Campaign contrasts - Battle of Britain II and Cliffs of Dover Blitz Edition
For one reason or another, I've found myself running single player RAF campaigns in parallel in these two Battle of Britain sims. As indeed you may have noticed, from recent mission reports. So I thought it might be moderately amusing to describe where I've got to in each, side by side. And share some more of my thoughts - for whatever they may be worth - on their respective merits, based now on a little more than first impressions. Starting with Battle of Britain II - Wings of Victory.
It's the morning of 18th July 1940. Watching 'the plot' on the campaign map, I hear the a WAAF announce that a new raid is forming, over northern France. Time acceleration automatically slows from 300x to 20x and I watch the raid's marker nudge its way north, towards the Thames Estuary. As it comes, its size is revised upwards to seventy-plus and I can see at once that its likely target is either of two convoys, one off Felixstowe, the other further north near Great Yarmouth. Both are protected by a single fighter patrol, in squadron strength, put up by the campaign AI. The raid drifts past the Felixstowe convoy and I accept AI recommendations to scramble three squadrons to intercept it. Confirmation comes that Convoy Weasel, up off Great Yarmouth, is the likely target. In the meantime, the intercepting squadrons have been tracking across from the west and Douglas Bader's 242 Squadron is the first to report spotting the bandits. BoB2 asks me if I want to fly this mission and I accept, choosing to fly as Green 3, in one of the rearmost 3-plane vics in 242. The mission loads, and I find myself in Hurricane LE-L, at just over 16,000 feet, now heading nearly due south.
Up ahead is the enemy - some of them, anyway. There look to be about thirty of them. They're not contrailing, so it's hard to work out their heading. You can just about make them out, right of top centre, in the pic below.
From up ahead and to my left, Douglas Bader is saying something important on the blower, but I'm more interested in what the rest of the formation is now doing. Wings are waggling nervously and I'm suddenly concerned about keeping in formation. I'm also thinking, this was supposed to be seventy plus, where are the rest of the Germans?
The answer isn't long in coming.
Suddenly we are swamped by a shower of Messerschmitt 110s, which fall on us from above. I pull up and around in an effort to avoid being shot down, and maybe even come around onto their tails. In doing so, I realise I'm on my own and have lost the others - in such a situation, it seems to be each man for himself.
I look up briefly to see if it's clear above me, before coming back down after the 110s. I get another shock. Waves of aircraft, which could only be Huns, are sailing past up there. The lower ones might be Ju88s; the paler ones above them could be more escorts. Others again, I can only see by their contrails. Crikey!!!
If only the bloody Controller had told us to put on a bit more height, we would not be in this mess, bounced by 110s with the rest of the raid now having a clear run to the convoy. We can only hope that having stripped away some of the escorts, other squadrons will manage to get the bombers before they get the ships.
Did anybody buy it in that first pass? No time to worry about that now. I roll over onto my back and go down, after the Messerschmitts.
...to be continued!
Over the past 4 months the Storm of War server and website have undergone a number of important changes.
We are now ready to open the server back up to the Cliffs of Dover community. Firstly, please note that we have a new website and forums here; www.stormofwar.org The old website is now going to be re-directed to the new URL. The server itself has undergone a large number of important changes too, including;
Improved Player Stats, including "pilot career" tracking Improved Bomber Stats Squadron v Squadron stats New realism features and target types within the missions Downloadable / printable mission pdf briefing files for all Missions with target photos and maps Player controlled mission rotation New RADAR and aircraft tracking systems (both in-game and on the website) Friendly aircraft tracking system to assist bomber/fighter escorting Missions that provide safe spawns for Bomber pilots Luftwaffe Directional Beacons AI aircraft with scaling features And more... To explain most of the changes we have made, please watch these two YouTube videos . Video one : http://youtu.be/_56JhIdbG7Q AND video two : http://youtu.be/WjvKC2SaGlw
We welcome all Cliffs of Dover players to the server and the new website, particularly those players who are members of online Squadrons. We would also love to welcome back players who have not played Cliffs of Dover for a while, and who might be looking for something new in the multi-player environment. A new campaign is also being planned. More news on this will follow in time. Salute, Storm of War .
Il-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover
In The Beginning
The name invokes certain feelings in flight simmers. For the last 18 months, those feelings have generally been a mix of rage and disappointment, judging from the comments from the online community. Using "Il-2 Sturmovik" for a sim which has not only no Il-2 Sturmoviks in it, but not even any Russian planes (aside from the recent addition of the non-WWII Su-26), is an attempt to trade on the reputation of the series before it. The original name, Storm of War: Battle of Britain, would've been more appropriate. I suppose Ubisoft felt they needed the extra marketing muscle, but it didn't matter. The retitled acronym for the sim, CloD, turned out strangely prophetic.
