IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Visually stunning graphics, true to life flight models from the developers’ research, variety of missions to fly from fighters and bombers.
Failed Inspection: Single-player campaign missions can be repetitive, no full mission editor, cannot host multiplayer sessions, yet.
The IL2-Sturmovik game probably doesn’t need an introduction to most flight simmers, but to those who are hearing of it for the first time should know that this is not a game you fly with either a mouse or gamepad. The complexity of IL2 Battle of Stalingrad almost demands that you play with a joystick setup. You do have the option of flying with a mouse or keyboard, but that’s like saying you can cross the Pacific Ocean in a canoe; you can do it, but you will be doing yourself a big favor if you take a cruise instead. Those loyal to the World War II IL2 flight series may even call it a stretch to call them games. The first time I picked up the original IL2-Sturmovik back in 2002, I realized that the development endeavor sought to bring realism and authenticity. The sim offered a steep learning curve as players learned how to fly dozens of fighters from different nationalities.
IL2-Battle of Stalingrad is the product of a cooperative effort by 1C Publisher (IL2-Cliffs of Dover) and 777 Studios, which developed the successful World War I flight simulator Rise of Flight. Those sims gave the player immersion not just in design and graphics, but also in the time spent perfecting flight and damage models and environment. IL2-Battle of Stalingrad attempts to pick up where the original IL2 and IL2-Cliffs of Dover left off, by putting players into a cockpit of the Soviet Air Forces or the Luftwaffe during the cold and bloody conflict in and around Stalingrad. While the sim tries to remain true to historical accuracy and authenticity, it also tries to implement gaming aspects that may appeal to some gamers or deter others.
Planes and detail in the cockpit
The simulator is available in two editions, standard and premium. Owners of the standard version can fly eight planes, four from each side. Since the Battle of Stalingrad was from August 1942 to February 1943, you will see some of the early-to-midwar planes that were essentially front-line fighters. The Soviets are armed with the LaGG-3 and Yak-1 fighters, and the IL-2 and Pe-2 bombers. As a Luftwaffe pilot, you can fly the Bf 109 F-4 and Bf 109 G-2 fighters, and the Ju87D-3 and He-111 H-6 bombers. The premium edition, for an additional $40 will give you the Soviet La-5 and German Fw-190 A-3 fighters, although neither of them participated in the Battle of Stalingrad. The price difference for an additional two planes may seem like a stretch, but it basically comes down to whether you want these two extra planes or not.
While the selection of planes might seem like a short list compared to other IL2 sim releases, players will discover that each plane has been recreated for historical value. With engine complexity level turned on in the sim, turning on an engine is much more detailed than pushing a button. The throttle and other settings must be set prior to starting the engine; manifold pressure and rpm must be monitored during flight to keep from burning out the engine; and engine temperatures must be taken into account, especially since the theater is in a frigid fighting environment. These factors alone will either draw you to the flight sim or deter you from flying it, although there are easier settings if you prefer to get into the thick of combat more quickly.
The level of detail in the cockpits provides a tremendous immersion factor for IL2-Battle of Stalingrad. Besides all of the dials functioning—and there can be a lot of those—levers and buttons animate as well. At times, you feel like the plane is working as an actual machine, as you see every moving part inside and outside the cockpit. This can be a daunting task when you are in combat since you have to make sure you don’t blow your engine while the enemy is trying to blow up your plane. Managing your plane while downing an enemy can be a more exhilarating accomplishment than it is when playing in an arcade dogfight.
Every flight simmer has his own methods of flying sims, relying on a keyboard, or the many buttons of joysticks, or using the mouse or TrackIR to view the cockpit and the enemy bandits on his six. IL2-Battle of Stalingrad will work on the player’s desired setup due to its extensive customization of keyboard and joystick settings; however, see my opening comments about trying to use a mouse or keyboard. You don’t really want to paddle that canoe.
Singleplayer and Multiplayer
Shortly before its official release in October 2014 IL2-Battle of Stalingrad introduced a system for unlocking weapon loadouts, plane modifications, and plane skins as you play the single-player campaign. This sparked some heated conversations on the sim’s forum, since it added a “gaming” feature to a flight simulator. While true that this is a game, many were expecting a flight simulator in which everyone was on the same playing field from the start. However, this feature requires everyone to play the single-player campaign to unlock components that can be used in single-player and multiplayer. The single-player campaign allows players to fly on either side, with any of the planes found in the game. Every mission is different; fighters can choose to provide escort for bombers, intercept enemy bombers, or attack ground targets. Bombers will engage different targets throughout the landscape such as train stations, factories, or ground combat targets. If you are high-level bombing in the He-111 or Pe-2, expect to see your targets blocked by the clouds at times. This can be an extremely frustrating experience, particularly when you’ve spent the time and effort to climb to a high altitude, but this experience was not out of the ordinary for bomber crews during the war.
Expect a bit of a learning curve; new players will save themselves some time and effort learning to fly a plane if they refer to some of the user-created guides on the forums. I’ve been referring to these guides often, but I’m starting to get the hang of flying certain planes on my own now.
The single-player campaign progresses through five chapters of the Battle of Stalingrad. I’ve managed to unlock all of the He-111 bomber’s features in under 10 missions, and I expect it should be the same for the rest of the planes.
Multiplayer has plenty of room for improvement since players cannot create missions or host their own servers. At the moment, there are over 10 designated servers for players to join, but this is expected to change in the coming months, as the developers plan to release a mission editor and client hosting.
For now, it seems that playing options are limited. You can either continue flying the single-player campaign—which can be repetitive at times—creating quick dogfights in single-player, or flying on the limited number of online servers.
Without a doubt, this is a nice addition to the IL2 series. It almost feels like a reboot of the original IL2, taking us back to the Eastern Front with a select set of planes on a new gaming engine. The graphics and level of detail for the planes, cockpit, landscape and ground units are superb. Dawn and dusk visuals are simply beautiful as the sun beams through the clouds. The game runs flawlessly; I’ve yet to see a game crash in the countless of hours I’ve been playtesting. Some gamers have experienced lockups or crashes, but these may be limited and the developers try to quickly address them.
I have only three complaints, which I’m sure will be polished since the developers are still working on the sim since its official October 2014 release. The first is that the single-player campaign can become stale after several missions. The mission briefings do not provide any background for the mission or the campaign; it just tells you what you need to do to technically complete the mission. The second is that the unlocking of plane modifications and skins can feel like a chore, but this can be a good learning experience for those new to the sim. The third is that there aren’t many multiplayer options. The number of servers is limited, along with the number of missions in their rotation, and players cannot create their own servers yet. For many who are part of an online squadron, this can be a frustrating wait since many may want to learn and experience IL2-Battle of Stalingrad with friends.
Overall, I can’t complain about the sim too much, since it is still really in development. It is a welcome addition to the IL2 series, and it is visually immersive. I expect to keep flying this sim, but mostly online.
Armchair General Rating: 92% at current development
About the Author
Ed William has his Masters in Library and Information Science and works in public libraries. This allows him access to databases of historical content while reviewing wargames. He took an interest in military history and wargaming as a teenager after learning that his hometown was home to General George S. Patton. Ed is the author of an article that explains how to convert interactive games in Armchair General magazine to PC scenarios using the Combat Mission series.