight sims - that is to say I’ve never found them easy, but have always managed to strike some level of enjoyment before careering back to earth as quickly as I took flight.

What does this button do?

But that’s always been part of the fun for me. I know I’m not great, but if I can still have fun then I’m not really bothered. I suppose what I’m really trying to say is that - even as someone who is well aware of the my limitations within the genre - I am aware that even considering the scores of tweakable options and settings and mechanics, there is an accessible game behind each IL-2 Sturmovik, and this is something I’ve found entirely lacking in other flight sims.

"I can tell you one thing: we have it all; we have it all in our game. We are simply doing the best flight sims in the world, and that’s a statement," says Anatoly Subbotin of 1C Studios, the team behind forthcoming series additions IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad, and Ilya Muromets, at a recent press event. Quite a statement, right enough, but 1C do seem to know what they’re doing, having now teamed up with 777 Studios - 1C Maddox recently departing from the series it founded following 2011’s poorly received IL-2: Cliffs of Dover.

"The flight sim genre has been on the market for many years, and it has long-standing traditions," continues Subbotin. "We believe the time has come to bring the flight sim genre to an absolutely new level. We would like to introduce our new approach to the genre, and by that we mean the three basic fundamentals: Challenge, Emotions, and Flexibility."

Subbotin goes on to explain the three parameters by which both Stalingrad and Muromets are marked against, noting the power of modern day PCs - household machines which are exponentially more sophisticated than those NASA used in 1969 to send man to the moon - as paramount in the design process. Through this, Subbotin maintains that he and his team are in the best position to deliver everything that goes along with flight simulation and the emotions and excitement inclusive to the experience. Not only has 1C cross-checked stockpiles of information and declassified Soviet files in relation to both WW1, of which Muromets is based upon, and WW2, for Stalingrad; but it has also liaised with real life WW2 veterans for an added layer of authenticity.

Sirkorsky’s Ilya Muromets

"We have a very special AI system in our game and this is probably one of the most innovative AI systems in the whole industry," boasts Subbotin. "We tried to create an AI system which acts like a real drone, so you will be fighting against a real drone in our game. Our AI acts exactly like a real human pilot sitting inside the cockpit so it does the same operations; it does not cheat or take any shortcuts or violate the laws of physics. If you manage to defeat the AI, we have after the game’s PvP mode. You can try yourself against some of the virtual pilots - we have some really tough guys amongst our community."

As far as the last criterion goes - flexibility - Subbotin tells of how playing and enjoying flight sims can be easily achieved without massively expensive home setups, claiming both Muromets and Stalingrad can be enjoyed with a joystick at just $50. Furthermore, the accuracy of the stories relayed within the IL-2 series makes the games themselves more accessible. What this means is that playing these games feels as much a history lesson as it does a flight simulation, and this is something the Russian Historical Military Society has picked up on with Ilya Muromets.

"We have won several awards from the media and community," says Albert Zhiltsov, the game’s producer. "The Kerbal Space Programme developers and NASA partnered, so the same thing has happened with us - the Russian Historical Military Society came to us and asked us if they could be a part of the new development. The game, about the early stages of the Russian aviation history, and about one of the most famous Russian planes, Ilya Muromets, created by Igor Sikorsky.

"The Eastern Front is not a super-popular idea for games, but maybe today is the right time. Finding the information about the planes and events that took place 100 years ago was not easy. Maybe we are the last [generation] to be able to find all of this information, so we are proud. We call it documentainment."

Having suffered a slight slump in quality in the series’ last iteration - IL-2 Sturmovik: The Cliffs of Dover - 1C seems determined to get the franchise back in the air. Both games - Muromets now in early access via the 1C website - and Stalingrad - set for Steam Early Access this Friday - feel like a welcomed return to IL-2’s glory days. Stalingrad will take place over nearly 50’000 square miles spanning a generous five chapter campaign. Although working towards an preconceived conclusion - Germany of course lose - each chapter is randomised, a nice way of mixing things up in the absence of a dynamic campaign.

The only slight downside to this is the fact that campaigns must be downloaded from Stalingrad’s servers - meaning offline campaigning isn’t possible. That said, both games are set to include offline segments targeting casual play named ‘Quick Mission Builders’. In Muromets, players can expect to pilot the infamous Ilya Muromets - the four-engined commercial-cum-military bomber plane - designed by Igor Sikorsky. Mid flight, the player can switch between the cockpit and one of the vessel’s three gun turrets, making for some daring high altitude dog fighting.

Inside the Muromets’ cockpit

Perhaps 1C and 777’s greatest achievement in both Muromets and Stalingrad is how realistic both games look. Authenticity and realism is something the series has always championed - particularly over genre competition - however both do look stunning. The biggest drawback in both games is the tedium of reconnaissance missions, however these are regularly, and nicely, offset by land assaults and mid-flight shoot-offs. With Oculus Rift support imminent, it really is hard not to get excited.

As is consistent with all flight sims, the level of skill required to execute even the most simple of tasks in Muromets and Stalingrad could well be enough to put less determined players off. Having not played any flight sim games in quite some time, it took me four attempts before successfully taking off in my first run through of Stalingrad. But the joy of first lifting your aircraft into the sky - wobbling right, careering left, before finally straightening up - is truly rewarding. If, like me, you’re far from a natural in the cockpit, these are two games I can assure you are worth sticking with: certainly unforgiving, but entirely responsive if you do what’s expected of you. If, on the other hand, you are well-versed in the art of flight then there really is nothing better out there on land, sea or sky.

Most Anticipated Feature: Dogfighting with VR support.

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By LS35A (SI Member) on Aug 06, 2014
Online only? That's not a particularly good design decision.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Aug 06, 2014
The screen shots - aside from the first, which IS from "IL2", the rest are from "Ilya Muromets", the Eastern Front stand-alone built on the Rise of Flight engine. It is NOT a proper expansion for Rise of Flight (like the Channel Campaign) as it is a stand-alone and does not cross-over with the original in any way (which has disappointed many RoF users). We've been asking for an Eastern Theatre for years, and then this happens. Very down disappointing an no aircraft in my bulging hangar will be playable.
"IL2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad" is an upgraded and expanded version of the venerable "IL2" based in WW II (no, not the same Devs as "Cliffs of Dover", thankfully). The screenshots for that are mouthwatering, but the rig to run it will need to be a big rig.

Online play has been a staple of RoF since it's first iteration (I've been a player for years and have been involved from the start), and offline play came much later along with real Campaigns and Career Mode - your progression just counts for nothing though. It might happen with these two in the long run. If you don't like online play: tough! There is no problem with servers, ever, and the constant attention by Jason and the rest of the Devs from 777 Studios is top notch. The control scheme will also be massively adjustable as will the difficulty settings in Realism. You can virtually play Arcade right up to Full Simulation so even the novice can have fun. Don't be fooled though, the planes can be tough to handle even with all Assists on and realism off.

By the way, "Ilya Muromets" Alpha is available here for US $19.95: