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IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad - the CombatAce review, part 2

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post-66801-0-28420700-1416931984.jpg The environment, the options and Quick Missions


The BoS 'map' covers what you'd expect - Stalingrad itself and a large swathe of the area around it, especially to the west, where the Soviet pincers struck. You can see the area covered by the map in the Quick Mission setup screen below. Stalingrad itself is centre right, in the great bend of the River Volga. The ground left of that is the area between the bends in the Volga and the Don, where the Soviet counterattacks came in. First in late November 1942 was Operation Uranus, when attacks from north and south trapped 6th Army. Then in mid-December, Operation Little Saturn, an even bigger pincer attack further to the west, threatened to destroy the whole German Army Group in the south.




There's only one seasonal variation - snowbound/frozen in, which suits the later part of the battle, from about the time of the Soviet counterstrokes. The snowbound look is well done though a bit pristine. The overall effect is extremely bland and an autumnal variation would be very welcome. The city itself I find quite well done, complete with plumes of smoke from major fires. The ruins are a bit two-dimensional but maybe that's what we should we expect from ruined buildings, with the rubble itself covered by...you guessed it, snow.


Here's how Stalingrad itself looks on the map, zoomed in. To the west of the city you can see the airfields of Gumrak and Pitomnik, which were the main bases for landing supplies and evacuating the wounded from the pocket, after Stalingrad was surrounded. This screenshot is from the in-flight, full-screen version of the mission map.




If you compare BoS's Stalingrad 'in game' with battle maps or wartime aerial photographs, you can pick out most or all of the main landmarks in BoS, like the big factories such as the Barrikady, the heights immediately west of central Stalingrad at Mamayev Kurgan, Tsaritsa Gorge and the 'tennis racquet' railway loop around the Lazur plant, as seen below, 'in game' and for real. If anything, the real place looks more bland than the sim version at the point the recce photo was snapped, by which time the site appears to have been basically leveled and perhaps the rubble cleared.






The bluffs on the western bank of the Volga, which provided some shelter in dead ground for the last pockets of Soviet defenders as the Germans closed in, are also well represented. Incidentally, the current edition of 'After the Battle' magazine, issue 166, is a 'special' on Stalingrad with lots of 'then and now' photos and a good annotated map of the city.


BoS's airfields are a bit sparsely endowed with ground objects (my medium settings may not help here!) but the more famous landing grounds appear to be there, with many others. The generally snowbound look - even the rivers are frozen - makes it quite difficult to pick up landmarks, though perhaps that is, again, more or less what we should expect for the barren steppes of southern Russia in the winter of 1942-43.


In fact, BoS already includes two additional, smaller maps, which are usable in Quick Missions. Both feature snowbound, Eastern Front terrain. First there's Novosokolniki, which Google tells me is near Leningrad/St Petersburg, and is rather more wooded than the Stalingrad area:



The other map is called Lapino. I believe the map is a fictional one, representing 'somewhere in the Soviet Union', though there appear to be several places called Lapino in Russia, including just west of Moscow.




Settings, options and performance
Here's main menu again, listing the top-level options available. If you start BoS offline, without connecting to the 'net, the options for Campaign and Multiplayer are not displayed. I like the design of the BoS menu system; it's modern, clear and crisp.



From the Graphics sub-option, you are presented with four graphics presets - Ultra, High, Balanced and Low. You don't have the ability (as in RoF, for example) to tweak features individually. This has provoked some complaints but I don't find it an issue.




To be honest, I didn't notice a big visual difference between 'Balanced' and 'Ultra', except that the ground objects appeared to be rendered in detail further out. But that's based on a brief foray, with the FPS hit quickly quelling my curiosity. Performance at 'Balanced' on my 2.33 Ghz Quad Core and 1Gb 250 GTS is acceptable, but for a bit of a slow-down flying through or very close to the big plumes of smoke usually seen at Stalingrad.


BoS allows reassignment of keyboard and joystick button commands via an interface similar to Rise of Flight's. However, unless I've missed it, you can't set up 'response curves' to fine tune your joystick, the way you could in the earlier sim.



Quick Missions
If you select 'Quick Mission', you get a setup screen very much like RoF's, enabling you to choose your aircraft, numbers, skill levels, location, time of day, starting height, weather and enemies (or none, for a 'free flight' option).



