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IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad - the CombatAce review, part 3

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BoS logo.JPG  The Single Player campaign

 

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The SP campaign is nicely tied into the historical battle. When you kick it off, you get a campaign selection screen; this lists only Stalingrad but the fact there is such a screen suggests other campaigns could be added later. Having selected the campaign itself, you get this screen. From it, you can see that BoS divides the battle into 'Chapters' (which though not totally sequential, historically, could have been more militarily termed 'phases'). You must make a certain amount of progress in each Chapter, before you can move on to the next. However, you can continue to fly missions in completed chapters, even after you have moved on.

 

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Each Chapter has an introductory video. These consist of an historical summary narrated as a voiceover to a highly-stylised animated representation. I'd have preferred the more conventional historical newsreels here, but hey, you can't please everybody.

 

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Having started the Chapter 'Prelude to Counter-Offensive', you're invited to 'Choose [a] mission' from a map which shows that the 6th Army has pushed a salient into the Soviet lines, occupying all but the eastern fringes of Stalingrad itself. This corresponds to the operational situation just before 6th Army was trapped in the city by Operation Uranus. The attention to the historical detail here I find most immersive. Even if, like me, you're not a particular student of operations on the Eastern Front, to see a well-researched map with the positions of each side's armies and divisions marked out helps draw you back in time, as you look at an authentic military representation of the battlefield at the start of a momentous campaign.

 

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You're prompted to click on an airbase, to begin. But most bases are either inactive map markers or greyed out. In fact, at this point, you're in training, and you can only start at one airfield, flying one type of plane, and on one type of mission. Click on the only 'unlocked' airfield - Rakhinka - and all is revealed, step by step. Your aircraft is a LaGG-3, a neat but somewhat underpowered Soviet machine which realised its full potential only when given a big radial, becoming the La-5.

 

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Below is the campaign 'Select mission template' screen, illustrating the different options and the range of available campaign missions. Let's run through the options, starting with 'Duration'.  A 'Short' mission - note the clock icon - is an air start, requiring you only to fly from a starting or entry waypoint, on to the mission objective area, and then to a finish or egress waypoint. A 'Full' mission includes the same basic sequence but starts you on the airfield, requiring you to fly to the entry waypoint and from the egress waypoint, fly back to the airfield and land. You get fewer 'experience points' for flying 'Short' missions, incidentally.

 

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The 'Difficulty' options enables you to have, or to dispense with, Complex Engine Management and in-flight markers or aids - though in 'Normal' mode, which was my choice, you can hide these visual aids, in-game. Below that, you can see the types of mission available. For your very first sortie, you are restricted to a 'Short' (air start) duration and have only to fly two legs, from entry waypoint to objective waypoint, and then from objective waypoint to egress waypoint. You only find out that this is a training mission when you start it and after the mission has loaded, see the full mission 'Briefing' map, as in this one:

 

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Here's a shot taken in-mission, with the visual aids turned on. It's nice to see that my LaGG now has a winter scheme, with moderately-weathered temporary 'whitewash' finish.

 

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I'll now run through all the mission result screens you get, when you complete this first, simple mission. I'm devoting all this space to these screens because they neatly illustrate just how the Single Player campaign progression/unlocks/experience points thing works, in practice. First, you get this, which is self-explanatory...

 

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...then come these screens, showing you how many 'experience points' you have been awarded and how far you are, on your way to the next 'Level' of pilot...

 

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Next comes this, telling you that your 'EXP' has unlocked some goodies, in this case a 23mm cannon:

 

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Even though you haven't made 'Level 2 pilot' yet, mission completion has earned you a 'Young Pilot Certificate', which I'm sure is fictitious but sounds corny enough to have been real in the 'socialist paradise' that was the 1940's USSR.

 

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Finally, here's the mission results summary. I believe the 'In service' factor is a modifier, in this case giving me 100% of the earned points as I'm still 'In service' - alive and un-hospitalised as the conclusion of the mission, at a guess.

