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Strike Fighters Android Review

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Who here has a smartphone? Or a tablet device? Or more and more frequently, one of both? Chances are, especially as a member of this forum, where most discussion is about games based on a computer, you have at least one of what are commonly called "Mobile" devices.

 

More importantly, how many of you use these devices for something other than work? The majority of you do unless the device is company owned (even then that may not stop some of you).

 

Mobile smart devices have become an increasingly integral part of our daily lives.

 

And the numbers suggest they are becoming as important or more so than your computer. In fact, in 2011, half of the computing devices sold were mobile.

 

Even more interesting is the amount of revenue mobile gaming (defined as gaming on a non-dedicated mobile device like a smartphone or tablet) earns, over 8 billion dollars in 2011.

 

2011 also saw mobile gaming earn more revenue than Sony and Nintendo (PSP and DS) combined.

 

Does this mean PC gaming is dead, of course not.

 

But it does mean that mobile gaming represents a significant market to be tapped into. And some traditional PC flying simulation developers have decided to expand their Intellectual Properties (IPs) into this new market.

 

There is precedent for this move. Major gaming IPs such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or HAWX, already have a presence in PC, Console, Handheld, and Mobile space. Games that were once limited to PC/consoles can now look and play very well on mobile devices. Initially, they were dedicated gaming devices such as the Playstation Portable, but now smartphones can rock out with games like GTA III or Max Payne, not to mention other IPs.

 

Traditional PC flight simulations have tended to stay within their market (ie there is no Microsoft Flight Simulator console version or a DCS for the Nintendo DS). Usually due to the restrictions mobile devices put onto simulations, they haven't been very practical (lack of screen, keyboard inputs, computing power, etc). This has started to change, due to the increasing power mobile devices have.

 

Which brings us to today. ThirdWire (TW), makers of the Strike Fighters (SF) series of combat flight simulations, has come out with its first mobile gaming application (or app) called...you guessed it, Strike Fighters Android (or SFA).

 

 

Overview

 

Right out of the gate, you are not going to get a desktop simulation experience on a mobile device...period. Those expecting such are in for a major disappointment no matter what you play. But, once you get over that restriction, your experience can be surprisingly enjoyable if the app works well. How did TW do on its freshman app? Read on!

 

As a mobile app, the requirements are pretty short...in this case, this is only compatible with Android OS Version 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) or newer. The assumption of course is that any device running 2.3.3 or higher has the power to run SFA relatively well. It also requires 42MB of storage, which can be high compared to a lot of apps, but low compared to games like HAWX. The main reason for the size of the program is that all the content is in the program...there is nothing else to download, merely unlocked.

 

The price is perfect for everyone...free! SFA is based on the Freeimum business model. Basically, you get the game for free, with a basic aircraft (the F-100A). You earn additional aircraft by either playing the game and advancing, or buying individual aircraft at $0.99 each. The game is ad supported, but purchase just one aircraft and all the ads are removed. More on the 'earning' process later.

 

After the splash screen, this is what greets you:

 

Screenshot_2012-10-20-02-12-37.jpg

 

This is the main screen which most other navigation originates from. From top to bottom and left to right:

 

1. Yellow box - Level number

2. Green bar - Current points / Points until next level

3. Yellow key - Number of 'keys' available to unlock aircraft

4. Upper center box - Press to 'recalibrate' accelerometer

5. Gear - Settings screen

6. Campaign box - Campaign and current year progress (year disappears once campaign is complete)

7. Arrow keys - Used to cycle through available aircraft

8. Lower left circle - View specifications of current aircraft

9. Lower right circle -

  • Plane symbol = Go fly
  • Dollar Symbol = Purchase aircraft
  • Key symbol = Unlock aircraft
  • Lock symbol = Aircraft locked, no purchase or unlock key available (usually this is due to lack of internet connection).

Settings screen:

 

Setting Screen.jpg

 

Most settings here are self explanatory, with the globe symbol being a link to the ThirdWire website.

 

 

Specifications screen:

 

Plane Info Screen.jpg

 

Again, pretty self explanatory.

 

 

Before we go fly, lets expand on how you get new aircraft and progress in the campaign.

 

In the early game, keys are earned through level upgrades via points (100 points per downed aircraft) and by shooting down 5 bandits in a particular aircraft (does not have to be in the same game session). Every 5 shootdowns results in you advancing in the 'campaign' by one year. Note that as you continue to accumulate points, every level upgrade requires more points to get to the next level. Once you complete the campaign, the only two ways you can get additional aircraft is either purchasing them or earning points...the 5 shootdown accomplishment doesn't earn anything after ending the campaign. Also, even if you have keys available to unlock aircraft, the game will not let you unlock aircraft newer than the current campaign year. The only way to 'skip ahead' is to purchase aircraft. And those purchased aircraft do not unlock any other aircraft early (if you're in 1968 and you buy a F-16, you still can't unlock any other newer aircraft with keys).