This is where you may first encounter the difficulty/realism presets: three of them, 'Normal', 'Expert' and 'Custom'. I fly in the latter mode as I don't care for the 'Complex Engine Management' that seems to be the main feature of 'Expert' mode but don't want all the elements of 'Normal'. Here's what you can tinker with, if you chose the 'Custom' difficulty option. As with RoF, 'Allow spectators' is the quaint term for permitting an external view.




Here I am in the Yak-1 with some of the visual aids turned on, via the 'Custom' option; and third down, in the 109F, with the 'minimap' zoomed in. You can clear the screen of all this at the press of a single key ('H') and have the 'minimap' itself, on or off, zoomed in or out ('M' key cycles through modes). From what I've seen when using the icons - and assuming distances are in metres even though my 'HUD' instrument display is in Imperial units - even against a clear sky background, fighters aren't visible at much over 5 kilometres, which is rather close. I don't know if aircraft visibility/rendering distances are affected by graphics presets. If they are, then this is a setting that it would be good to be able to tweak, outside of the presets.








The 'O' key will bring up a full screen briefing with (non-mini-) map - as seen in the screenshot below. This is actually taken from one of the included 'pre-built' missions, not a Quick Mission. My task here is to lead another 109, escorting six Stukas from Pitomnik in an attack up on the north-eastern perimeter of the pocket. You can clear the text briefing panel from the map, for a clearer view.




Quick Missions is where you may also first come across the 'unlocks' which have generated much of the controversy surrounding BoS's release. For each plane, there are loadout options, plus some extra 'skins', all displayed with a 'locked' symbol. The 'skins' and equipment options for the 109G2 are shown in the pics below. Some of these 'skins' are from other fronts or theatres of war. At least the 'skins' - when you can get at them - have the unit and individual markings that the standard ones lack. I gather than BoS doesn't support IL-2-style 'decals' to give different planes in your flight different numbers, squadron codes or other distinctive markings.






Neither skins nor the equipment options - like 20mm underwing gunpods for the Gustav above - can be selected, until you have 'earned' them by gaining 'experience points' (XP). You can gain XP only through flying  - and achieving pre-set minimum mission goals in - the Single Player campaign - even to unlock stuff for Quick Missions or Multiplayer! This approach may be what the developers had in mind, when they referred in the release announcement to incorporating 'the best features of other genres'. But - I think predictably - this has proved unpopular with players  - myself included. MP folk in particular fail to see why they should have to play through much of the SP campaign, to be able to access these features.


The concept of additional stores or weapons being in limited supply, or better pilots being given certain types of better kit (or a choice thereof) first, isn't inherently bad. And as the developers have said, the kit itself is basically historical, rather than the likes of 'power ups' (though the twin 3.7cm cannon 'unlock' for the Stuka, trials aircraft apart, is I think a bit too soon for Stalingrad). But the method of 'earning' this stuff - especially combined with the 'arcade game' terminology used - feels rather out of place in 'proper' air combat sim. It has certainly generated a good deal of criticism, some of it rather hostile. We can but hope that there will be some changes here!


One thing you'll want to get the hang of in Quick Missions is the radio menus. There is no real interaction with ground controllers, apart from some seemingly event-triggered set pieces. So the radio option comes into play when you're a flight leader. You can make various pilot gestures, a leftover from RoF which the developers acknowledge isn't much, if any, use. Here are examples of the wingman (radio) commands available to you. We'll cover how well they're followed later, when considering the BoS AI. I think these win the prize for the biggest, most conspicuous wingman command menus in any sim I have played. Happily, you can assign hotkeys to wingman commands. For example I have set the 'H' key, familiar from CFS2 and 3 as 'Help me!', to issue the command 'Cover me!' which (I am hoping!) will elicit a broadly similar response. There is also a set of useful commands for air gunners, for those planes which have them.






In Quick Missions, as in RoF, while at the mission setup screen or while flying, you have some control over displaying or suppressing on-screen visual aids like labels, waypoint markers, sim messages, gauges and what's displayed on the in-flight 'minimap'. This gives you the ability to vary the difficulty 'presets' for a Quick (or user-made single) Mission.