The release in the West in July 2011 was a mess. Quite frankly it wasn't even a beta, it was an alpha. There have been multiple patches, official and beta, with the last official release in Sept 2011. Now the "final" (more about that in a bit) CloD patch is here. Everything that is going to be changed or fixed has been. At $30 on Steam, is it worth the asking price for those who don't have it? For those who do, does it deserve a second look? Read on my fellow suffering simmers...
What The Sim Is
CloD has both offline and online play. Offline is simply not up to the standards set by the previous Il-2 titles. Two scripted campaigns, a few single missions, and a dozen or so quick missions are all that you are given. The single and quick missions have some inaccuracies, but are generally fine if you're not overly picky. There is an RAF campaign and a Luftwaffe campaign. The RAF one is a sad attempt at having a storyline and its reach exceeds its grasp. The consensus is you shouldn't bother with its historical anachronisms and the bizarre "Spitfire girl" scenario. There are better free RAF campaigns to play instead. The Luftwaffe one is better, but not amazingly so. It's a decent representation of the German side of the BoB with the ability to fly multiple types, but it has no real cohesion. You're not proceeding chronologically, it's more "here are some 109 missions" followed by "here are some Ju-87 missions". If you want to like it, you probably will. If you're expecting a great campaign experience, you probably won't. There are also the quick and full mission builders for those who want to go the do-it-yourself route, although I've always preferred to play others' missions to my own. Something is always inadequate about any I've made for myself.
There's also a good little training module more or less teaching you to fly in the Tiger Moth. It's good for what it offers, much better than the previous Il-2 sims had. You won't spend too much time there, there are only half a dozen scenarios teaching things from takeoff to landing to spin recovery, but it will be a good experience while it lasts. It's purely about flying, no combat is included.
Online was supposed to consist of coop and massive dogfight missions, like the previous Il-2 releases. So much for that plan.
While the original release and early patches made MP a frustrating affair, the final patch has smoothed it out. There are several servers that are regularly teeming with players in massive dogfight arenas, getting the most out of what CloD offers. I'd dare say the bulk of the developer's attentions were spent on this mode and it shows. There are several large servers out there supporting dozens of players, and if you liked this in Il-2 before, you'll like it here as well.
Coop is another matter. It doesn't work like it did in older Il-2 games. It doesn't work like in most other sims. Usually, it doesn't work. Some enterprising and determined community members have tried to cobble together a way to fly coop in CloD, consisting of using "dummy" planes and other sleights of hand, but it's a pale substitute for what the title should have had out-of-the-box, or at least after a final patch...namely at least what the original Il-2 in 2001 offered. If this is what you want CloD for, don't waste your time. Remember the great experiences, starting with Il-2 Forgotten Battles, of either single missions or a dynamic campaign in coop? Cherish those memories. Or load up Il-2: 1946 or its predecessors. Don't look to CloD.
The World of CloD
So how does CloD look? Overall excellent, with several exceptions. The planes and cockpits are flawless. The lighting on and in them is wondrous as you turn and dive, changing the angle of the sun. There is a slider for weathering and its amazing how much it adds to the overall effect. I can't imagine anyone would be displeased with the cockpits, they set a new standard. The damage looks great, albeit not as good as it was before. For performance enhancement reasons, in the last patches the level of detail was reduced. That applies to all the graphics in CloD, actually...the unpatched and unplayable slow and buggy release version looked better for the most part. It still is as good as any other out there, it's just no longer clearly the best. This is most clearly seen in the terrain. The terrain is ok. Better than the older Il-2s, on a par with DCS, but not quite up to Rise of Flight. The weather has a meager implementation aside from a nice little frosting of the windows in clouds. While time of day is done well, there just isn't that dynamic weather that was discussed during the sim's development, and even the static weather is simple. What clouds exist are certainly not best-in-class. Compared to older Il-2, it's somewhat better, but CloD's level has been surpassed by other sims.