 

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What can I say? Not a pilot persona in sight; no option to join an historical squadron; no logbook. Not quite what most of us would expect from a combat flight sim, what with pilot 'levels' and unlocking stuff. CFS3 awarded not-dissimilar 'prestige points' which affected some pilot skills but at least there were no unlocks (apart from new planes arriving on their service entry dates) and you had a pilot persona, although you could not directly choose his squadron and the campaign itself was in an alternative WW2 universe where German shipping sailed the English Channel in daylight.

 

This isn't what I'd have preferred and I hope that we will at some point get something like a Rise of Flight-style 'beta Career' and/or a Pat Wilson-style campaign generator. At the very least, I think we can certainly expect a more conventional approach from themed sets of single missions, built using the upcoming Full Mission Builder, so far just open to a few but at some point, to be on general release.

 

I have to say that - unconventional though it is - I find the current BoS approach is in most respects both neatly designed and well executed. For example, the 'Select mission template' screen is liberally provided with on-screen tips, which guide you through the setup process. I'm not saying I like it, mind, but I can't help but admire the execution.

 

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Some players may actually favor the radical BoS take on delivering a Single Player campaign experience. It did actually get some votes in a developer poll, though many more wanted it either taken away or made by-passable.

 

Anyway...subsequent training missions expand your repertoire, taking you on ground attack and intercept sorties and introducing full duration, ground start missions. Like beating up this convoy of Open Blitz trucks, complete with Hollywood-style German crosses on the doors. This driver made a run for it but he'll be needing a new truck, as well as a change of underwear, most likely.

 

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...to be continued!

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The campaign continues...

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As far as I recall, it's only when you kick off the first Chapter in the Single Player campaign, that you find out the first missions are in fact training. And similarly, it's only when you complete the training missions that you are told there were four of them. And that now it's 'for real', you must complete at least six successful operational missions before you can move on to the next campaign Chapter. They're called 'Regular' missions, as you can see below, yet another example of using a 'civvy' term when a military one is readily available and would have helped create 'that willing suspension of disbelief'...evidently, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wasn't on the BoS team.

 

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For the last couple of training missions, you can change sides, swapping your LaGG for a 109. By the time you are 'on ops', you can freely choose aircraft as well as side. To give you a flavour, here's how my first 'regular'/operational campaign mission went. Yes I know that this is supposed to be a review, not a mission report, but rather than me telling you what I think, I prefer mainly to describe how things look and play, so that you can see for yourself. And describing and illustrating a typical SP campaign mission is I think the best way of showing you, reasonably objectively, what BoS's SP campaign is actually like, to play.

 

As with Quick Missions, you begin each campaign sortie by first choosing your starting point. I chose to fly from Gumrak airfield, in what would soon become the Stalingrad pocket, and after some hesitation, decided to try my hand with a Stuka.

 

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At the 'Select mission template' screen which comes next, I chose a 'Full' duration (ground start) and accepted the default 'Ground attack' mission type - for a Stuka I'm not sure what if anything would have been different had I chosen instead a 'Ground support' or 'Bombing' mission.

 

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Anyway here's the mission I was allocated: to destroy some artillery positions, up to the north-west. It's a good idea to pay particular attention to the position of the front lines on this map because once you're on your way, neither of the maps you can use during the mission (full screen briefing map or mini-map) show the front. I know this isn't World War One but even if the 'FEBA' is apt to move about, it's good to have some idea roughly where it might be, don't you think?

 

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Also as in Quick Missions, it's only when you load the mission itself, that you get to see the briefing map and can check your route and read the detailed briefing. I say 'detailed' but while there is some useful info - like your mission height, legs and bearings - you are not told what your strength (formation size) is nor is there any description of the tactical situation. Likewise you are not treated to any exhortations from your CO or other personal or suspension of disbelief-building touches.

 

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Another point worth noting here is that the mission route follows the same fixed diamond pattern - a takeoff point, an initial/ingress waypoint, an 'Action point' ('Objective' or 'Target area' would have sounded more military/less 'gamey'), an exit/egress waypoint and your airfield starting point. If you select a 'Short' duration you can skip the legs to and from your base but otherwise, this simple pattern seems used for all campaign missions, with no ability to drag waypoints about. It's a little repetitive but no worse than many other sims.