 

As you continue to advance in points, bandits' skills increase and they become more numerous. Their equipment gets better too. You can go back to play earlier aircraft (they are locked into a specific year) and you will encounter bandits appropriate to that year. Their skills and number do remain at the higher levels.

 

Available player aircraft get better as you advance in years, with more and better missiles, increased performance, RWR and decoys (expendables). One thing that is not so obvious is time to play also increases...you can start out at 1:30 minutes per session and be up to 4:00 minutes by the end...time is dependant on particular version of aircraft, not just general year and basic model.

 

Here's what it can look like once you'd played a few dozen times:

 

F-16 Screenshot.jpg

ZOMG! F-16 in USAF colors!

 

Enough about getting all the planes...how does it play?

 

The fastest way to describe it is if you have played any of SF series in Instant Action with most of the 'helpers' on, and in 'Chase View', you'll feel right at home.

 

Your typical screen:

 

MiG-17.jpg

The consequences of 'spray and pray'...

 

 

Look familiar? As folks who play the SF series of PC games know, TW tends to recycle a lot of stuff. SFA is no different, from the aircraft models and textures, to the terrain, effects, and even voices for 'Red Crown' and your (non-existent) wingman.

 

The terrain and weather both randomize...it looks like the IsraelME terrain, sometimes with different, green textures from VietnamSEA.

 

Bandits are shown with red boxes around them, with red triangles around enemy missiles. You'll see small red circles leading when enemies are close...basically they are 'aim dots' if you have a gun. When enemies are off screen, red arrowheads replace the red square, and a solid red triangle replaces the red triangle outline (when RWR is available) for missiles. The red arrowheads 'flash' when you are being shot at by an off screen bandit.

 

The radar is omnidirectional, showing bandits in green, and if you have RWR, your missiles will show in yellow and enemy missiles will show in red. One thing to note is the scale is not uniform...the closer ring has a higher resolution. In other words, the inner ring is about 2 units, but the middle ring is about 5 and the outer is about 10.

 

Screenshot_2012-10-19-09-47-30.jpg

ZOMG! Teh Sexplane!

 

Time to play is in the upper left, along with the pause button. Incidently, when paused, this is the only time you can change views and focused aircraft using the accelerometer and arrow keys on either side of the screen. When you are unpaused, it will revert right back to Chase View on your aircraft. No other views are available.

 

Screenshot_2012-10-18-20-12-02.jpg

I'm the guy in front...

 

Upper middle is the recalibration button.

 

Throttle controls, airspeed readout, gun and missile sights, altitude readout (including radar altitude when low) and weapons status/firing buttons are in the middle row of the screen...left to right to lower right corner. The throttle is sort of a blip type device....the aircraft defaults to near corner speed, and the throttle arrows are used to speed up (using AB if available) or slow down (using speed brake if available). However, once you release either, the aircraft will attempt to fly back toward corner speed on its own. The weapon status indicators are the firing buttons...just press them to fire.

 

The lower left indicator is your RWR/decoy status indicator/deployment button (if you have decoys). Deployment works the same way as weapons.

 

The accelerometer in your device is for roll and pitch control...there is no on screen joystick control available.

 

Aircraft tend to be accurate appearing, flight controls moving correctly, and effects like smoke trails, afterburner, and gun smoke looking just like the PC version. Plus, missiles appear to be mounted properly, and will disappear as they are used, on friendly and enemy aircraft. Sounds as already noted come directly from the PC version, including radio calls.

 

 

Gameplay

 

Enemy aircraft are like balloons, usually destroyed (with no debris other than an explosion sprite) with a single missile or gun hit. Your aircraft can usually take a few gun hits or 2 missile hits before being destroyed. There is no degradation of capability or visual damage when getting hit other than a 'pop up' red bar showing total damage.

 

No takeoffs or landings are included...you always start right in the action. The flight model is obviously more toward arcade as in stalls are not modeled (you merely mush down when you get slow with very little nose track). Aircraft appear to have built in G limits in that you can't over-G in either direction, which means your turn radius gets large and your nose track slows down as you get too fast. Notably, induced drag appears to be modeled...so techniques like unloading while accelerating appear to help verses just pitch and power modeling. Aircraft definitely have different FMs for each one...the MiG-17 is a hoot as a gunfighter.

 

Collision between aircraft do not seem to be modeled, but ground impact is...both you and bandits are vulnerable to cumulus granite.

