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Found 23 results

  1. Flying the Ju 87 in Il-2: Battle of Stalingrad! Having flown a Stalingrad Stuka campaign mission in Il-2 '46, it's time to repeat the process, this time in the new sim devoted to the famous battle. My first time playing through the BoS Single Player campaign, I've been sticking to flying the Yak-1, in an approximation of a conventional pilot career. While BoS doesn't support multiple virtual pilots, each active with a given squadron, you can fly any aircraft you choose on any campaign mission. Rather than 'switching sides' as well as planes in mid-campaign, I decided to start over at the beginning of the first 'chapter' of BoS's Stalingrad campaign, 'Prelude to Counteroffensive'. This BoS allows the player to do, with the option to 'fast forward' to the current campaign 'Chapter', enabling me to resume my Yak career at any time I chose. The only active German airfield at the start of the campaign is Gumrak, which became one of the two main active airfields within the Stalingrad pocket, after 6th Army was cut off there. Having chosen to fly the Ju 87 from Gumrak, I was offered a choice of mission type and from those available, chose 'Bombing'. As you can see, the other options are 'Ground attack' and 'Ground support'. Apparently the latter is a form of close air support or air cover for ground forces, but I'm not sure what the distinction is between 'Bombing' and 'Ground attack'...especially for a Stuka! And here's the mission I've been allocated. I am to bomb a supply dump well into Soviet-held territory, across the River Volga to the east of Stalingrad itself. At this stage, I have no other details of the mission. In the 'Plane setup' screen I reviewed my options. I haven't flown the Stuka much outside of single missions so havent 'unlocked' any skin or equipment options. Perhaps because I've chosen a bombing mission, I don't have the usual choiced of bombload, either. All I can carry is an SC 1000, which from memory is a 2000 pound thin-skinned HE bomb, no use for attacking targets that need any knd of penetration but with excellent blast effects. Just one bomb but a big load for a Stuka! And here's the full mission briefing screen. At the same time as choosing a bombing mission, I had also picked an air start ('Short' mission duration). I much prefer ground starts but the BoS AI just cannot reliably handle takeoffs in laden Stukas! As I mentioned in the previous Stuka mission report, most of the time, the AI crack up, shortly after takeoff. The dive bombing single mission that ships with BoS puts the player at the head of a flight of six Stukas and once when I flew it, four out of five AI planes managed to avoid a crash. But that seems to be exceptional, so I'm glad I got a screenshot or two, if only to prove to myself I didn't imagine it! As I usually do before a mission, I zoomed in on the map at the target area and planned my approach and 'action on the objective'. This being an air start, the mission would begin with my flight at the right altitude and lined up on the last leg to the target area. As for said target, I wasn't quite sure what a 'supply dump' might look like but at least this one was located in a spot which I thought should be easy to identify, even from my planned approach height of 3500 metres...weather permitting, or course. In BoS, thanks to cloud cover, the weather often isn't very permissive of target acquisition from altitude, and the mission brief's weather notes said nothing about this important factor. So I decided that I would fly direct to the target, bombing it straight off my line of approach if I managed to get 'eyes on'. If not, I would overfly the target, turn 180 degrees and try again. If that didn't work, I would descend below the cloudbase and attack from there, likely in a shallow dive. Plan made! Time to head off the the flight line and get cracking! ...to be continued!
  2. Helping close the ring around Stalingrad in a new phase of the battle! One of the things I like about the Single Player campaign in IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad (BoS) is the way it follows the main phases of the historical battle. BoS unfortunately doesn't let you create multiple pilot identities who can serve with named, historical squadrons; the next best thing is to choose the same plane for each campaign mission, as if you were flying with the same unit. For my first run through the campaign, I decided to fly for the VVS and soon settled on the superior Yak-1, first in a long line of successful fighters that went on to serve throughout the 'Great Patriotic War'. The second 'chapter' in BoS's campaign is set during Operation Uranus, the Soviet counterattack which trapped the German 6th Army in Stalingrad. Having got several missions into the chapter, I had by then unlocked some bombs and rockets, as well as several 'skins'. I had flown escort and intercept missions so far, so I decided it was time to try out my new weapons and hit some ground targets, in direct support of our forces on the ground. I rationalised this as our aviation regiment being called upon to play a more tactical role, now that the ground war had become more mobile and reached a critical phase, with Red Army units having broken through and fighting hard to link up and complete the encirclement of 6th Army. I could have chosen to fly a Sturmovik instead but for the sake of continuity in my simulated fighter pilot career I stuck with my trusty Yak, operating in the fighter-bomber role Here's the the initial mission selection screen, showing that the flight I will lead, operating from our airfield at Illarionovskiy, has been ordered to take out enemy artillery positions. These are presumably resisting the advance of our 65th Army up on the northern flank of the developing Stalingrad pocket. Moving on to the detailed mission briefing, I can see that this will be an early morning sortie. As usual, this briefing provides quite a detailed flight plan, complete with distances, bearings and timings for each leg, but I have to start the mission itself to confirm the size of my flight and the escort (if any) and see the actual weather conditions for myself. Beforehand, I zoomed in on the target area and had a good look at the lie of the land. I wanted to pre-familiarise myself with the terrain features on the run-in to the target, to help orient myself during this critical time. I also wanted to plan my run. Seeing that there were enemy airfields north and south of my planned track, I decided I would stick to the latter and attack from east to west. If anything, I would drift slightly south of the leg to the target, with the wooded but gentle bend in the River Don providing a good line and the town of Bolshe Nabatov providing a last major reference point for my final run-in to the target. The latter was in very open country and the