 

I haven't unlocked anything for the Stuka so I'm stuck with the default loadout, a fairly standard 250 Kg bomb under the belly and two 50 Kg bombs under each wing. A siren is one of the 'unlocks', incidentally! I did have the option to set fuse delay and chose 5 seconds...just in case. Having started the mission, I found that I'm leading a kette of three Ju 87s; as far as I know so far, you're never a wingman in BoS, which is absolutely fine by me.

 

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It's nice that your flight takes off with you, instead of the rather awful IL-2 conga line. Both my wingmen are in temporary winter finish but not me. In campaign, the BoS airfields seem slightly livelier, though somebody should have told the fellow with the searchlight that his watch is very fast and that dusk is many hours away. Maybe he's been a naughty boy and earned the displeasure of der Speiss!

 

The BoS Stuka sounds great and is a joy to behold, inside and out. Once I've 'earned' sufficient points I'll be able to use a 'skin' with proper unit markings; but first, I have to get some successful missions under my belt.

 

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On this mission we had a couple of Gustavs for escort. Glad of their company, I decided to overlook the fact that they were not mentioned in the briefing. The jaeger zig-zagged protectively above and behind us, at a respectful distance.

 

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My two wing-men took a long time to catch up and while I had the labels turned on to check their range, with the mini-map and on-screen instruments or HUD turned off, I got my first inkling that all was not well. Red labels, even slightly greyed out at distance, indicated the VVS had showed up.

 

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A short flurry of traffic on the radio told me a friendly fighter patrol - not our escort, as it turned out - was getting stuck into the Ivans and before long I could make out a distant dogfight, with one of the victims going down, leaving a dark greasy stain on the blue sky.

 

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Apart from some very inaccurate flak, the rest of the trip to the objective, at my assigned height of around 2500 metres, was uneventful. Low cloud obscured the target and I resorted to turning on the icons briefly, to identify it. Give me a break will you, I'm new to this sim!!!

 

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I rolled back the little targeting window in the floor of my Stuka but it didn't help much. So I ordered my flight to attack independently, via the 'Attack nearest ground target' wingman command and, hoping for the best, overflew the target area. Losing a bit of height so as to maintain a line of sight despite the clouds, I came back for another run.

 

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This is where unfamiliar keys and drills - and in the absence of a manual, I haven't discovered if the BoS Stuka has an automatic pull-out - got the better for me. Finger co-ordination broke down and I messed up the 2-key combo for dropping my dive brakes, dropping most of my bombs instead! By the time I got it right, it was time to pull up and though I let go my last two 50 Kg bombs as I did so, it was too late. I succeeded only in cratering an adjoining field.

 

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My wingmen I had last seen swinging off somewhere to the east. Hoping it was a case with them of 'reculer pour mieux sauter', I decided to come back in at low level and have a crack at the enemy gun positions with my wing-mounted MGs.

 

It wasn't until I started shooting that I realised that my targets were not artillery pieces, but tanks, and thick-skinned tanks at that...KV-1s in fact. They were in revetments, so a mistake would have been understandable. I also noticed as I whizzed past that one of the Soviet emplacements held not a tank but a truck. This I first took to be a Katyusha rocket launcher, but I quickly realised that it was actually a truck-mounted multiple AA machine gun!

 

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Looking over my shoulder as I came off the target, I suddenly realised that my two flight-mates - who had lagged behind quite a bit, on the way in - had picked this perfect moment to rejoin formation, flying straight across the field of fire of the Soviet AA weapon. My suspicion that they had ignored my earlier ground attack command was well founded, for they still carried their full complement of bombs.

 

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Sure enough, one of my wingmen copped the proverbial packet. So far, this was all going rather badly.

 

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This made it personal, so I broke all the rules and made a second firing pass at a fully-alerted target, going for the MG truck. I don't think I destroyed it but I certainly gave the gunners a good fright, if nothing else. That made me feel better.