 

Bandits start out as slow turning 'ducks' but get increasingly higher aspect and more aggressive as you advance...tending to come at you waves of 2 to 4 aircraft, up to a maximum of about 10 bandits on screen at a time. They seem to employ missiles properly.

 

Missiles are limited to reflect real world loadouts. Guns are unlimited, with a twist - when you run out, you get auto reloaded...but it can take up to 15 seconds. That doesn't sound like a lot of time...but when you total gameplay time at most is only 4 minutes...it can be an eternity! Especially since you run out just as you get into optimal firing position (see first gameplay screenshot for an example of how NOT to use your ammo).

 

Decoys are also limited...use wisely. They appear to be 100 percent effective when used. Missiles can also be defeated by maneuver...usually attempting to force a missile overshoot is the best way. Sadly, you won't be that effective against later missiles.

 

Missile tactics are probably the most interesting part of the game. Infrared (IR) missiles have a round circle that shows up in your HUD...semi active radar homing (SARH) missiles use a diamond cursor. The cursors are auto targeting and will tend to home in on the closet in parameter target in front of you. To simulate the early IR missiles that were not all aspect, they won't try to track a target if the aspect angle isn't met. Both types of missiles have max and min ranges...outside those parameters, the seekers won't track either. Finally, SARH missiles work like the real thing...if you turn away from your target, the missile will break lock, unlike IR missiles which are fire and forget.

 

IMG_20121009_170011.jpg

BlueJay 4, do you have the target...?

 

After all that, there are still more considerations. Once a missile cursor is tracking a bandit, a percentage counter starts winding up, giving you a probability of a hit if the missile was fired at that instant. Once it reaches 99 percent, it and the cursor start flashing. For IR missiles, 99 percent also means the lock 'tone' increases in volume. Most of your shots are guaranteed at this point. The problem is that early missiles have relatively slow cursors that are easy to pull off the target, resulting in the counter resetting. The counter itself is slow in the early missiles. It forces you to be smooth while tracking a bandit...assuming he's agreeable and assuming his friends don't take advantage of the 'rope a dope'. The game also penalizes the launch if you are pulling too hard or if the full up lock is transitory (say if the bandit breaks hard into you just after you fire). Considering some of the aircraft have no guns and not a whole lot of missiles (CF-104), it means every shot needs to count. Later aircraft have all aspect missiles, faster moving cursors and faster countdowns. But all your opponents have the same improvements...and they outnumber you. I have not been able to tell if bandits have expendables.

 

RWR indications are as noted before but aircraft without RWR will still get a 'Missile Launch!' call and will get the red triangle outline on the missile if it is visible. Aircraft RWR will get the familiar 'lock on' and 'missile launch' tones from the PC version.

 

Later aircraft have ECM listed, but I have not seen if that makes a difference in gameplay.

 

Once you are done with your flight, this is the debrief screen.

 

Screenshot_2012-10-19-09-50-21.jpg

Guess which aircraft I was in...

 

Again, very familiar looking. This is also where you will get notified if you have earned new aircraft/progressed in the campaign, etc.

 

The game uses the Unity 3d engine, and my experience was very stable, no glitches, crashes or force close occurred with all the playing I did. It was smooth, only bogging down sometimes when the number of enemies exceeded 12. This has been fixed in a recent update.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Is this game worth getting? Value wise, considering it is free, it is hard to say it isn't worth at least trying. Buying aircraft is a different question. All aircraft can eventually be earned, so you don't have to spend a dime...just a lot of time doing the same kind of mission over and over.

 

Is this a reasonable simulation? The answer is no...it is more an arcade game, though the missile employment shows some good simulation like aspects. Two excellent examples of flight simulation for mobile are F-Sim Space Shuttle (a shuttle approach and landing sim) and X-Plane. Both are much closer to actual simulators...and X-Plane has multiplayer! But no combat.

 

Is this a good air combat game? The answer is yes, but with caveats. In some ways, it can be considered more like an 'air Quake' because it's basically you against everyone else, and the type of mission remains the same, with no takeoffs, landings, air to ground missions or cockpit view. But, the variety of aircraft is second to none, with many aircraft you can't find anywhere else on any platform except the PC versions of SF.

 

Screenshot_2012-10-19-09-36-56.jpg

ZOMG! Commie planes!

 

A great example of the features I would like to see in a future mobile version of SFA is Air Navy Fighters for mobile. It has cockpit views, multi cameras, realistic takeoffs and landings, and a terrain/mission creator. The amount of flyables is small (F-18, F-14, and C-2), there are no air to air missions, and the air to ground weapons seem a bit too magic.

 

In conclusion, for a freshmen attempt to get into the mobile space, SFA is solid offering. Blending arcade action with variety of aircraft that no one else offers, reasonable price to unlock aircraft, and a gaming mechanic that makes you want to earn 'just one more unlock!', you will find SFA a way to have some SF goodness anywhere you have your Android phone.