town seemed likely to be very useful in helping me pick up the target with the minimum of delay. The BoS map is an excellent rendition of what you can see in-game and despite all that snow, decent visual navigation is not only possible but fun, with aircraft map icons just a key stroke away if you get lost or otherwise feel the need of them. For this mission I had a choice of bombs or rockets and selected the latter: six ROS-82 rockets in fact, three, on rails, under each wing. I also chose my favourite stock skin for my own Yak, featuring a red nose, as befits a proper 'Stalin Falcon'. My two wingmen were more sensibly attired, in worn winter camouflage. Take-off is always an interesting time for me in BoS. I don't find the Yak nearly as tricky as the LaGG-3 for ground handling but with your flight roaring off soon after you begin to roll, it can still go seriously Pete Tong. Dawdle or swerve too much, and a flight-mate can be into you, in no time, flat. But not this time. It wasn't one of my better take-offs but it worked and soon, we were on our way! On the way! I swung around towards the south in a gentle right-hand turn, throttled back to let the other two Yaks catch up. Al-flown aircraft in BoS use the same flight model as the player's aircraft so they have no magical ability to overhaul your plane, if you fly full throttle! At this point I looked around and above for any sign that the powers-that-be had thought our mission worthy of an escort - and if they had, whether they'd showed up. Reassuringly, the answer to both questions was 'Yes'. Above and behind us, a flight of LaGGs was already in position. Hopefully, if we were intercepted, I would be able to rely on our comrades to cover us. My contingency plan in the event that didn't work out was that I would order my own flight-mates to cover me and attack the ground targets myself. I had been taught that 'Selection and Maintenance of the Aim' is the master principle of warfare (and contrary to what John Keegan who lectured there said in 'The Face of Battle', these principles WERE taught at Sandhurst at least up to that time). My aim on this mission was clearly to destroy the enemy gun positions and that would take absolute priority over running up my modest score of air-to-air victories. Whatever else happened, I was determined that those German guns were going to get a pounding! Sensibly in my view, BoS casts the player in the flight-leader role. Some may like to fly as a wingman but I relish the additional tactical responsibilities and challenges of flight leadership, including thinking through how I will carry out my orders before the mission starts and then leading and controlling my flight, during the sortie. My first task now was to get us to the initial waypoint, from which we would fly our leg to the target. As is often the case in BoS and as it should be, navigation points are laid over real-life landmarks which are visible both on the map and in the 3d world. In this case, our waypoint lay over a roughly inverted L-shaped stretch of woods, the stem of which ran alongside the River Don, which at that point ran nearly north-south. Here's that part of the map again: see what I mean? There was very little cloud cover and looking ahead, I could soon make out the distinctive piece of woodland by the left-hand bank of the frozen river. It wasn't long before we reached it and I made the right-hand turn that would take us into the target area. I currently let the sim handle my radiator and engine settings beyond throttle; you can see from the screenies below that the engine management AI is visibly opening and closing the flap at the back of the big water radiator cowling under my fuselage, to manage my engine temperatures for me. Neat! I was by now flying at about 75% throttle and had accepted the recommended fuel load (about 65% IIRC). As there was no cloudbase I didn't have to stick to the recommended height of around 500m but had decided against going in high. Unfortunately the BoS inflight and detailed briefing map doesn't show the front lines but I remembered from the original map, which does, that I would be in enemy territory more or less the whole way, from this point forward. I had now arrived at the war! Target in sight! Not long after turning onto the last leg up towards our target, I noticed a single condensation trail, which appeared briefly at about four o'clock high. It seemed to be curving away from us and to betoken no immediate threat. Another of the things I like about the BoS Single Player campaign is that while individual formations are often quite small, the sky is very often alive with other flights, going about their own business. I won't always see them but I have come across other friendly and enemy flights which have clearly nothing to do with my own objective and which generally continue with their own mission, even to the extent that enemy fighters will ignore me and carry on, as they should, sticking to the bombers they were escorting, rather automatically and robotically diverting to attack me. Today I had my own mission and I ignored the distant sighting. On we went, leaving further behind us the point where our three rocket-laden Yaks and our LaGG escort had crossed the River Don. The river had curved around and now lay off to our left, helping guide us towards the town of Bolshe Nabatov which I would use to pick up the target, out in the open country to the west. It wasn't long before I had the town in sight. Having studied the map before taking off, I knew the main road running through Bolshe Nabatov pointed slightly north of the target area. So If I followed the line of that stretch of road, I should soon spot the enemy gun positions, just to my left. That was the plan, at any rate. Armies in the field being trained to camouflage their positions, picking up a target in open countyside was always going to be a challenge. And this was very open countryside, particularly featureless. Where were they? Anxious not to miss my target or to lose time stooging around looking for it like an idiot, I 'cheated' and briefly turned on the on-screen icons, just to get a quick indication before I got too close. Even then, icons off again, I nearly failed to see the target. It was only when I noticed a muzzle flash from a field that I finally spotted the gun line itself. By that time, I was practically on top of it! Well, there they were! I could now see that our target was a line of four field guns, standard LeFH 18M 10.5 cm field howitzers as it turned out, complete with a couple of little ammo bunkers behind the gun line. I was too close to attack and flew over them, dipping my wing to get a good look and relieved to find I wasn't being shot at during my unplanned little flypast. I opened the throttle and pulled up and away. As I did so, I looked around and seeing no enemy aircraft, gave my flight the order to attack the