 

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On the way home, the Ivans tried to level the score with some medium and light flak, but we both made it through. You may have noticed that I'd forgotten to raise my dive brakes, though it didn't seem to make much difference, except that on the way home, after correcting my mistake, my aircraft was a bit wobbly, like I had damaged something.

 

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By the time we got back to Gumrak, my surviving wingman had caught up. I hadn't felt like getting him shot down, too, by ordering him to attack again, so he brought his bombs home. As I headed for the circuit I ordered him to 'wait here' so as to stay out of my way; which order, this time, he sensibly obeyed.

 

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In campaign, airfields are definitely a little busier than in quick missions. Apart from Searchlight Guy, who was still on the job, there were various other greatcoated and muffled German soldiers walking or standing about (albeit wearing Army rather than Luftwaffe issue) and some revetments had aircraft parked in them.

 

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So, there you have a typical BoS SP campaign mission. The 'diamond' flight patterns are pretty well standard, and the briefings, brief. The debriefings are pretty well non-existent, just the same sequence of mission results screens, in this case confirming that my successful landing meant I got 100% of the zero 'experience points' I had won, for getting no kills.

 

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I believe that it's purely the player's success that's measured here - had my flight in fact pounded the target into powder, I would have been notified only of my own results, in terms of kills and points. In-mission, my wingman formation-keeping was a bit suspect with a good deal of straggling and their ability to hit ground targets on request, more so. Perhaps a different command to 'Attack nearest ground targets' was what was required, which seems unlikely. Especially as other players report similar problems, getting their flight to pound the ground.

 

Another negative is that - while in Quick Missions you can padlock ground and air targets - for some bizzare reason there is no padlock in campaign. Spare me lectures on the alleged unreality of padlock, which pales besides many other unrealities built into video gaming in all its forms. Granted the BoS padlock is too infallible but its complete absence in campaign is inexcusable. Back to hatswitch and mouselook for this non-head-tracker user, then.

 

On the positive side, the Stuka is a treat to fly and whether or not there is an automatic dive recovery facility, I think learning to dive bomb in BoS, even without Complex Engine Management, will be fun. While overall numbers in this mission were small, there were at least two other flights operating in the area, besides mine and our escort. I just wish I could get my flight-mates to contribute, even if I will never know their names or be privy to the details of their successes and failures.

 

Even sims which trouble to name your wingmen aren't necessarily much better than BoS at making you feel much of a connection with them. But it would be good to have a better sense that you were actually commanding a small team whose combined efforts, directed by you the player, signified success or failure.

 

So yes it's like they say, the BoS SP campaign missions are repetitive and though you're the flight leader, you're very much the main man in this show. But if you were flying a Stuka over Stalingrad, day in, day out, what would you really expect to be doing, rescuing Stuka Girl from the besieged city, perhaps? Even so, after that you'd likely be back to bombing the usual suspects. And the BoS experience of flying and bombing is - for me anyway - engaging enough to make it interesting and a challenge. Heck, I may even take up Complex Engine Management, as a substitute for worrying overmuch about my little flock. Longevity, and better briefings, will doubtless come with the release of the full mission builder/mission editor and perhaps in due course, the sort of campaigns that have proved possible in Rise of Flight..

 

...to be continued!

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The SP campaign 'tailpiece'...and BoS 'under the hood'...


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Having learned in the Lagg and sampled the Stuka, I decided to switch to the Soviets for the rest of Chapter 1, the pre-counterattack phase of BoS's campaign. I decided also to try a new aircraft, the Yak-1, reputed to be generally superior to the LaGG.

 

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All I had to do was click on an available Soviet airbase at the campaign 'Choose mission' screen. Operating from this base, I could fly all the available Soviet planes. See what I mean? They're all here, at this one little snowbound airbase, just east of the Volga:

 

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I'd have much preferred to enlist a virtual pilot in a named, historical squadron which operated from the airfield it used at that point in the campaign. This would not only be more realistic and immersive, it would let players see and learn something of the history of illustrious, real-life fighting units. However, the free-ranging BoS approach is certainly fast and flexible and will appeal to players who just want to be able to get straight to their preferred mount in a campaign-generated mission with the minimum of preliminaries.
 