 

Now if can just get enough points to unlock that guns only Mystere...

 

Reviewed on a HP Touchpad running Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

  • Like 2

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Great review with lots of info - will no doubt try the iFad version when its out.

 

So will I, but Air Navy Fighters is awesome. I've been playing that a lot lately. My only gripe is that it has no good air-air combat - you can only shoot down helos, which are sitting ducks when your flying a Tomcat.

:airplane:

The major disadvantage of any mobile SF is that you can't download any add-ons, which are what makes SF so awesome in the first place!

Edited by eaglef15strike

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Great review Harold, well written, covering all aspects of the app!

 

Is this a reasonable simulation? The answer is no...it is more an arcade game, though the missile employment shows some good simulation like aspects.

 

100% agree, guns-on-guns are lot of spray and pray tactics but the missiles makes gamer think before release

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I wish maybe in the future Thirdwire would lean towards Air Navy Fighters type of game... just saying (opinion based on lite version of ANF only)

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Thanks guys! Yep, ANF is pretty cool, and would be killer if it had real air to air combat. And it does take user built missions/terrains! I tried a few, one of them I couldn't even start...kept exploding as soon as the game started. So the terrain builder could be a plus/minus thing.

 

Addendum to the review...X Plane DOES have limited combat options. Certain aircraft come with adversaries you can fight. But, other reviews of this part of X Plane say the air to air is very uneven..the AI just isn't that good. I may have to buy a few planes to check it out. But, XPlane also comes with a Viggen for free! Hell, the only reason I know that is my son found it....at first I thought he bought it! I tried to get the multiplayer to work to see if you could have air to air multi combat but no dice.

 

I'm thinking about doing reviews on a few other mobile flight games since I'm sort of stuck on mobiles for a while (the SFA review was actually written on my Touchpad).

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Cool, thanks for the review. Good Lord man! writing all that on a touchpad? You are a masochist!

 

Since I'm reading it on wife's work iFad (thanks Migbuster), I'll be trying it out on that one day, I hope. Duke University won't mind having such a cerebral game on their machine I'm sure...

 

Hey! F-104. I guess this once and for all dispels that rumor about the Lockheed copyright problem.

Edited by arthur666

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Well, to be fair, the review was written on the Touchpad. I used my Dropbox account to keep a text file synced across my laptop, server, and my Touchpad. Of course, the screenshots were also on the Touchpad. I did have to use my laptop to upload the screenshots because the Touchpad kept giving me an error. The new editor is unfriendly to Android users I've noticed for anything other than pure text documents.

 

Once the text file was done, I merely copy and pasted the whole article. That way if I lost my connection, I didn't lose the article (at which point I would have thrown the Touchpad out the window...).

 

FC

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still, masochist :wink:

 

(and it's a premiere example how to write a review)

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can someone give me the list of Planes? my primary now is the F-4 Phantom (because of 8 missiles and no gun.. i like missiles)im just wondering if they have these aircrafts : F-15A/B Eagle , AV-8A/B Harrier I and II, Su-27 Flanker , MiG 29 Fulcrum , Tu-28 Fiddler (the biggest fighter built, almost as large as a bomber, so basically, it is designed to shoot enemy bomber formations), Su-15/21 Flagon (one of the most controversial aircraft of the cold war, since it shot down a commercial airliner) Dassault Mirage F1, Super Etendard and the MiG-25 Foxbat.

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You can download the app and see for yourself...however, of all the aircraft you listed, only the F-15A and MiG-25 Foxbat are in the game.

 

FC

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They have the Mig 29 but no Su-27 which is one of major pet peeve. Also attaining keys to unlock aircraft at times seems unreachable. The app gives you the option purchase aircraft at .99 a pop which is what they really intended for users to do.Once you make the first purchase, you won't get anymore of those annoying advertisement.

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sf android.. this is the first game in strike fighter... i started to fall in love with this game and now i found my self flying pc version... this is owesome games best and fun aircraft simulator i ever play...