nearest ground target. I think I'm right in saying that in BoS you cannot (as in CFS3, for example) padlock a specific target then order it attacked, which is admittedly a bit too precise for a time before laser designators or even thoroughly reliable radios. From the occasional foray with a Stuka in a single mission, I was unsure how well this would work out. Would the AI do as they were bid? If so, would they attack the right target? I was soon to find out! Down to business! I had more or less stumbled onto the German battery and, as I overflew it, ordered my flight-mates to attack independently. My plan now was to pull up at full power, chop the throttle and wing over, reversing my course and dropping back down onto the target in a shallow dive. As I came around and rolled out, I realised that I was flying into the rising sun, but in a way, that helped me pick up the targets, since the guns stood out as darker spots against the bright white sheen of the snow. I lined 'em up and cut loose with my rockets. Or tried to. Nothing happened. No rocket so much as left the rails. I should have paid more attention when the armourer was explaining how to use these things - I was hitting the wrong switch...or keystroke, to be precise! I flashed over the guns, mortified that the gunners hadn't even bothered to run for cover! I all but expected to see one of them thumbing his nose at me, as I flashed past overhead! Opening the throttle, I climbed away again, then throttled back and pulled up and around again. This time, I was coming in with the light behind me. And this time, the rockets performed as advertised. I had a bit of difficulty, though, keeping the targets lined up as I dived onto them and was unsure how much to allow for the fall-off in rocket trajectory, compared to guns and cannon. I'd had no previous practice with this weapon, which didn't help. There was also the little matter of pulling up before hitting the gound. Not having set up to fire salvoes, I fired one missile with each trigger press. The results were reasonably spectacular but not otherwise terribly encouraging. I did manage to clobber one gun position before running out of rockets. Emboldened by the lack of AA fire, I made a couple of further passes with my guns, which knocked out a second field piece. Looking back, I could now see two of those proverbial 'smokin' holes in the ground'. But half the battery was still intact, and my orders called for its complete destruction. Where were my flightmates? What were they up to? In the excitement of making my own runs, I had rather left them to get on with setting up and making their own attacks. But so far, this was turning into a one-Yak show. Mission accomplished! Pulling up from my last run, I finally looked around the skies again. I wasn't the only one having a bit of excitement, as it happened. My LaGG escort was doing a good job; there were no German fighters around but they were enthusiastically drawing fire from what looked like every AA gun in the neighbourhood. As I reached the top of my pull-up after my last pass, I came up just below the LaGGs, who seemed to have become tired of being shot at. Or more likely, their protective orbits just happened to have taken them over in my direction. I made another pass with guns. This time I didn't do much further damage but the German gunners, having by now realised that I did occasionally manage to hit what I was shooting at, did me the courtesy of abandoning their weapon and making themselves scarce. It wasn't until I was pulling up, that I realised that somebody had managed to destroy a third gun. Now that I thought of it, I recalled some radio chatter indicating that a flight-mate was attacking a target. Further confirmation that I was not being left to complete the enemy's destruction alone wasn't long in coming. First one Yak, then another, slipped in behind and beneath me and blew up the last German howitzer with some well-aimed rocket salvos! Urrah! Bravo! Job done - time to go home! I slowly levelled off and oriented myself for the trip back to the next waypoint, calling my flight back into formation as I did so. The LaGG escort had fallen behind and they gave me an anxious moment until I identified them as friendlies. They were soon climbing back up to cover us and it wasn't long before they were once more above and behind. Soon, my own guys were close behind me as we headed back up north. They had not expended all their rockets but I wasn't about to risk their necks and valuable Soviet property for the sake of such opportunity targets as we might have been able to find. We had got those guns and were all still in the Land of the Living; that would do us nicely. It's always a source of satisfaction to me, if I can bring my flight-mates back in one piece. Even if they are nameless 'bots', in my imagination they are my comrades, looking to me for leadership...and for their survival. Above us, the LaGGs followed protectively. If it wasn't for their finnicky ground-handling, I'd probably be flying one of these machines now, instead of transitioning to the Yak after my BoS training missions. They really are sleek birds, even if less well-armed and lower-performing than the Yaks. The rest of the flight was uneventful. We turned for home at the last waypoint and I took the opportunity to admire the view, with the low sun's rays nicely picking up the subtleties of the frozen landscape. As in real life, the steppes in BoS are frequently traversed by balkas (gullies) and in appropriate lighting, you realise that the BoS terrain is not the flat, featureless white affair that it can sometimes appear to be. Nearing our home base, I gave the 'Return to base' order. While I orbited, I was pleased to see my two flight-mates make their own approaches and land successfully, with navigation lights lit. I then made my own approach and managed to get down without seriously breaking something, for once. In the screenie below, you can see the red and green wingtip lights of one of the other Yaks as it taxies into the dispersal area, having cleared the active runway. Neat! Here's my mission results screen. With this sortie I unlocked another skin and some additional weaponry, which I may put to good use at some point. I even got an award! it's likely not an authentic, historical medal, but at least it shows that comebody cares, up there in the higher echelons of the RKKA, the Red Army of Peasants and Workers! As I've said elsewhere I'm not a big fan of BoS's unconventional approach to the SP campaign trimmings, nicely-implemented though it is. I'd much prefer the ability to fly conventional pilot careers or failing that, the sort of themed mision sets that will likely come once the sim's full mission editor is widely released. In the meantime, an approximation of a pilot career can be achieved with what we have now and I'm finding the results highly satisfactory!