There's an eight-a-side limit in Quick Missions, which is not too bad for the Eastern Front. Reading pilot memoirs like those of Norbert Hannig of II/JG54, it's fairly clear that fighters at least often operated in fours or even pairs. Anyway, Quick Missions is where you can get your 'quick fix' of Luftwaffe -vs- VVS action.


Like this effort - four Gustavs chasing three Pe-2 twin-engined light bombers. Not being into head trackers and using the padlock, I find the latter too infallible, able to track targets hidden by my airframe or clouds. Still, rather that, than no padlock at all. As in original Il-2, my wingmen needed no bidding to go for the bad guys, which is just as well as I'm still getting the hang of the flight commands. I'm seeing an odd visual effect where aircraft in or near clouds have their outlines a bit 'broken', as you can see from the trailing 109s in this shot. Apparently this is a known issue, said to be related to the way clouds are rendered.




I was keen to find out if BoS's AI gunners are as dangerous as some say, if you give them an easy shot by attacking from the rear...which is precisely what my AI flightmates did, sad to say. So far, presented with such targets, the gunners have proved quite good shots, though perhaps not as much so, as the original sim. And my planes, though far from bullet-proof, aren't showing signs of 'glass engines' or anything massively odd, damage model wise. Unlike in original IL-2, where seemingly magic bullets would pierce (or spin around or underneath?) my Gustav's armourglass windshield and knock askew my Revi gunsight, with depressing predictability.






After I broke up from my own firing pass, having taken some hits - notice the glycol vapour streaming from my port radiator and the holes in the starboard upper mainplane - my right undercarriage unit promptly fell out of the well.




Fortunately, I didn't need it.




If there's an emergency jettison key to dump the canopy on the 109 - as opposed to doing that and jumping out, or just hinging it open sideways - I couldn't find it. So I had to take my chances on the thing not jamming shut, when I hit the deck. Luckily, there was no fire. Maybe all that snow isn't such a bad thing, after all.




Most of my flight fared no better, I have to say, like this fellow, who hit the silk.




The AI gunners, like their immediate forebears in RoF, like to sit comfortably until the very last minute, before manning their weapons. As with the rear gunner in this Pe-2. He's sitting quietly facing sideways, despite the fact that his comrade below, in the ventral position, is already in action against the enemies coming up from behind, as you can see from the trail of spent cases. Come on, Tovaritch, buck up your ideas, before you get a cannon shell in your lap!!!




At least the ventral gunner in the Pe above and ahead is also on the ball, having opened his little 'trapdoor' under the fuselage and generally standing by to repel boarders.




Unless I'm missing something, there is no Quick Mission debrief to present the results, though the ability, while you're in the game, to tab around other aircraft is useful. The Pe which I attacked was smoking steadily and the other two were both holed. But I think they got three of us. I reckon that maybe I made the mistake of leaving the friendly skill level at 'Novice' when generating the mission; anyway, I trust that the BoS AI at higher settings can do better than attack from dead astern, otherwise it's going to get pretty bloody, pretty quickly.


There is also a set of pre-built missions available, accessed from the main menu's 'Missions' tab strangely enough. Below, you can see most of them listed. I believe these were made by some Early Access guys using BoS's 'Full Mission Builder', which isn't on general release yet.




The 'Flight Records' main menu option is where you manage the 'tracks' you have recorded during missions.


So, now we come to the feature which will be the beating the heart of the sim, for many players.


…coming in part 3 - the Single Player campaign!

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    • By KJakker
      I think I installed the Daidalos Team patch back in 2012 but it has been years since I touched it IL-2 1946. I would appreciate some advice as to patching, updates, and mods.
    • By 33LIMA
      Flying World War 1 from the start, with some new campaigns for Il-2's CUP mod!