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      Q2. What’s a good comparative title for CAP2, it seems similar to Gaijin’s Apache Air Assault – is that a fair comparison in terms of sim fidelity and gameplay? Fun and action more than hardcore simulation?
      I’d say we lean more towards a simulation than AAS. CAP2 has a strategic element in campaign mode which I don’t think you’ll find in many titles.
      Q3. I’m old enough to have played Combat Air Patrol on the Amiga 500 (great game btw), what would be the main advances Ed and the team have been able to feature in CAP2 on today’s more powerful hardware?
      Glad you liked it! With CAP I developed a 3D engine in 68k assembler as we didn’t have GPU’s. With a CPU running just over 7Mhz you could see the impact of just a few extra polygons. Now we’re pushing millions of polygons per frame we can draw pretty much anything we want. Terrain in CAP was limited to a few blue water polygons, CAP2 has over 250,000sq km of geo accurate terrain. Shaders allow us to render complex atmospheric lighting, water, shadows and post process effects.
      Reference material is one of the biggest differences between developing CAP2 vs CAP. Back in the 90’s I wrote to the DoD asking for material on CVN-71 and actually received info & pictures a few weeks later. Today you’ve got a thousand images/movies/schematics available in seconds so things have changed massively.
      Thanks to Ed and the Sim155 team for taking the time to answer our questions. We can’t wait to find out more, especially on the dynamic campaign side. For those that loved the gameplay fun of Strike Fighters and IL-2, this looks like a really nice ‘fidelity middle ground’ with a mix of tactical fleets mixed in. Awesome.
       
      More here http://www.mudspike.com/combat-air-patrol-2-preview-interview/
       
    • By 33LIMA
      No, sorry, not a review, just a link to my recent mission report, as it sort of developed into a more review-like thing. But rather than now move it here, I thought I should post a link. And it's an excuse to post some screenies and offer a few more observations.

       
      The mission report/review thing is here.
       
      This new release of SABOW has succeeded in getting me playing a sim that I had left in a drawer for over a year, deterred by the fact I wasn't massively a fan of either of the two playable tanks, the steeper-than-usual learning curve and the 'sim within a wargame' approach (which also reduced the appeal to me of Rowan's Battle of Britain/BoB2).
       
      However - partly thanks to elements in the new release that make it easier to get to the tanksimming - see mission report for details! - I'm now a fan. Even to the extent that I'm beginning to see the wargame side less as something to be bypassed as far as I can, and more as a feature with a lot of potential and depth; one which I can actually enjoy as I choose, as well as the tanksimming side.
       

       
      Even though everybody in SABOW seems to speak Russian - possibly an advantage, as I know nothing of Farsi or Arabic and am at least beginning to learn some of the Russian terms used on the intercom- I am really digging the animated crews and the fact that all my tank commanders have names as well as unit IDs. And now I'm getting the hang of it, I'm finding there's attention to realistic crew drills that are approaching the technical excellence of Steel Beasts, with the advantage of being able to see the guys alongside me.
       

       
      Panzer Elite still has more hotkeys and an interface more optimised for a tanksim rather than a wargame. Steel Beasts better implements the team radio net and the use of callsigns on the map as well as on the air. But with the relaunch, SABOW has for me the mark of a really top-tier tanksim. And I believe we can expect further updates - there have been several already, since the relaunch, including those which added 'instant action' options and now also a firing range variant, complete with on-screen tips which play out as your M60 drives up to the firing point.
       

       
      Using these tips, for the first time I tried out the drill for getting a range from the tank commander. Go to the gunsight that has the simple reticle. Hit Ctrl (this gets you into 'cursor mode') and with the mouse, put the little crosshairs which appear onto your chosen target. Click on the rangefinder icon - it's the one on the left of the third-from-the-left strip of icons, below seen from the gunner's station...
       

       
      ...and you will then see the icon grey out briefly, hear some clicking sounds and then see the icon light up again. This tells you that your TC has ranged the target with the stereoscopic rangefinder and keyed the result into the analog ballistic computer, setting up your sight for that range. Lay your gun and fire! And you can use a similar drill for the other, graduated sight in the M60 or T-62 and get a verbal range, estimated visually instead. All rather sophisticated, and the firing range mission with its tips is just one example of how the new release's features seem intended to improve the accessibility of the tanksim element. It certainly worked for me!
       
      I've still a lot to learn about SABOW but I'm now hooked and would definitely recommend it as a tanksim, alone, whether or not you expect to appreciate the wargame element.
       
      Gotta go - I'm due back on the range!
       

    • By 33LIMA
      The verdict!    
       
      Before we get down to brass tacks here, as a lead-in I'm going to run briefly through another SP campaign mission, illustrating some of the features that I think are worth highlighting at this point and have influenced my own verdict on IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad.
       
      This was a third effort at flying an intercept in a Yak-1, from our base north of Stalingrad to an area south of the city. Previous efforts had failed to meet my personal objectives, partly as I'd been happy to play the flight leader and see what happened when I cut the others loose on the target, resulting in them shooting it/them down (the good news) and me missing out on XP and unlocks and awards (the bad news). This time I decided to go in first and have my flight cover me.
       