  3. Flying a typical Single Player campaign mission in the new Eastern Front air combat simulator! At the risk of being promptly if figuratively burned at the nearest stake, I have to confess that the original IL-2 never really kindled my lukewarm interest in the air war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. However, the latest sim to carry that name has managed to do so, to the extent that I have been flying mainly Soviet planes from the outset in IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad (BoS). Not only that, but I have just recently kicked off a parallel Soviet campaign - the excellent and highly recommended 'Blinding Sun', flying the sleek MiG-3 - in IL-2 '46. For someone who's been mostly interested in the Luftwaffe and the RAF up to now, there's something faintly exotic about the red-starred, pointy-winged Soviet fighters. For those of us tempted by the lure of the orient - or just interested in WW2 warbirds, whatever their origin - BoS offers in addition to its other aircraft the choice of three superbly-modelled VVS (Soviet Air Force) fighters: the underpowered LaGG-3, the generally superior Yak-1 and - if you have the premium version - the La-5, basically a later derivative of the LaGG with a more powerful, radial engine. For my initial forays into the BoS skies, I stuck with the LaGG, mostly as I think she's the most visually attractive of the trio. With just one cannon and one MG, though, she's rather lightly armed, even by Soviet standards. And I have found her ground handling to be particularly tricky, even if, once in the air, the LaGG seems to perform well enough. For my first serious effort at playing through the BoS SP campaign, I decided to switch to the Yak-1, which has two MGs rather than one and a better performance than the LaGG . The Yak-1 is visually much the same aircraft as the later Yak-7, -9 and -3, the main identification point, shared with early Yak-7s, being that the Yak-1 lacked the cut-down rear fuselage and 'blister' canopy introduced from the Yak-1b version. Despite the similar wing and tailplane planforms, the Yak is not hard to distinguish from the sleeker LaGG, at close range anyway. This mission is one I flew early on during the second 'Chapter' of the BoS SP campaign. This segment is set in the timeframe of Operation Uranus, the first of two big Soviet pincer attacks and the one which closed the ring around 6th Army in Stalingrad. In the BoS SP campaign, you have one player profile who can fly any available plane from any available airfield on either side, rather than one or more pilots flying with historical squadrons. Like (I expect) most traditionally-minded combat flight simmers, I dislike this approach. The nearest I can come to a more conventional pilot career is to fly the campaign while sticking to the same side, flying the same plane and operating from the same airfield, with the option to 'transfer' to a different field and plane if I choose. So that's what I'm doing here. I had flown the campaign's first Chapter (covering the period just before the first Soviet counterattack) in the Yak-1 from Verkhne Pogomnoye, just north of Stalingrad on the eastern side of the River Volga. The second Chapter re-set the airfield choices, offering either Peskovatka on the German side and Illarionovskiy on the Soviet. To continue to fly the Yak, I choose the latter airfield. In effect, with the opening of the offensive, my unit had been moved from east of the Volga well to the west, near to the area of the northern bridgeheads from which one of the great pincers had already cut deeply into the enemy's big salient. Below is the tactical map for this timeframe. You can see that the pincers have already nearly completed the famous link-up near the town of Kalach on the great bend in the Don, having broken through the flanks held by Italian, Hungarian and Rumanian units whose weak anti-tank weapons were no match for the T-34s or KV-1s. Victory is in the air, history is in the making, and now it's time for me to play my part in driving the Fascist invaders from the Motherland! Za Rodinu! Za Stalina! Before all that, there are some BoS preliminaries I must go through. Having chosen my base and my plane, I must now also chose a type of mission. Virtual HQ should really be telling me what I'm to do but like CFS3, BoS prefers to let the player choose his task. I must also choose whether I want an air start ('Short' mission duration) and the difficulty level (I fly in 'Normal' mainly as 'Expert' blocks external views and disables some other stuff I like at least to be able to use when I feel the need). I may also pick a colour scheme and my weapon loadout. Here, I can select 'skin' (aircraft colour scheme) and equipment options which I have so far unlocked, while completing the first Chapter of the campaign. There's been some understandable angst about the BoS 'unlocks' feature. While I don't much care for it myself, you don't need the unlocks and to they extent they're desirable, well, they come to you as you progress. At this point, I had unlocked some rockets and some skins for my Yak and from the latter, I chose a striking red-nosed paint job. I have been flying mostly 'Intercept' missions up to now but this time, I decided to fly an escort job (variants on the ground attack/close support theme being the other options). We were accordingly tasked to accompany some 'attack planes' - which for the German side means Stukas, for the Soviets, Sturmoviks - down to an unspecified target in open country, in the northern sector of the bulge. Here's the briefing map for this mission. Unfortunately this map - which you can also refer to during the mission, as well as a 'mini-map' - no