Now to be clear, all this is with the graphics at top levels. On my i7-2600k/GTX570/4 GB RAM Win 7 64-bit machine, I'm satisfied overall with how the sim looks and flies. The performance is as good as say ROF without making odd tweaks to my system or the game files to achieve it. One jarring exception is FSAA. The sim has an option for it, but it really doesn't make much difference. While on the positive side it barely affects performance, on the negative side it barely affects the visuals! Instead, I have the in-game FSAA off and turned on FXAA in my nVidia driver panel (because forcing FSAA on there didn't work either). I'm not sure if AMD owners have SMAA or a similar option in their drivers as I've not had an AMD card in a couple of years now, but FXAA gives the best improvement in appearance/performance hit tradeoff for my system.
The AI in CloD is not an improvement over the Il-2s that came before. Perhaps if you specify "when X happens" you can point out an improvement here or a lesser reaction there, but overall I'd say the AI is more or less the same. Those who found the AI in Il-2's gone by lackluster performers will have a similar reaction here. The increased tendency to sit ALMOST on a target's six and then fire the entire ammo load, missing by a wingspan or more, is certainly a worsening of the old AI behavior. What seemed to then happen only on occasion is now a regular routine. In fact, the best way to avoid getting shot down by the AI is to get them on your six and fly straight-and-level while they run out of ammo. Then you turn around and chase them down, and as they will often RTB on some sort of autopilot in that case it's very easy to drop on THEIR six and take them out.
Friendly AI is abominable, as always in the Il-2 series. Radio commands to them are an exercise in futility. If you enjoy getting attacked by the enemy while your wingmen watch mutely, only to have them bravely charge in and deliver the coup de grace as you hammer away at an enemy's six, robbing you of the gratification, then look no further than CloD!
CloD has a decent array of planes that fought in the Battle of Britain. It unusually includes a couple of Italian planes, and likewise excludes a few more-pertinent-to-the-conflict planes like the Do17. It has as flyable:
Bf109E1,3/3b, and 4/4b
Su26 (or more aptly named Sir Not Appearing In This War)
In the AI-only list, we have:
I'm not what many would define as a hardcore simmer (any more, 15 years ago was another life). I don't really care if the Spit IIa's time to climb is 10% too slow, or the speed at which a 109E's wings rip off is 10% too low. I just care that every plane is relatively the same; that all the planes time to climbs are 10% too large or whatever. If the 109E errs 10% high and the Spit is 10% below, that means the historical comparison between the two is blown. As long as they're both wrong in the same direction, the relative performance differences will be maintained.
I'm not flying time trials or other test pilot stuff, I'm a combat pilot. I want tactics that worked in the war to work here, and tactics that failed to fail here. I don't want to see a plane that got nowhere in the war be an F-16 in comparison to its contemporaries! The rest is rivet-counting fluff that doesn't affect actual gameplay. If my top speed is 30kt too low, but so is my adversary's, I'm fine with that.
If I'm flying a plane that should be able to boom and zoom my adversary's plane, it better not be slower! If I'm flying a nimble dogfighter that relied on agility because it had a low top speed, I better not outrun him! The previous Il-2s had some planes that were "off" in that respect, the Pacific Fighters stable being generally the worst offenders. Chase my P-38 down in a Zero will you??
CloD seems to avoid this by and large. I've read reports that some find the Stuka TOO good, or that these planes' ceilings are too low, these planes wallow where they should soar, etc. Personally I've not experienced that, with the caveat that while I have hundreds of hours in the Il-2 series, I've only been able to put about 10 hrs into CloD. I just haven't been able to muster the desire to do more than that yet, honestly. So it's possible there are FM weaknesses I will take note of with more flight time that have yet to rear their heads.
A pleasant improvement over older Il-2s is the armament. While before every MG was a .22 at best and every cannon shell a virtual grenade, in CloD you can actually shoot down a 109 with nothing but .303s and still have plenty of ammo left over. You can even get several if you're both lucky and frugal with your trigger. The cannons are indeed more powerful, but not overpowerful. Combined with the strides forward in damage modeling, it means you can expect to actually fall to an enemy's MGs but not instantly shatter under their cannons.
Sound, UI, and Other Bits
The Sept 2011 patch redid the sound coding for CloD, and it's a vast improvement. Il-2 always had poor sound, and CloD's was actually worse. It's now better than Il-2 ever was. Real engine sounds were sampled and instead of being offensive it is now quite pleasing to the ear. Provided you enjoy the roar of a Merlin, of course. The sound is now one of the highlights of CloD.
The UI is what we've come to expect from 21st century sims...bare bones, utilitarian, and serviceable. It's a backhanded compliment to say "the UI isn't a trainwreck", but really the most positive way I can describe it is "it works." Not confusing, clearly laid out, but ultimately sterile. Still, it will not hinder your simming experience, it just does nothing to enhance it.