      The recent Combined User Patch (CUP) for Il-2 1946 now has four modules: Dawn of Flight for World War 1, Golden Age for the inter-war period, Wings at War for WW2, and the Jet Age for the post-war era. For the first of these, SAS's Monty, of The Full Monty fame - the Il-2 mod, not the movie! - has just released a set of scripted-mission campaigns. And naturally, being long interested in the air war of that period, this was one that I wasted no time in trying out.
      So far, the first part of an eventual 32 'mission set campaigns' is available, and you can find the details over at the SAS forum, here. Most unusually for a WW1 sim, what this first part gives us is the ability to fly from the very start of the First World War, in August 1914. The first mission set - 'Demarcation' - kicks off in the Vosges, where the demarcation line ran between the French and German empires or that period.
      Up to now, the earliest WW1 flight sim missions have flown have been from the era of the Fokker Scourge in the summer of 1915. So while I knew not to expect too much in the way of air combat at a time when most aircraft were unarmed and those that were, generally relied on carbines or pistols carried aloft by their crew, I was keen to try out something new, with the option of jumping ahead any time I wanted; in particular, the 1916 Verdun campaign tickled my fancy, with the opportunity it seemed to fly as the famous Jean Navarre, whose Nieuport Bébé, painted red before von Richthofen copied him, was the terror of the Boches and the hero of the Poilus.
      The 'Demarcation' campaign is the first mission-set in the series and sees the player flying a Nieuport N4 monoplane. This famous French company is of course more famous for their V-strutted fighters starting with the Nieuport 10 and 11. But pre-war, Nieuport was noted for its racing or sports planes including a line of neat monoplanes, from which comes the aircraft I’ll be flying on this campaign. There’s some more info about the type on Wikipedia, here; evidently the type was quite widely used, albeit in small numbers, notably by the Russian Air Service. For this campaign I’m with the French air service, which was probably the biggest and best of the combatant air forces at the start of the war and in the thick of it from start to last.

      In the early months of WW1, aircraft were purely for visual reconnaissance and were not routinely armed. Rare exceptions included the Farman of Louis Strange, 5 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, who contrived to fit a Lewis Gun, only to be ordered to remove it after the extra weight resulted in the aircraft failing to get high enough to intercept a snooping German warplane. Thereafter, pistols and carbines remained the only (generally ineffectual) option for aircrew who fancied having a crack at their opposite numbers in the air. The first air-to-air ‘kill’ came in October 1914, when Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault brought down a German Aviatik; Quénault reportedly had to finish the job with a rifle after his Hotckhiss MG packed it in.

      As I was soon to discover, my single-seater Nieuport is armed from the get-go, with what looks like a Danish Masden mag-fed LMG. The real catch is that it’s mounted to fire upwards to clear the propeller arc, this being before the introduction of deflectors or interrupter gear. Lanoe Hawker had some success in 1915 in a Bristol Scout with a Lewis gun mounted to fire left and ahead so this arrangement isn’t entirely untypical of the sort of lash-ups early aviators made from early in the war, to get a decent crack at the enemy in a single-seater, with no observer to man a flexibly-mounted gun.

      Here’s the mission brief. It's just as well I've got the MG, because apparently, the enemy fliers have been activer over our territory. While my patrol zone is marked as a recce objective (eye graphic on a yellow triangle) our aims are offensive in nature. It's a defensive patrol, for two of us, though by the sound of it, my companion’s dodgy motor means that I might be alone. We don’t have far to go, in the horizontal sense anyway. But this is the Vosges and elevation will be a different matter, as I will soon find out. Typically for these new missions, you can forget about one of IL-2's most useful navigational map aids - there's no minimap path. This is 1914 after all, just over ten years from Kittyhawk and Orville and Wilbur's first successful flights in a heavier-than-air flying machine.

      Intrigued to find out how my first venture into virtual 1914 military aviation will work out, I wasted no time launching the mission, having made sure that in the difficulty settings, I had turned off flutter and wind effects (which the WW1 flight models can’t cope with – IIRC they result in planes having regular attacks of ‘the wobbles’).

      And this is what I saw. Truly, our airfield is a veritable diorama, packed with people, vehicles and other aircraft. While the people aren’t animated, it’s still an impressive spectacle, packed with interest.

      My number two tried a couple of times to get his engine running but each time it spluttered to a stop; possibly just as well as the bloke in front of him seemed disinclined to get out of his way. My motor showed no such reluctance and after a quick look around I decided to take off straight ahead, without worrying about runways. This worked out just fine, my lightweight aircraft lifting off at a speed which didn’t seem much faster than some of the trucks motoring around the airfield.