longer shows the front lines. And there's no indication of what the target is. Likewise it's only when you start the mission that you see who you're escorting and what size your own flight is (though the latter seems invariably to be either three or four aircraft, with you as flight leader). As usual in BoS, for the purposes of unlocks and progressing your player profile, you are given a personal, numerical mission objective: in this case, that no more than two Sturmoviks should be lost. Out of how many, I don't know until the mission begins. Helpfully, as you can see, the map does show the bearings, distances and indicative timings for each leg of the flight plan. If I had chosen an air start, I need only have flown the legs to and from the target ('Action Point' in BoS terminology). The very close correspondence between this map and what you see in the 3d world makes decent visual navigation possible in BoS. B-17-2 the Mighty Eighth was the only other combat flight sim I recall playing which had such a good potential for visual navigation. Even though I tend to keep the aircraft map icons switched on, I still find it a joy to pick up landmarks, especially when I can rattle off the names of places I remember from reading accounts of the real battlefield, as I see them brought to life in BoS. This is one of the aspects of the sim that I most appreciate. Truly, BoS is a 'Time Machine' that brings me back to this momentous point in history, much as its fans say of Battle of Britain 2 - Wings of Victory. Some look at BoS and see mainly unlocks and the lack of a conventional pilot career. I look at BoS and see mainly great aircraft, desolate but lovely environments, visceral air combat…and a powerful sense of time and place, of history bought to life. But enough of such reflections. There's a job to be done. It's time to pick up those Sturmoviks, which have flown up from their base to the south. Here we are on the airfield, four Yak-1s, the others in well-worn winter camouflage, in stark contrast to my gaudy machine. I have chosen a full mission duration, not an air start. With 'Normal' difficulty selected, instead of needing to start up and taxi out (which comes with 'Expert' difficulty level), I'm lined up on the runway at the head of my flight, engine running and good to go. Meanwhile, the Sturmoviks have arrived - just three of them, on this trip - and are now swinging in from the west. I opened my canopy and checked my controls while I waited for the right moment to take off and go after them. In the pic below, you can see our four fighters, throwing up glistening clouds of snow, just above the nose of the Sturmovik in the foreground. One of the reasons I chose the Yak over the LaGG is that I've found the latter's ground handling very tricky. Take-off runs regularly end with my machine pirouetting wildly as my efforts to use differential braking fail to keep me straight. The Yak is also tricky but is much more manageable, more reminiscent of planes in IL-2 '46. BoS nicely replicates formation takeoffs with shorter gaps than its predecessor's 'conga line' takeoffs, so getting run down by a following aircraft is a risk if you mess up your run. This time I crabbed left and right and back again despite applying throttle slowly. I was overtaken by the Yak on my right but made it off the ground; which is always a good start. I timed it fairly well too, as the Sutrmoviks were crossing ahead of us as we lifted off. At least that's what I'll tell the CO, if and when I get back, if he says anything about cutting it fine. I swung around in a wide turn to the right, throttling back slightly so that the others could catch up as I looked around to pick up the Sturmoviks again. Below me you can see our airfield. It's been said the BoS airfields are a bit bland but if you look at aerial photos taken in the area during the timeframe of the BoS campaign - November 1942 to February 1943 - they look exactly right - basically, frozen. In their white camouflage, the Sturmoviks were quite had to spot against the snowscape. You can just about see a couple of them below, just left of my auxiliary ring and bead gunsight. It was mainly their movement that revealed them to me. My comrades were evidently intending to go in at very low level. This can make escorting them something of a challenge. Sometimes in BoS there is a fairly unbroken low overcast, giving you little option on an escort flight but to stay below it, to keep sight of your charges. Today, however, while there was a certain amount of low cloud, it was quite broken. So I climbed up to about 2000m and at about 75% throttle, took up position above and behind the Sturmoviks, flying a zig-zag pattern. This is the tactic I usually adopt on an escort mission in a WW2 sim. The weaving enables me to keep my speed up, ready to react quickly, and also means I'm less vulnerable to attack myself, compared to just flying straight and slow, in line with my bombers. On the climb, I could see signs of the fighting on the ground, in the form of smoke billowing up from a town to our right, not too far off. Our route consisted of a leg to the south-west, then a right turn to the east and the target. A prominent frozen river, the mighty Don itself, was a useful reference point - the last mile or two of our first leg ran pretty well along the frozen river as it snaked on its way across the barren steppes. When the Strumoviks reached the L-shaped riverbank woods which marked our first waypoint, I saw them turn right and I turned with them, my flight sliding neatly across, somewhere just behind me. So far we, looked to be the only aircraft in the vicinity. But appearances can be deceptive! ...to be continued!