Flying the Yak, as before, the 'Select mission template' screen allowed me to choose ground or air starts and which of the available types of mission I flew. Ground attack was 'locked' and unavailable but strangely, bombing and 'ground support' whatever that is, were not locked but were greyed out, leaving me escorts or intercepts.

 

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The ability to choose from a set range of mission types, each time you fly a campaign mission, is reminiscent of the stock CFS3 campaigns and like the BoS aircraft selection approach, gives the player a degree of variety and freedom not usually found in SP campaigns. I had to start over 'grinding' again for extra kit and 'skins' for my new aircraft, though, which for the Yak comprises mainly bombs and rockets.

The missions flown so far have been individually quite engaging, with apparently decent air-to-air AI (friendly and enemy) and some other flights going about their business. On the ground too, things may be happening, as you can see from the burning town to my eleven o'clock in this screenshot, taken as I approached the target area during an interception mission.

 

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Being spawned, you may miss these if you wander too far from your assigned track, which you have no particular reason to do. The standard diamond-shaped, 4-point flight plans are easy to follow and I think not un-realistic, ensuring that for obvious reasons you don’t come back in the way you went out, which I assume they teach in the air force, not just in the infantry.

 

It seems definitely the case that mission goals, only you the player can achieve. In an intercept mission, if (as is often the case) the mission's goal is to damage at least two planes or destroy one, your wingmen can wipe the floor with the bad guys; but even if you led them there then cut them loose on the enemy with peerless tactics and admirable leadership, you're a failure as far as BoS is concerned. 'La Norvege, nul points' as they (usually) say in the Eurovision Song Contest. Really, BoS is mixing up the concepts of mission success and personal achievement, here.

 

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'Under the hood' - Flight Models, Artificial Intelligence and Damage Models
 
Having now seen them in action on campaign as well as in single missions, it's hard to explain but the control responses of the planes I've flown so far feel a bit 'squirrely', with some 'hunting', which I recall from Rise of Flight. Possibly this is just my well-worn Saitek Cyborg; maybe it's the effect some BoS players describe as 'rubber banding'. Whatever it is, it takes a certain amount of getting used to, as often when starting with a new sim. As I did in RoF, I end up taking snap shots as my sights pass throught my aiming point, rather than being able to keep it on my target...which worked reasonably well on RoF but with higher speeds and stressed-skin targets, my results are depressingly poorer in BoS, even with more powerful weaponry. Perhaps practice will make perfect.

 

The mild but noticeable visual and audible buffet effect helps you avoid stalling out but when you do depart the envelope, spin recovery seems not unduly difficult. As a quick check I tried a few throttled-back stalls from level flight in the 109G and by the time I got to about textbook stall speed the plane had already settled into a nose-up sink earthwards, rather than dropping the nose. Continued stick back-pressure (in an effort to 'make something happen') eventually dropped a wing and spun me out ('spiralled me out' might be more accurate). It's a Gustav not a Cessna but that sink earthwards with no nose-drop felt a bit odd. Heinkels and Stukas with a bomb load seem a bit too agile, as well, tho not AI planes generally. Although they they reportedly use the same FMs as the player, maybe the BoS AI fly bombers at unladen weight or something, like they do with all planes in CFS3.
 
Overall, I have to say that with their quirky ground handling; the facility to manage radiator settings, mixture and prop pitch if you want it; visible vibration effects inside those well-appointed cockpits; dynamic shadows; and Flight Models (squirrely or not) which make you feel like you are in charge of a powerful, dangerous machine which obeys the laws of aerodynamics and will respond to careful handling while punishing cack-handedness - the experience of flying and fighting in a WW2 aircraft in BoS is top notch, up there with or ahead of the very best. Here at least - one of the places it surely matters most - IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is for me a worthy successor to Rise of Flight, and indeed to its illustrious namesake.

 

Apart from the lack of padlock in campaign...'nuts' to that. EDIT, 28 December 2014 - as of the update released just before Christmas, padlock is now working in campaign!
 