      Sitting roughly at mid-chord above a broad wing, it was obvious I wasn’t going to see much from the cockpit. The Voisins and Farmans parked around the airfield would have made much better reconnaissance machines, and indeed they served on after Nieuport monoplanes had disappeared from the front lines. Flying from the external view, I got a much better view of both my aircraft and its surroundings.


      And fine surroundings they were. Our airfield turned out to be on a little plateau set into the side of an impressive mountain, which comprised a series of peaks with lower ‘saddles’ in between. I resisted the temptation to play that song from that musical, but the hills, if not alive with the sound of music, certainly looked worth the trip.

      After a bit of sight-seeing, orienting myself with the help of the map, I realised that my reconnaissance objective had been rather inconveniently sited at the top of the highest peak. As my rate of climb seemed to be rather close to the  ‘imperceptible’ end of the scale, this presented me with a bit of a problem. Throttle fully open, I settled into the best climb I could manage on a course parallel to the long side of the ridge or peaks. Compared to the WW2 planes I’m used to flying in Il-2, it felt like I was in a powered glider, and a nose-heavy one at that. Heck, this ‘racing’ plane felt slow, compared to the WW1 planes I’d flown in other sims. Slow...but not too sedate, with a tendency to dive away or begin a roll to either side, if I didn’t concentrate on keeping things level. With little dihedral, a small unbalanced rudder and wing warping for lateral control, this seemed to make sense. Quite an interesting experience in itself, the flight was shaping up to be.


      Realising that I was not going to gain enough height on one leg, I could not resist the temptation of turning right and crossing the ridgeline over one of the saddles. Even getting high enough to do this, took a certain amount of time and effort and I just scraped across. Having gone over the mountain to see what I could see, like the bear in the song the result was not unexpected – the other side of the mountain.


      I now flew a long leg away from the objective to gain sufficient height. That done, I turned around - gently, so as not to lose any of my precious height - and made my way back, aiming for the top of the correct peak.

      Finally I was right over the summit. I should have over-flown my objective to one side or the other, but I was quite keen for my track on the map to intersect the centre of the target marker, lest such precision was needed for mission success or to trigger some necessary mission event.

      In fact it worked – I got the ‘mission completed’ text so that was it. And I didn’t get shot at, or even see a single enemy aircraft. They were there, though, but I only realised that later, when I noticed an enemy aircraft icon on a screenshot which I had taken with the mini-map view briefly turned on!!! To be honest, I'd sort of forgotten the briefing, having been so taken up with the actual flying side of the challenge. And I had become rather fixated on overflying that big marker, as if I were genuinely on a recce flight. Anyway, the top of that mountain was about as bare as a mountain-top can be. Giving up on earlier ideas about putting in a flypast at the castle I’d seen on a lower peak nearby, I decided that honour had been satisfied; it was time to go home. A nice hot brandy in the Mess would help me recover from the rigours of flying amongst the mountains in my little powered glider. Down we went. The early aviators were in the habit of turning off their motors during a descent but I just cut the throttle to idle and experimented a bit with diving angle and airspeed. The unfamiliar flight model I found quite convincing; I have no idea at all how a real Nieuport 4 handled but this one felt just about perfect, for such an aircraft.

      It wasn't long before I was turning onto my final approach...although to the wrong airfield I believe, a deceptively-similar one on a similar mountainside plateau. I must have had my mind firmly set on that brandy!

      For a sortie on which I'd missed my opportunity to have my first air fight, I'd actually found the experience surprisingly absorbing. I think I'll try at least one more campaign mission in the Nieuport 4, before moving on to something more warlike. There's just something about the mission which seemed to capture so well the experience of stooging around in an aircraft that is little more than a docile but ungainly powered glider..albeit one with a sting.
      ...to be continued!
    • By 33LIMA
      Flying a vanilla campaign in the classic WW2 sim's latest mod!