  4. The Single Player campaign 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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: 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. 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... ...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... Next comes this, telling you that your 'EXP' has unlocked some goodies, in this case a 23mm cannon: 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. 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. 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. 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. ...to be continued!
  5. 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!
  6. 'There is no land behind the Volga!' * * Red Army 'no retreat' slogan during the Battle of Stalingrad Well, it's here! IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad ('BoS') is the latest in a long line of WW2 air combat sims to bear the illustrious IL-2 name. The last major iteration, Cliffs of Dover, forsook the Eastern Front for the Battle of Britain. But with BoS, it's back to the (here, frozen) steppes of Mother Russia and the Great Patriotic War, as the Soviets dubbed the bitter conflict in the east. As you'd expect from the title, BoS is based around the momentous and decisive battles around Stalingrad in late 1942 and early 1943. The Wehrmacht's 6th Army, fresh from its triumph in the Second Battle of Kharkov, had swept south in the major German offensive of 1942, to the banks of the River Volga and the city which bore the name of the wily and feared Soviet leader. After slowly grinding down the epic Soviet defense of the city, the German forces there were cut off by two successive pincer attacks which overwhelmed the less well-equipped Romanian, Italian and Hungarian allies holding the flanks. Manstein's attempt to break through to 6th Army fell short while Hitler forbade withdrawal, lulled by Goering's assurances that the Luftwaffe could repeat its success in supplying by air the earlier (but much smaller) Demyansk pocket. Despite herculean Luftwaffe efforts, galvanized by the highly-capable Erhard Milch, the supplies delivered were never enough and when the major airfields inside and outside the Stalingrad kessel at Gumrak, Pitomnik, Morosovskaya and Tatsinskaya were over-run, the writing was on the wall for the battered and ultimately starved 6th Army, which surrendered in February 1943. This famous Soviet victory stands with the few battles that can claim to have dictated both the outcome of WW2 and the fate of Europe for many years afterwards. So, set against this epic background, how does BoS shape up? Let's find out! The review will be in several parts, a real CombatAce team effort, with 'Founders' CowboyTodd41 and Jedi Master providing an Early Access participant's insights on different aspects of the new sim. To wrap up the review in style, Hellshade will provide a video finale showing BoS in action! Availability and installation BoS is available by download from both the Publishers and Steam and on DVD. Each format comes in two versions - 'Standard' and 'Premium' - which differ in the number of flyable aircraft provided (eight versus ten, respectively). There is no manual with the sim. Apparently, one is being worked on but for now, it's a case of diving in and working your way through things for yourself. Much of the interface and controls will be reasonably familiar, if you've played the sim's progenitor, which is actually Rise of Flight (RoF). There are some enthusiast-produced aircraft guides available already and of course you can find material covering instrument layouts, performance and handling online, if not also in books - for example, Eric Brown's most excellent 'Wings of the Luftwaffe'. On the battle itself I would highly recommend William Craig's 'Enemy at the Gates' (the film only covered the sniper duel, a tiny part of the book) which won't tell you which Kampfgruppe, Tank Brigade or Jagdgeschwader went where and when but it's a gritty, memorable and powerful picture of the battle as seen by those who experienced it. My review copy of BoS is the Premium edition and was downloaded from from the Publisher's website. The download and installation process was entirely painless, the slow part being downloading the 'game client' via the 'Launcher' app that is your point of entry into the sim. Though different in some details, this Launcher will be familiar to players of RoF. BoS's Launcher is illustrated below (the desktop background pic is from IL-2 '46). As you can see, amongst other things, the Launcher lets you configure some graphics options at this front end, though few, compared to RoF's Launcher. As in the older sim, the Launcher will update BoS over the 'net, but automatically, rather than manually as before. Once you start the sim itself, you are invited to log on. As with RoF, some features require an internet connection. You can fly Quick Missions offline but not the stock Single Player campaign. This I believe is because online servers generate campaign missions, track your progress and use this to apply BoS's 'extensive in-game achievement system' (as the developers describe it) which we will come to, later. I don't especially like this connection dependency but - though there was a glitch one weekend when a server issue prevented player achievements being recognized - having a decent broadband connection, this requirement doesn't much affect or concern me. The developers have said that the bandwidth required for this is low. The sim's main