I would say the air-to-air AI feels better than RoF, less inclined to 'go low early', hang inverted for seconds at a time, or do 'the RoF wing waggle'. Not to the high standards of Battle of Britain 2's dog-fighting AI, but fairly human…as in, 'real life, no icons, real G-forces, scared and excited, training-goes-out-the-window' human; not 'video game player, know every trick in the game, nothing that happens here can hurt or kill me' human. Formation-keeping and ground attacking seem the relatively soft spots here.
 
Damage modelling, my jury's still out on. Twice I've seen ailerons depart from my LaGG, once when it might have been Stuka return fire but the other time, when flying level and in the clear…if it was a stray, solitary flak round, it didn't seem to leave a mark elsewhere. After a forced landing, anything that's fallen off your machine will disappear before your very eyes after a few seconds, followed by your plane itself, dumping you out of the mission and cutting short any effort to use the view system to watch the action after you have crashed out. And I know German bombers during the Battle of Britain could soak up a lot of hits from .303 rounds but they seem way too resistant to heavier calibre stuff in BoS. Unfortunately, this Ju 87's 7.92mm rounds seem to have hurt me harder than my 12.7mm and 23mm rounds have hurt him.

 

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Maybe it's all about shot placement. My AI flight-mates seem to be better shots that I am, even attacking from dead astern...as the guys in this Heinkel found out, with only one managing to bail out. Unfortunately, I repeat, I get no credit whatsoever for a successful flight operation; in fact, the comrade who shot the wing of this German bomber robbed me of my only recognition, as it was the only aircraft in the sortie we had been sent up to intercept.

 

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Incidentally, fail a mission and you seem condemned to repeat it, as I think Santayana said about history and those who forget it. On the plus side, the repeated mission plays out differently each time, from what I've seen. Or you can just change the mission type altogether, eg from intercept to escort.

 
Campaign conclusions
If only BoS also had even RoF's beta career, or its campaign-themed mission sets, or best of all, Pat Wilson's campaign generator! Themed mission sets have begun to arrive, in the form of Veteran66's Bf 109 mini-campaign (too hot for my lowly system) and other forms of SP campaign may also appear at some point. Public release of the full mission builder/mission editor is likely a matter or weeks away and the developers have said they have undisclosed but firm plans to spice up the SP campaign experience, in the medium term. There seems to be a recognition that this, and an alternative to the unlocks for those who want to bypass them, must be contemplated.
 
Meanwhile, we have what I've attempted to describe and illustrate here. The ability to choose aircraft and side as you go offers much greater flexibility in how you play through the campaign. And even if you rather resent having to do a moderate amount of 'grinding' to get at better 'skins' or mostly standard-issue weaponry, getting to the next Chapter provides a within-reach, intermediate target and incentive to keep playing. How many of us, even if we survive, regularly don't finish campaigns in other sims, for all their trimmings? Flying that 109 getting stale? Try the next mission in a Stuka. Fancy flying a tank, next time out? Take a Sturmovik for a thrash! Not my cup of tea but there's a certain amount to be said for the BoS approach.
 
I haven't got onto later Chapters yet. I believe they differ mainly in that the different front lines and associated tactical situation dictate different target areas and to an extent, what those targets are - for example intercepting transports (quite legitimately, He 111s until the BoS Ju 52 arrives) during the air bridge phase. Variety isn't a strong point, without detailed mission briefings to set the tactical context that would help distinguish one air strike or intercept from another....although the missions do play out differently, with different targets and other flights.

 

For me, the major selling point for the BoS SP campaign is left critically dependent on the richness (or otherwise) of the flying and air-fighting (or ground-pounding) experience which each mission delivers. If I must, I can do without the starter, the side order and the dessert; but having now sampled some more of it, is the main course good enough to keep me coming back for further servings, bowl in hand? Your mileage will vary, but for me, the answer is....revealed in Part 4.
 
Anyhow, that's my take on BoS's Single Player campaign experience. If hunting humans is more your thing, I haven't 'classified' in MP, so the plan is, CowboyTodd will cover that in his contribution.

 

Coming in part 4 - the (Single Player) verdict!

