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» IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 (PC)

Introduction

For the vast majority of people, the only aeronautical simulation known to them is Microsoft’s renowned Flight Simulator series. Personally, even though I have great respect for that franchise, I just never considered it that entertaining and usually found myself trying to crash the planes in the most amusing ways possible instead of just flying them. Fortunately, for other flight simulation aficionados like me, there are alternatives; better known as the Falcon, Lock On and IL-2 Sturmovik series. All of these games are utterly unforgiving and realistic, bringing combat flight simulation to the masses. Whereas the first two games that I mentioned are based on modern-day warfare, the latter is all about aviation during the Second World War. Although, like many people, I find that the market is saturated with games from the WW2 era, when it comes to flight combat, nothing beats good’ole dogfighting. And since another expansion for Oleg Maddox’s excellent flight simulation was recently released, called IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946, I just had to go out and try it!

IL-2? Sturmovik?

Over the years, IL-2 Sturmovik has had plenty of different expansions, some standalone and some not, creating a family tree so complex that only gamers that have followed the series from the very beginning will understand any of it. I’ll let you imagine how insanely long and difficult it was to install IL-2 Sturmovik and its official expansions without overwriting patches and whatnot. Obviously, for any newcomers, this was getting slightly out of control and the chances that you’d step into a videogame store and come back out with the IL-2 Sturmovik game/expansion that you wanted was almost nonexistent. So what has Ubisoft done to remedy this? Well, first of all, they added three more expansions (PE-2, Sturmoviks Over Manchuria, 1946) and although this move seems to make the family tree even more arduous than it is, thankfully, Ubisoft also included each and every previous expansion, campaign and plane that the series has ever had, cramming it all onto one huge DVD for one easy installation.

But then, one has to ask, why the name IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946? Unfortunately, this is a mystery that shall never be answered and, at least to my eyes, makes absolutely no sense at all. Sure, there is an expansion also called 1946 but what about the five other ones? Couldn’t Ubisoft have called this latest disc the IL-2 Sturmovik Collection or something along those lines? Anyways, apart from that minor confusing bit, I must say, for anyone interested in the series now, life has gotten a whole lot easier.

Oldtimer

No need to hide the facts, IL-2’s 3D engine is starting to show its age, in particular when you consider that it’s now over five years old! But for all of you thinking that this is a bad thing, I beg to differ. The first advantage of such an aged engine; the system requirements are remarkably reasonable:

• Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
• 1 GHz Processor Pentium 3 or equivalent
• 512 MB RAM
• DirectX 9.0 compatible 64MB Graphics Card
• 4 GB Free Hard Disk Space Required

The second benefit of having such a mature 3D engine is that all of the bugs have been ironed out over the years. Even after playing IL-2 for several hours, coupled with lots of minimizing and maximizing (alt-tabbing), not a single problem was ever encountered. What can I say, when the greater part of games being released nowadays are still riddled with bugs and are far from being stable, playing IL-2 is a real treat.

Limitless

Okay, so the 3D engine might be reliable and frugal but five years of age must show up in the graphics department, right? Technically speaking, yes it does, particularly when compared to Flight Simulator X for example. However, even though FSX has generally better visuals, approximately only 10% of PCs can run the game fluidly with all the eye candy turned on. IL-2 on the other hand, is still very decent and almost all (relatively modern) gaming rigs will be able to run it smoothly with all the bells and whistles. Of course, newer technology like High Dynamic Range or Bump Mapping is missing from IL-2 but even so, the game is still surprisingly pretty. The plane models are all meticulously modeled and detailed, whether you look at them from the exterior or the interior. In addition, the visual damage system for IL-2 is still one of the best in the industry, portraying realistically how enemy bullets rip through a plane’s fuselage or flaps.

Unfortunately, where the game is less impressive is when you look at the environments, which all tend to be quite barren and bland. Add to that the poor quality of the textures as you fly close to the ground or the way the clouds seem slightly unreal and it’s evident that IL-2 is aging, but compared to many other flight sims, it’s still holding its head high.