      As seems normal with a repeated mission, the general target area was the same but the other details had changed - time of day (it was now dusk), we had a different flight plan and height, there were four in my flight instead of three and the targets were different. So there is some variety here, if replaying a mission. Time was short so I appreciated the option to choose an air start, mission by mission. Here we are (one Yak out of shot) on the leg in to the target/Action Point, with the mini-map zoomed out. Turning the 'HUD' off removes labels from aircraft and the map, as well as turning off the instrument readouts.
       

       
      In the brief run-in I experimented with formation changes which the AI executed slickly. I then gave them a 'cover me' command to ensure they didn't attack the enemy on sight, but stuck with me instead.
       
      Our targets turned out this time to be two He 111s escorted by I think a single 109. I made a beam attack on the two winter-camouflaged Heinkels while to my complete satisfaction, my flight moved in to get between me and the Messerschmitt. This resulted in a dogfight after a bit of jockeying for position, with the 109 initially going wide and attempting to threaten my flight-mates from above and behind, rather than rushing straight at them.
       

       
      My shooting hasn't got much better (the most recent update cuts the current lag between trigger pull and weapon firing, which will help) but it wasn't long before I had one of the bombers smoking. I took a noisy hit or two in return, but without suffering any serious damage. The visuals and effects are gorgeous, with vestigial tracer smoke trails, fantastic aircraft and lovely environmentals, like the terrain and clouds softly caught by the light of the setting sun. The finest of aviation art could do little better than this. I mean, look at the sun glinting on the props of the distant Heinkels, in the bottom pic. Beautiful.
       

       

       
      Having damaged one bomber and needing only to shoot it down (or damage one more enemy) to complete my mission goals, I decided to cut the flight loose. By this time the Heinkels were rapidly receding, once more escorted by a 109 and two of my flight reported they were too far away to engage.
       

       
      At this point some searchlights came on below and picked up the German bombers. After a few seconds held in the searchlights they turned left, probably having bombed whatever was protected by those lights, down there in the darkening snowscape.
       

       

       
      I led the flight after the Germans and repeated the dose. This time, my flight got the 109 and I was able to put in a couple more passes at both bombers. The one I hit first started straggling.
       

       
      As I was coming back for another pass at the smoking Heinkel, I saw him turn sharply. As I watched, his nose gradually went down, until he was falling from the sky, Clearly, the damage I had inflicted had become critical and he was doomed. The crew thought so too for they started bailing out. A kill!
       

       

       
      Though now very low on ammo, I decided to have a crack at the last Heinkel, which I had clipped with a burst earlier on. With a bit of luck I might nail him with my last few rounds; if not, I would call in the rest of my flight to knock him down. He was now very low and I suddenly noticed that he had his gear and flaps down and that his landing and navigation lights were on. Looking ahead of him, I saw an airbase, to which the German was evidently on his final approach.
       

       
      Evidently, the pursuit had taken us some way over into enemy territory! Now, it was my turn to be caught in searchlights, German ones this time!
       

       
      I fired off my last rounds at the big German bomber, then broke up and away, pursued by some desultory flak.
       

       

       

       
      Out of rounds at last, I climbed up and turned away, calling my flight back into formation. I wasn't going to risk our virtual necks in low-level operations over an enemy airfield, for the sake of finishing off one damaged bomber. The searchlights lit me up one last time as I banked around. Last I saw of the Heinkel, he had decided to execute a go-around and perhaps fly on to a less dangerous airfield. I left him to it.
       

       

       
      Darkness was creeping in on us and I didn't want to dally. Heading back towards friendly territory, a headlight on the ground to my left drew my attention to what I could see was a train (visible just above my canopy, in the pic below). This might have made a good opportunity target for my wingmens' remaining ammo, had I felt like risking them. Which I did not.
       

       
      A little further on, back over what I took to be friendly territory, a town was burning, perhaps the target of the He 111s earlier. If so, we had avenged our comrades!
       

       
      Soon, we were over the town of Beketovka on the Volga just south of Stalingrad, providing an excellent reference point for my final leg home and confirming the the fidelity and attention to detail with which BoS has recreated the battlefield's historical landscape.
       

       
      With the burning city itself below my left wingtip and looking down to my right, I got a shock to see some enemy aircraft wheeling about, low down over the frozen Volga. They looked to be single-engined types, possibly Stukas. Whatever they were, they did not molest us and with ammo low and in my case gone, I decided that honour had been satisfied and that we should all continue back to base, just to the north.
       

       
      The scale of this sortie had been small, but it was beautifully formed. The superb visuals; the sounds, the radio comms; the tactical handling of my flight; the air combat; the activity on the ground including searchlights and trains; the credible behaviour of the AI; the barren landscape with its battered towns rolling beneath us; the chance near-encounter with another German flight going about its own business...this mission alone was proof positive for me that BoS delivers a combat flight simulation that is deeply engaging on every level. And at the end of the mission, I actually could not wait to run through the results and check out what points I earned and what I might have unlocked!
       