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    • By 33LIMA
      Killerfish Games's PC version of its iOS WW2 naval simulation/wargame takes the high seas by storm!
       

       
      I started playing PC games on a system with a 14" screen and an early Pentium, and I'm not about to go back there, so I watched with interest but from afar, when I saw Fred 'Heinkill' Williams's affectionate and very favourable SimHQ review for the iOS-based Atlantic Fleet. Sometimes, though, dreams do come true, it seems, for a PC port has just arrived, after the developers completed the work and updated the graphics for the new platform.
       
      Since the release of Fighting Steel and Destroyer Command in the late 1990s, it's been a bit of a famine for WW2 naval simmers, broken recently by the arrival of the rather good Victory at Sea. Well, now we also have Atlantic Fleet, so it's time to cast off, put to sea again and enjoy the feast that's followed that famine. And Atlantic Fleet is indeed a veritable multi-course meal of a feast, for anyone who remotely fancies tugging on his (or her) virtual seaboots and taking to the high seas to fight out some of the classic sea battles and campaigns of World War 2. Your mission is to preserve, or sever, the vital sea-lanes which kept Britain fighting against Nazi Germany, bringing vital supplies of food, weapons and raw marterials of all kinds to the British Isles...or not, if the Kriegsmarine has its way...
       

       
      Atlantic Fleet iOS was the sequel to Pacific Fleet, and while our US cousins might regret it, I for one am very happy that Killerfish decided to get their PC feet wet with a port of the more recent, more modern game. I was brought up on a happy diet of Airfix 1/600 warships from the same theatre and the great little Eagle 1/1200 kits, released in themed sets like the Battle of Narvik, complete with accounts and maps of the relevant action. I soaked up films like Battle of the River Plate and Sink the Bismarck!, and later Ludovic Kennedy's excellent BBC TV documentaries on WW2 warships and battles - his later, excellent book Pursuit - the sinking of the Bismarck is on my desk as I type this. It was probably in the 1960s BBC documentary series The Valiant Years that I first heard Winston Churchill's famous observation that '...the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril'. Of course, while he was talking about the submarine threat to the supplies that kept Britain alive and in the fight, for much of the war the Kriegsmarine's surface units were also part of the threat that so concerned the great British war leader. And the air power of both sides played an important role. One of the joys of Atlantic Fleet is that when you step back into those dark and dangerous days, you can re-fight the Battle of the Atlantic and its most famous historical actions on, above or below the waves.
       
      Installation and features
      At time of writing, Atlantic Fleet is distributed via Steam - at a mere £6.99 Sterling. As we will see, for a game with high production values, engaging gameplay and an historical depth and coverage that would put many a full-price simulation in the shade, if not to shame, this is a very considerable bargain, to put it mildly.
       
      I gather there are no plans to offer a different distribution channel and while I prefer the 'good old days' of standalone game installation, I have had no bother at all with any of the excellent Steam-based games I have purchased (Victory at Sea, Wargame: European Escalation and Wargame: AirLand Battle being the others) and would not consider passing up on a good game merely because of that.
       
      I must start with Atlantic Fleet's high production values - these you will see from the moment the game loads. Here's the main menu screen. The ship seen here is the famous German battlecruiser Scharnhorst,* lost fighting against the odds at the Battle of the North Cape - which you can re-fight in Atlantic Fleet. Scharnhorst's brave showing prompted Admiral Fraser in Duke of York to say afterwards to his officers "Gentlemen, the battle against Scharnhorst has ended in victory for us. I hope that if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today". Such is the world of steel ships and iron men that Atlantic Fleet re-creates for us. But I digress...can't help it, I feel the hand of history on my shoulder, as TCB once said.
       

       
      *...and yes, before you start posting corrections, I know the ship above is actually a Hipper class heavy cruiser - Prinz Eugen, probably -  not Scharnhorst, but I couldn't resist the quote above and don't have a menu pic of Scharnhorst, to hand .
       