Like its forebears, CloD has Complex Engine Management for those who yearn to do it "like the pilots". It's modeled here in all its complex glory for those who enjoy tweaking their engine and prop configuration for optimal performance in a given flight regime. A confession: I don't care for it. I've heard all the arguments, that it's more "real" to have to contend with flying AND fighting, that it's possible to get the plane to perform better than with the engine on auto, and so on. It's just not for me. I prefer to imagine I'm doing all those things on a "personal autopilot", as those who've driven a car with manual transmission will attest to...you just do it without thinking about it. I'm sure if I had as many hours to dedicate to flying WWII sims as I spent driving a stick shift I could learn those mixtures and prop settings just as well. However, I do not. I let the sim do for it me and concentrate my time on what I enjoy doing--flying the plane and fighting the enemy. Stalls, spins, torque, and wind and turbulence are plenty for me to feel it's real enough. As I said, I'm not what would now be considered a hardcore simmer. I was one in the 90s, when the sims had less to learn and I was either in school or freshly out. My life has changed, and so have my simming habits! To those who scoff and look down their nose because they "let the computer do it", I say back off. It's not your job to decide how others enjoy their sims. Sim and let sim.
End of the CloD
This last patch was final. There will be no more patches for CloD. Maybe if something is found horribly broken there will be some hotfix, but be assured there will be no more major fixes or changes. 1C has moved on to the sequel, likely to be Battle of Moscow, although as always plans could change. According to 1C, the next time CloD will be updated is when the sequel is installed on top of it. Any features not here now will not appear till then at the earliest, and it will not be free. On the plus side, the sequel will either integrate with CloD (allowing all fixes to back-port to CloD) or it will have all CloD's content inside it in some way allowing you to fly it inside the new sim.
So for those of you who bought the sim a year or more back and have been waiting for the definitive fix, go ahead and try it again. If you've been waiting for this patch to buy, how you feel about it will likely depend on what you expect from it. If you spend your time on servers online flying with and against other humans, chances are you will be satisfied with CloD's state. I won't say "thrilled" necessarily, again your expectations may vary, but CloD is now capable of succeeding Il-2 in the online dogfight arena. I'd say $30 for a product you'll probably spend 100+ hrs in is a great value. If you can find it cheaper elsewhere, I'd say you'd get even better value.
If your interest is in offline or coop online play, the verdict is different. Minimal offline content and what is there is of questionable value. There are the mission builders if you want to make missions yourself, but personally I've never enjoyed missions I make myself. Others make them, some for free, so go ahead and look online for some, but quality of course varies. There are payware campaigns from Desastersoft that many find worth the money, especially for the features it adds on top of just good missions. It does require spending more for CloD, of course, but it will give you the single player experience that a top end BoB sim would be expected to offer.
Coop? Well frankly it's broken. For a feature I used more than any other in Il-2, from 2001 to the present, to be in such a state was particularly hard for me to bear. We won't be seeing a fix for it in CloD, although if you decide to get the successor you might have some hope. Here are the words from the developers themselves on the issue:
"Redoing co-op is a huge task. We are a business. We have to make a profit somewhere somehow. We cannot keep pumping resources and releasing free patches for Cliffs of Dover forever.
And regarding not using our products in the future if we do not redo co-op now. I believe the majority in this community actually will. If we offer a much more comprehensive co-op experience in a future product, and especially if such an experience still allows you a trip back in time to fly some Spits and 109s over the Channel, well, I really hope that most people will want to get the sequel.
To reiterate - I've never said that we'll never address co-op, I've only said we cannot do it within the Cliffs of Dover project."
So there it is, the nonfunctional coop will never work in CloD without buying another product from 1C to enhance or supplant it.
Unlike some in the community, I've never hated CloD, I've just gone from "profound disappointment" to "disappointment." Il-2 was a classic, despite its flaws (which IMO were many, from some quirky FMs for certain radial planes like the Fw190 and P-47 to the maddening friendly and enemy AI), because of everything it had and did right. CloD is now a decent WWII sim...and it will never graduate beyond "decent". Poor to lackluster campaigns, a smattering of single missions that are nothing special, broken coop MP. The online dogfighters and mission makers will likely be satisfied. What will happen with sequels/addons/integration with CloD may make it better if you spend more money on it, but as is it's well...forgettable.
It's not the film you see on Saturday and spend the next week raving about (how good or how awful it was), it's the one where you start thinking about dinner before the credits roll, and come Wednesday have a hard time recalling what the details were when someone asks you!