       

       
      I would love to see flight results - kills and losses - added into the little sequence above which would be just enough to elevate BoS's mission handling to a much better level. But I have to say that the sim's distinctive approach to the player's role and his or her progression is something that, as a steadfast simmer, I can not only learn to live with, but to appreciate. Even if it were otherwise, to answer the question I left hanging at the end of Part 3, the depth and richness of the flying and air fighting experience delivered by BoS missions is really first class, worth coming back for more and the price of admission, on its own.
       
      Before I move on, just to cover briefly a couple of loose ends, below are the screens which show (top) on a 'Pilot card', your game profile's vital stats and (bottom) on a 'Plane card', where you stand with the unlocks for a particular aircraft, which shows both what you have unlocked, and what's left to unlock.
       

       

       
      And finally, while I haven't done any level bombing yet, here is the view from the Heinkel's Lofte bombsight, and what you see from the bombardier/navigator/airgunner position, looking back into the cockpit...which incidentally, famous test pilot Eric Brown disliked as contrary to appearances, pilot visibility was poor, dangerous in bad weather and producing a 'hall of mirrors' effect in strong sunlight.
       

       

       
      And just to be clear, missions aren't always as small-scale as the one described above. Two missions later, still flying my trusty Yak, four of us escorted six Sturmoviks on an exciting and successful low-level strike on German motor transport, ignoring a formation of 109-escorted Heinkels which were level-bombing some of our guys just over the front line.
       

       
      We fended off some intercepting Messerchmittts, one of which was my next kill after a difficult chase as, damaged by an early hit, he manoeuvred desperately to avoid me. That and at least one kill by a wingman was compensation for the one of our own that I knew we had lost
       

       
      Out of rounds I was chased towards Stalingrad by a German fighter, who gave up when a wingman rejoined me. Together we flew north back to base up the Volga, past blazing ruins in Stalingrad and the famous grain elevator, ignoring the Stukas buzzing angrily over the river.
       

       
      The BoS skies can be busy as well as dangerous. Perhaps only Russian developers could have recreated the time, the place and the combat so well.
       
      And so to the reckoning...
      Each CombatAce reviewer will have their own assessment but for me, this is a difficult one. It’s hard to avoid comparisons with other combat flight sims, especially with the original IL-2, which BoS's branding naturally invites. We do need to remember here that the original IL-2 is a product that's matured over almost exactly thirteen years of development and modding. And I think we need to take a deep breath and count to ten, before we rush to judgement on BoS's unconventional approach to some of the basics.

      In the developer blog, they point out that the unlocks are content that's been made available freely (albeit after 'grinding') rather than as Down-Loadable Content payware, as in RoF. It's also apparent that 1C/777 hoped or believed the unlocks would actually appeal to some players, likely including people used to 'grinding' from playing those 'other genres'.
       
      Like it or not, the BoS SP campaign approach - the unlocks, the pilot levels and awards and the lack of pilot and squadron identities - doesn't mean BoS can't deliver a solid, convincing air combat simulation experience. I find that BoS does exactly that, with considerable polish and flair in very many respects.

      Are the unlocks et al a show stopper for die hard fans of the combat flight sim genre?  Your call, but not for me, absolutely not.
       
      The relatively recent tank sim, Steel Fury - Kharkov 1942 (SF) has no role-playing elements worthy of the name, in sad contrast to say, Panzer Elite. And SF's stock campaigns are just sets of scripted missions (with some replay variability), covering but a few weeks in May/June 1942 in a single area of operations. But once you've made a plan from the map, loaded the appropriate ammo and ordered your driver to advance, while the rounds begin to fall and the tracer starts to fly, the experience of playing the mission itself is actually very engaging. It puts you right there, leading a tank platoon into battle in a small-scale but reasonably convincing simulation of a WW2 all-arms, company-level operation. What SF does, it does more than sufficiently well, to pass muster as a top-notch tank sim, in my books and for many others. Despite limitations elsewhere.
       
      So let it be with Ceasar. Or said of BoS, in my view. Like SF, BoS lacks some features I would like to see, including some I consider quite important. Some of the features it does have, nicely implemented though they are, I'm not crazy about. However, for me, in the round, and judging first and foremost from the experience BoS delivers, upon release, of flying Eastern Front air combat in WW2 (as opposed to simply 'flying WW2 planes') this is a great new addition to the combat flight sim genre.
       