menu screen is the 3d aircraft view familiar to RoF fliers, displaying the last aircraft you flew (or the IL-2 Sturmovik by default) as rendered in-game, now in a hangar setting as seen here. For me, the interface is a bit choppy, with a bit of mouse lag, which I gather is a known issue for some though a minor one. We'll go through the options it presents, later on. The planes The aircraft featured in BoS are listed here. Those asterisked are flyable in the Premium version, only. German Soviet Bf 109F-4 LaGG-3 Bf 109G-2 Yak-1 FW 190A-3* La-5 * Ju 87D-3 IL-2 He 111H-6 Pe-2 So we have a decent mix of fighters, bombers and attack aircraft, out-of-the-box. The FW 190 was apparently not in action at Stalingrad but is presumably included for its popularity and to provide an alternative German single-seat fighter to the two visually very similar Bf 109 variants. The developers have said that the Ju-52 transport may be added later, possibly AI-only. While this slow tri-motor transport would be a popular mount with only the bravest (or most foolhardy) players, it really is an essential aircraft for Stalingrad and a good choice for an AI plane. The Luftwaffe used every available type that could carry cargo or personnel in their desperate 'air bridge' operation including bombers and FW 200 Condors, but the 'Tante Ju' was the mainstay and the sooner it's added, the better. A Ju 88 and a Bf 110 would also be very welcome, on the German side. In my book, the more major types a sim can feature from the get-go, the better, even if only the AI gets to fly some of them (or you have to pay to activate the cockpits). But apart from that Ju 52 - and the fact that a Bf 110 would have been a better choice, historically, than an FW 190 - BoS already comes with a respectable planeset, for the time period featured in the sim. Here are some of the stars of the show, inside and out. They are gorgeous, with accurate outlines and detail, readable stencil markings, panel lines & rivets visible in relief ('bump mapping'?) and animated aircrew, RoF-style. Heinkel He 111H: (note the subtitled radio comms from the 'tower' at Morosovskaya airfield, in the cockpit pic) Messerschmitt Bf 109F (top) & Bf 109G: Focke-Wulf FW 190A: Lavochkin La-5 (in a snowstorm): Petlyakov Pe-2: ...and finally, the star with the top billing - the Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik: As well as flying these birds, you can man other crew positions, including bombardier and air gunner. Here I am in the dorsal position of the elegant Heinkel 111, manning my MG 15 and ready to ward off the Ivans. You can see the neat panel and rivet detail, especially running out along the main spar of the starboard wing. The aircraft has the correct 70/71/65 colour scheme with factory finish pattern on top and the appropriate theatre markings, comprising yellow rear fuselage band and lower wingtips. Having closed my canopy to keep out the slipstream and looking down into the fuselage, I can see two of my comrades below, one standing by a waist gun, the other ready to go prone in the sterbebett (death bed) ventral position, should the need arise. The cocking handle on the MG 15 reciprocates when you fire the weapon but I haven't yet fired off enough rounds to see if the reloading of the saddle drum magazine is animated, which if so might look a little odd as I am invisible, in the 'cockpit' view. Luftwaffe aircraft had a semi-gloss finish and this is nicely captured, along with the correct factory-applied camouflage colours and patterns. As you'd expect, the aircraft have dynamic self-shadowing, inside and out. Perhaps the cockpits are not quite as sharp as Cliffs of Dover's...and they're not 'clickable', for those who like fiddling with such things rather than hitting a key. But they look good enough to me and combined with 'head bobbing' (which you can turn off), those moving shadows and minor canopy scratches catching the sunlight, the effect of being up in the heavens in a real aircraft is superb. Externally, the lack of individual or unit markings creates a certain blandness, my only real criticism here. And I understand why there aren't swastikas on German tails, but the vestigial ones provided perhaps look worse than none - better no marking than an inaccurate one. I recall the old Revell 1/72 FW 190A, in its 1960s incarnation, had a normal cross for a tail decal with a note in the instructions acknowledging the inaccuracy and stating that portraying the correct markings (and I quote) '...would not be in keeping with the spirit of democracy.' But I digress...instead, I should add that all screenshots were taken at medium graphics settings (the 'Balanced' pre-set). My PC is slightly below the recommended specs for BoS but flies RoF, a recommended benchmark for the new sim, fine at medium settings and is ok with BoS. Engine sounds are distinctive and realistic, much better than the original IL-2. Your guns could be louder though. Some have reported your airframe being hit is barely audible but that hasn't been my experience. Radio transmissions can be a tad repetitive but sound like...well, radio transmissions (they are in the original language, with subtitles available). In short, the BoS aircraft are exceptional; they look and sound great. The contrast is a bit high between the 70 (Schwarzgrun) and 71 (Dunkelgrun) upper surfaces on the Ju 87 for my taste and I think the 109s should have little fillets either side of their lower radiator flaps but those are very minor quibbles. Coming in part 2 - the environment, the options and Quick Missions!