      You can say what you like about the newest addition to the Il-2 line, Battle of Stalingrad (BoS) - and many of us do just that! But one thing it has done for me, is stimulate my interest in its predecessor's original, Eastern Front campaigns. No mean achievement, that, for until relatively recently, I'd regarded Il-2 as mainly offering planes I didn't especially want to fly, in places I didn't especially want to fly them, to adapt another simmer's comment.
      At the moment, I have two installs of Il-2 1946 - one for Dark Blue World (DBW), the other for the new Community User Patch (CUP). Due to different files, units and other factors, it seems likely to take a while, before many campaigns that work in DBW or other versions of Il-2, also work in CUP, though some already do and the list is growing steadily.
      Both to check out the compatibility of some stock Il-2 campaigns with CUP and to indulge my new-found interest in the Eastern Front variety, over the last month or two I've been running, on and off, a standard Soviet fighter campaign, flying one of the aircraft available in BoS - the rather sleek but not especially high-performing LaGG-3. Like other aircraft before and after, this seems to have been a basically decent design which needed a more powerful engine to turn it into a competitive fighter - which it got, when its inline engine was replaced by a radial, creating the Lavochkin La-5.
      From this campaign's timeframe, though, the La-5 is about a year away. It's July 1941, just weeks into Operation Barbarossa, and I'm flying a LaGG-3, defending our dearly-beloved Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics against the fascist hordes of Nazi Germany. And an interesting challenge it's been, keeping my virtual neck intact, up against superior numbers of superior planes and - historically, anyway - superior aircrew.

      So far, courtesy it seems of some Soviet Socialistic miracle, I have not only survived, but knocked down some enemy aircraft. I'm on my fifth mission, no less...but wondering how much longer my good fortune can possibly continue.
      Here's the latest briefing. As you can see, it's a fairly straightforward escort job, with a hint that we might want to shoot up some stuff on the ground at some point, too. Maybe it's a difficulty setting I applied when I created the campaign, but the usual Il-2 red and blue front lines aren't shown on the map. But I'll be able to gauge the whereabouts of the enemy from the front-line target the bombers we're to escort will hit. Happily, the target's not too far off, so I can fly the mission in real time with no need to use 'warp'...which as just as well, as Il-2's never had that, relying on autopilot and time acceleration.

      The briefing doesn't tell me how many are in our flight, or the type and strength of the bombers. Nor do we get their or our altitudes. I put this down to a level of uncertainty, even confusion, in an air force with its back against the wall...or perhaps, against a Commisar with a small-calibre pistol and a willingness to employ it, in stiffening our resolve, should that become necessary.
      At the flight line, I find that there are in fact three of us on this hop. Having chosen a high enough rank to avoid the (to me) hateful chore of formation-flying - and to enjoy the extra challenge of flight leadership - I'm at the head of the queue. This being a stock mission, there's none of the newer formation takeoffs. Happily, the default Il-2 conga line is a short one, today.

      The current LaGG-3 I find is a nicely-rendered bird. More rounded contours in some places, inside and out, would be nice but I'm not complaining. Her authentic, subtly-weathered camouflage and national markings are convincingly-applied. There's no sign of the original opaque Il-2 markings, which looked like the over-thick waterslide transfers you used to get on plastic kits, guaranteed to blot out all but the crudest surface detail. And the cockpit, though clearly well behind the latest self-shadowed, finely-curved marvels, is still quite serviceable.


      One new feature the LaGG does enjoy are more rounded wheels, and very welcome they are, too. Soon, I was aloft and retracting the gear. After the crazily finnicky ground handling of BoS, takeoffs in '46 are...well, whether more realistic or not, more what I'm used to.

      Another, older improvement to Il-2 that the modders have wrought is the engine sounds. I absolutely loathed the dreadful external engine drone of the original sim. That's a distant memory now, so I can admire my bird in the external view without feeling that I need to turn down the sound.

      In fact, so much was I enjoying the external aspect of my LaGG sweeping over the Steppes, that I decided to let the autopilot fly, for a bit. There was now sign of the bombers and I thought, rightly as it turned out, that my alter ego would have a better idea than I, were they were and at what height we should be.
      My number three lagged (sic!) for a bit but my number two wasn't long in catching up. We perhaps tend to take for granted these days such Il-2 wonders as different planes having different individual numbers but even now, not all sims have this and it's still a fine thing to behold.

      Three of us had left our airfield. How many would return, and would I be amongst them? The answers would not be long in coming.
      ...to be continued!

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