      We have a decent set of superbly-rendered aircraft (soon to be joined by an AI Ju 52) with a great feeling that you're actually flying or fighting from them. We have an historic battlefield rolled out before our very eyes, with adequate levels of ground activity, pleasing to the eyes and recreated in a depth and to a level of detail which more than compensates for the limited breadth of a single area of operations. We have the opportunity to fly small-scale but reasonably challenging and generally convincing sorties over this battlefield, as the battle itself unfolds, in its successive phases, where history, not the player's actions, determines the course of events. The air-to-air and air-to-ground action can be as visceral and exciting as any I've experienced. Sure, a little more suspension-of-disbelief-building in mission presentation (and less 'gamey' objectives and terminology) would be nice...but when you're up there in BoS, over that white-frozen but beautiful virtual landscape, in that nicely-rendered virtual cockpit, fighting for your virtual life while the war goes on around you, all other things seem somehow less important.

      Back down to earth, here are my pros and cons.
       
      Pros
      Beautifully-rendered aircraft, especially externally
      Great feeling of flying combat aircraft
      Beautiful (if snowbound!) environmentals
      Generally very good combat experience
      Good developer support & exceptional engagement
      Good aircrew animation
      Good planeset
      Good set of well-presented on-screen aids
      Ability to fly, gun or bomb
      'Complex Engine Management' adds depth (if you want it)
      SP campaign follows the main phases of the historical battle
      Crisp, clean easy-to-use interface and high 'production values'
      Mostly, decent AI
      Mission Editor is opening up additional SP campaign possibilities
       
      Cons
      No real pilot persona or historical squadrons in stock campaign
      Unlocks could be handled in a more historical fashion (or opted out of)
      No padlock in campaign  Edit - padlock IS now functioning in campaign, as of the pre-Christmas 2014 update
      Limited ground control/tower presence
      'Gamey' terminology in some places
      Wingman command windows large and centred
      Near cloud effect interferes with aircraft rendering
       
      And since life's not all black-and-white, just to expand on the above assessment...
       
      Some room for improvement?
      In campaign, no ability to view your flight's results post-mission, just player's solo achievements
      Difficulty organising flight in making effective ground attacks
      Formations are sometimes small, even for the Eastern Front
      Aircraft could be visible further away, without icons/labels
      Formation-keeping - there's a certain amount of straggling
      Laden bombers seem a bit too agile
      Aircraft lack individual/unit markings
      Stock SP campaign mission briefings rather bland
      Landscape perhaps a little too bland, even for 'snowbound'
      Own pilot is invisible, in 1st person view
      Greater ability to fine-tune on-screen aids, within presets, would be useful
      Limited flexibility of graphics adjustment (presets)

      And the score? I make no allowance here for longer-term potential or the desirability of 'supporting a new product in a niche market'. Nor am I having any regard, either way, to any (sometimes rather fraught) discussions of, or opinions expressed about, BoS, elsewhere. However, I am making some allowance for: the fact that a manual is coming; the prospect of user-made campaign mission sets, which have already begun to appear; a facility to incorporate user-made 'skins' which is I believe coming; and the fact that an AI Ju 52 is definitely being produced, filling the big planeset gap. The mission editor is reported to be tricky to use and we may never get pilot logbooks; but sets of scripted missions, able at least to give the player an identity and an historical squadron, will likely see the arrival, over time, of a decent supply of at least adequate, and possibly very good, 'conventional' if not 'dynamic' Single Player campaigns, which will boost longevity.

      So, remembering that I'm rating only the Single Player element here, on this scale.....

      5 - Must Buy - Delivers a consistently outstanding experience with minimal flaws that do not detract from the gameplay in any significant way.  

      4 - Highly Recommended - Delivers a fun and enjoyable experience well worth your time and money, despite some room for improvement.

      3 - Recommended - Delivers a solid gameplay experience with a few irritations that occasionally disrupt enjoyment.
       
      2 - Difficult to Recommend - Delivers some of the promised fun, but not without significant problems in the gameplay experience.

      1- Not Recommended - Delivers a sub-par gameplay experience; doesn't fulfill its promises; offers more bugs than fun.

      ...this reviewer's final score is: 4 - Highly recommended
       
      As things stand, with a few non-critical reservations, I would recommend the new sim to any air war enthusiast and in particular, to those with an interest in the Eastern Front or in the Soviet or German warbirds which fought there. BoS should also appeal strongly to those who relish the extra realism of being able, if they choose, to manage their airscrew pitch, mixture, radiators and all the other stuff the real pilots had to handle.
       
      I have found IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad to be a detailed, well-produced, enjoyable, effective and rather beautiful evocation of the air war over and around one of the decisive battles of the Second World War. Which, I guess, is about what it set out to be.

      But - unlike the Stuka below - we're not quite finished here yet!
       

       
      Coming next - the view from the other reviewers' cockpits...including Multiplayer!
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