  7. Checking out the Bf109 in the new Eastern Front air combat sim! I was flattered to be invited by Skyviper to be on the team for the CombatAce review of 1c/777's IL-2 - Battle of Stalingrad (hereinafter referred to as BoS). Having only recently installed the sim (I wasn't a participant in the 'Early Access' programme) it'll be a little while until we get the review done & dusted. In the meantime I thought folks might be interested in my first impressions of one of the BoS aircraft, the iconic Messerschmitt Bf109, which comes here in the form of the F-4 and G-2 models, distinguished mainly be the latter's more powerful DB605 motor and visually, by its heavier-framed cockpit. So far, my impression of the BoS aircraft is that they're as good as, or better than, any aircraft I've seen in a combat flight sim. Cliffs of Dover's cockpits might be a little sharper-looking (perhaps just thanks to sharper or darker shadows) but outside and in, these birds look just terrific. As an old-time Luftwaffe modeller, while I find the vestigial swastikas slightly irksome and don't welcome the lack of unit markings, pending availability of the facility for user-made skins, I can't help but admire the accuracy of the finish. For example, the 109F I'm flying here has a very accurate rendition of the standard 74/75/76 fighter finish (Dunkelgrau, Mittelgrau and Hellgrau, respectively). It's applied in an accurate upper surface Messerschmitt factory pattern, appropriate for these later 109s and features readable stencil markings. Even the fuselage side mottling is straight out of the textbooks, with spots of Schwarzgrun (70), Dunkelgrau (74) and 'RLM' Grau (02). The slightly glossy standard Luftwaffe finish is also nicely captured and in the right light, you can see every rivet and panel line caught in relief. The overall effect is a joy to behold. Anyway, I recently took my first proper flight in a 109 - a favourite familiar to me from many another sim, including European Air War, CFS3 and the original IL-2 series - and it was an experience and a half! I just did the one circuit, set up via the 'Quick Mission' option (which will be familiar to Rise of Flight users, given the close family relationship with BoS). I don't do 'complex engine management' but even so, it was a pretty awesome experience, the sort of flight I'd have expected in a plane built for FSX. The airfield I think is Morosovskaya (spelt slightly different in the sim) which I recognised from William Craig's superb 'Enemy at the Gates' - if you read just one book on the battle, make it this one (the film was just a single episode from the book). This airfield I recall was, with Tatsinskaya, one of the two most important bases for the Luftwaffe's desperate 'air bridge' into the Stalingrad 'kessel'...until the T-34s arrived there and put a sudden stop to flying operations, in dramatic and violent fashion. From the cockpit of my chosen Bf109F-4, even the engine start (computer-assisted, just using the 'E' key) was most impressive. OK, there was no black-overalled mechanic standing on the wing turning the hand crank but there were cockpit indicator lights coming on and animated switches flicking. Then came the sound of the 109's flywheel spooling up and finally, the throaty roar of that big Mercedes DB601 as it spluttered then thundered into life. Great stuff, like watching and listening to a real warbird start-up video! Flaps set and flying control movement checked, taxying out to the runway was the first challenge, using mainly the brakes combined with short bursts of throttle to keep her rolling. I managed to get her lined up fairly well. The take-off was a bit hairy with plenty of swing, first left when I opened her up a bit then right when I steadily applied full power. I kept her fairly straight but once off the ground, was suddenly afflicted by a serious wobble. Did I pull her off at too low an airspeed, and maybe the leading edge slats had opened differentially? It was quite scary for a couple of seconds but I stayed in the air and, gaining height, turned onto the crosswind leg of the left-hand circuit I was planning to fly. Throttling back and gingerly checking out control responses while relishing the realistic sound of my engine - a far cry from the drone of the original IL-2 109s - I turned left again and settled onto a downwind leg, applying a bit of elevator trim (which I believe actually adjusts tailplane incidence, in the 109) when I'd settled on what seemed like a respectable cruising speed. Possibly I was a little high for the 1,000 feet I'd planned for the circuit - I had turned off inflight map and instruments. Once well down the leg, I looked out over my left shoulder for a glimpse of my airfield, remembering that when it was at roughly 7 o'clock, I would want to turn left again, onto the base leg. OK, so where was the runway? Oh-oh....my base was lost in a sea of whiteness. I remembered that there had been a medium-sized wood or town somewhere just north of the airfield. I could see what might have been that area, in the form of a dark patch on the ground. Taking this as my mark, when I judged it about right, I turned left and rolled out onto a heading just short of north and flew my base leg. At some point, fiddling about with the 'pilot gestures' controls, I had inadvertently fired a flare, which I assume is why the flare gun has now appeared in its slot below the starboard windscreen. Nice touch! When I was nearly level with the wood, I turned left again, onto my approach to the still-invisible airfield. As I began to roll out of my turn, peering desperately ahead to the left of the dark area I was using as my reference point, I was mightily relieved to see the runway, between wisps of low cloud. Whew! I held my left turn, then reversed it, to line myself up with the runway. Throttling back, I started dropping my flaps and then lowered my gear. The 109 is no slouch and things seemed to be happening awfully quickly! It's been a long time since I had my handful of flying lessons in slower Cessnas but in pitiful ignorance of the correct numbers for a 109, I did my best to use the throttle to control my rate of descent and the elevator to manage my airspeed. I often land in the external view because with no peripheral vision and the other limitations of 'flying' at a monitor, it's easier to judge when to flare. Not this time! Having flown the circuit from the cockpit, apart from slipping outside from some screenshots, I decided I would go the whole hog. Flying from the cockpit view with all the self-assurance of a rabbit in the headlights, I flared too soon and landed heavily, bouncing rather badly. I somehow managed to keep the wings level and did my best to make the next bump survivable. They say it's a good landing if you can walk away from it and a great one, if you can re-use the aircraft. By that standard, I'd made a good landing. And most of the plane looked to be re-usable. So far so rather brilliant. But this is a combat flight sim and therein lies the real test for BoS. Anyway it's off to a good start in my books, though I will want to spend more time doing circuits and bumps before I take on the Ivans in a campaign. In the meantime, of course I could not resist a bit of blowing stuff up (or attempting to) but that's a story for another day! Watch this space for the CombatAce review!
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