Thunderous

Nothing beats the wonderful sound of Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine in a Spitfire as it dives down towards the ground, followed by the unforgettable noise of rapid machinegun fire. And no game can recreate that better than IL-2 Sturmovik. There simply isn’t any other game that can immerse the player into a world of noise and sound as well as this series. In addition, if you are lucky enough to own a large subwoofer, firing projectiles from the cockpit view almost becomes a physical experience, given that bass is pumped furiously into the room, shaking everything. You almost want to play the game just for the sound effects and nothing else, that’s how good it is.

As for the music, there isn’t any other way to put this: it sucks. While it does fit the theme and era of the game, it gets annoying so quickly that before long, you’ll have muted it. But then again, given that it only plays during the menus, it isn’t that much of a problem. And of course, you always have the unbelievable sound effects during the in-game flights to look forward to, so the horrible music doesn’t even stay in your mind for too long.

Sensational
IL-2 is portrays itself as a serious combat flight sim, meaning that the gameplay has to be phenomenally realistic for it to be taken seriously. And for anyone who has ever played the original or one of the numerous expansions, it’s clear that Oleg Maddox’s game is definitely one of the best flight sims out there. Each and every plane offered over the series’ five year lifespan (meaning over 300 of them), ranging from fighters to bombers, have a near flawless flight model, truly immersing the player. Flying a plane in IL-2 is a real challenge, even when doing simple maneuvers and above all when trying to accomplish complicated ones, like landing or taking off. Every plane reacts and behaves just how one would expect them to do, stalling when flying too slow or breaking up from catastrophic speeds and G-forces. Add to that the subliminal damage system that changes the plane’s dynamics as flaps and wings get attacked, the superbly technical dogfighting, and it’s obvious that this game is a sensation.

But all this realism comes at a price. Firstly, newcomers who aren’t too serious about practicing for hours will quickly get fed up with IL-2 and its steep learning curve. Even though the game has a few tutorials, one must really invest a lot of time into the game to reap any rewards, especially when you crank up the realism settings (no automatic engine startup or external camera views, just to name a few). Secondly, if you don’t own a proper, high quality joystick, IL-2 just won’t be what it was meant to be.

Anyways, as is common with IL-2 expansions, this latest one adds the usual content of new campaign missions, airplanes and maps. But, unlike most of the other expansions in the series like Forgotten Battles or Ace Expansion Pack, this latest release doesn’t try to recreate the past but instead, dives into the world of “what-if” history. For example, in the 1946 campaign, one of the missions offers you a chance to assist in the assassination of Hitler. Obviously, anyone even remotely knowledgeable about WW2 history will know that such an event never happened. While this didn’t faze me in the slightest, instead giving me a chance of piloting in an intense and interesting mission, others might not agree. More proof of the “what-if” aspect continues when you look at some of the aircraft offered with this latest expansion. For example, Nazi Germany had started creating the first vertical takeoff aircrafts during the end of WW2, with prototypes like the Heinkel He-L-IIIB-2 Lerche. Although it never flew in reality, Oleg Maddox and his team have tweaked the original design to create a flyable version. Again, I applaud them for doing this and creating an amusing plane for me to fly but purists might disagree.

Conclusion

There is little doubt left in my mind, for anyone who has a love for aviation, IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 is the ultimate purchase. This is the most comprehensive repackaging that the series has ever seen and I avidly recommended it, especially given the amount of content that one receives. However, newcomers should be wary as the game is very difficult and requires a lot of patience but trust me, once you dive into it, you’ll be hooked on to it for many years to come. Sure, the game is starting to get old and visually it’s starting to show its age but when it comes to the flight dynamics, IL-2 is exceptional.

Gameplay
17/20
Still sensational, even five years later, a leader in it’s class. There isn’t a more realistic way to fly WW2 aircraft.
Graphics
14/20
Definitely starting to lack, particularly when looking at the gigantic environments. Thankfully, the plane models steal the show.
Sound
17/20
Only one word can describe it: fantastic. Volumetric sound recreates the exact hum of plane engines whirring away.
Value
18/20
The main game, coupled with six expansions and the possibility to create dynamic campaigns? Yup, IL-2 is one long and highly replayable game.
Preference
18/20
For all those flight simulation aficionados that love the good’ole days of dogfighting, this is definitely what you need.
Overall
84/100
This final repackaging of everything that is IL-2 Sturmovik is a worthy purchase for anyone that considers himself a true aeronautical fanatic.

 



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