      The point is, it looks great, it's animated, with camera pivoting around the ship, and there's a different ship each time. See, here's another menu shot, and this time, it's one of the big German destroyers, several variations of which appear in the game:
       

       
      Atlantic Fleet is single-player only, so you will not find here any way to blow up anything other than an entirely virtual foe-man. You do, however, get a sombre but really effective musical theme to accompany the menu, and you can have music in-game, too.
       
      Taking the menu options from the top, first there is 'Training Missions'. These missions are actually rather useful, and a good way of ensuring that it is the enemy who ends up like this, and not you:
       

       
      And again yes, you heard right, you can drop the camera below the waves, to get this view, complete with rather scary grinding and booming ship sinking sounds;
       

       
      As for those training missions, which will hopefully reduce the frequency with which your own ships feature in such scenes, here's what you get. Again it's nicely presented, with good artwork and a clean, crisp interface. I did mention the high production values, didn't I?
       

       
      Here's the intro screen for the torpedo training mission. I really like Atlantic Fleet's artwork and the general design:
       

       
      Load the mission and you get a little scenario, here a Royal Navy destroyer steaming alongside a hapless German merchantman. You click your way through a series of topic boxes, to learn the lesson. You can toggle the topic box on and off, for a better view. They each do a very good job of taking you through the relevant drill.
       

       
      This is where you may first get to see the Atlantic Fleet mode of gameplay, and its most prominent feature is that it is turn-based, like a wargame. The sequence is: You move-You shoot-The enemy moves-The enemy shoots. We'll see how this works in more detail, later. Continuous gameplay would be better, and certainly more simulation-like, but it is what it is, and I soon got quite comfortable with it.
       
      Jumping ahead to the last menu option, we come to 'Options/Help', and here's what you get:
       

       
      As the menu title suggests, some of the things listed on the right of the screen above are options screens, others are help. The 'home' screen, above, lets you tweak various gameplay and difficulty options, as you can see. The 'Default controls' screen lets you re-map keyboard commands, like this...
       

       
      ...while the 'Damage Report' is a help option and looks like this:
       

       
      I find it all very well-presented and impressively thorough, very well up to the standards of PC sims and better than many I've seen, including the very best.
       
      My main interest in a WW2 naval sim or game is the ability to re-fight historical or hypothetical battles, and it's that option we will look at next. Here, we will see how Atlantic Fleet's gameplay comes together, when the shells, torpedoes and bombs start flying.
       

       
      ...to be continued!
    • 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 MigBuster
      Mudspike have published a preview of CAP2 which it seems is the follow on to the early 90s sim CAP on the Commodore Amiga which was really good for the time.
       
       
       
       
       
       
      Ok, let’s do a quick experiment. We’ll need a measuring rule, a bucket and (optionally) a towel. I’m going to list some things from a new PC flight sim coming out in 2015 (yes you read that right, this is like ‘Bigfoot Found In Walmart’ breaking news) so let’s set up the experiment:
      Place the towel on the floor. Position the bucket beneath your lower lip.
      Here’s the features of this new flight sim:
      AV-8B Harrier II with 3D clickable cockpit using TrackIR and HOTAS support. Single Player emphasis, with Multiplayer Co-op available, including drop-in play. Dynamic Campaign engine. Flight and Naval Strategic fleet battles. Carrier Ops. Wingmen, Helos, Civilian traffic in shipping lanes. Realistic campaign map set in the Straits of Hormuz using 250,000 sq km satellite imagery and modern graphics. Dynamic Campaign engine. Yes, I just said it again. Ok, now let’s use the ruler and see how much drool just entered that bucket. I’m betting a good couple of inches, so feel free to use the towel now and go rehydrate.
       
      We haven’t had the chance to get our hands on this title as yet, but Sim155 reached out to Mudspike and we set up this short Q&A to see what’s up:
      Q1. What’s the balance between single and multiplayer content in CAP2? Is this primarily a Multiplayer game?
      I’d say it is 50-50. For single player there’s a collection of training missions, single missions then an open ended dynamic campaign. For multiplayer there’s quick start dogfight, fleet defense/attack and fleet vs fleet. In addition any player in a campaign can invite players to join in a mission and take the place of AI controlled wingmen.
      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/
       
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