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Found 24 results

  1. 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!
  2. The verdict! Before we get down to brass tacks here, as a lead-in I'm going to run briefly through another SP campaign mission, illustrating some of the features that I think are worth highlighting at this point and have influenced my own verdict on IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad. This was a third effort at flying an intercept in a Yak-1, from our base north of Stalingrad to an area south of the city. Previous efforts had failed to meet my personal objectives, partly as I'd been happy to play the flight leader and see what happened when I cut the others loose on the target, resulting in them shooting it/them down (the good news) and me missing out on XP and unlocks and awards (the bad news). This time I decided to go in first and have my flight cover me. As seems normal with a repeated mission, the general target area was the same but the other details had changed - time of day (it was now dusk), we had a different flight plan and height, there were four in my flight instead of three and the targets were different. So there is some variety here, if replaying a mission. Time was short so I appreciated the option to choose an air start, mission by mission. Here we are (one Yak out of shot) on the leg in to the target/Action Point, with the mini-map zoomed out. Turning the 'HUD' off removes labels from aircraft and the map, as well as turning off the instrument readouts. In the brief run-in I experimented with formation changes which the AI executed slickly. I then gave them a 'cover me' command to ensure they didn't attack the enemy on sight, but stuck with me instead. Our targets turned out this time to be two He 111s escorted by I think a single 109. I made a beam attack on the two winter-camouflaged Heinkels while to my complete satisfaction, my flight moved in to get between me and the Messerschmitt. This resulted in a dogfight after a bit of jockeying for position, with the 109 initially going wide and attempting to threaten my flight-mates from above and behind, rather than rushing straight at them. My shooting hasn't got much better (the most recent update cuts the current lag between trigger pull and weapon firing, which will help) but it wasn't long before I had one of the bombers smoking. I took a noisy hit or two in return, but without suffering any serious damage. The visuals and effects are gorgeous, with vestigial tracer smoke trails, fantastic aircraft and lovely environmentals, like the terrain and clouds softly caught by the light of the setting sun. The finest of aviation art could do little better than this. I mean, look at the sun glinting on the props of the distant Heinkels, in the bottom pic. Beautiful. Having damaged one bomber and needing only to shoot it down (or damage one more enemy) to complete my mission goals, I decided to cut the flight loose. By this time the Heinkels were rapidly receding, once more escorted by a 109 and two of my flight reported they were too far away to engage. At this point some searchlights came on below and picked up the German bombers. After a few seconds held in the searchlights they turned left, probably having bombed whatever was protected by those lights, down there in the darkening snowscape. I led the flight after the Germans and repeated the dose. This time, my flight got the 109 and I was able to put in a couple more passes at both bombers. The one I hit first started straggling. As I was coming back for another pass at the smoking Heinkel, I saw him turn sharply. As I watched, his nose gradually went down, until he was falling from the sky, Clearly, the damage I had inflicted had become critical and he was doomed. The crew thought so too for they started bailing out. A kill! Though now very low on ammo, I decided to have a crack at the last Heinkel, which I had clipped with a burst earlier on. With a bit of luck I might nail him with my last few rounds; if not, I would call in the rest of my flight to knock him down. He was now very low and I suddenly noticed that he had his gear and flaps down and that his landing and navigation lights were on. Looking ahead of him, I saw an airbase, to which the German was evidently on his final approach. Evidently, the pursuit had taken us some way over into enemy territory! Now, it was my turn to be caught in searchlights, German ones this time! I fired off my last rounds at the big German bomber, then broke up and away, pursued by some desultory flak. Out of rounds at last, I climbed up and turned away, calling my flight back into formation. I wasn't going to risk our virtual necks in low-level operations over an enemy airfield, for the sake of finishing off one damaged bomber. The searchlights lit me up one last time as I banked around. Last I saw of the Heinkel, he had decided to execute a go-around and perhaps fly on to a less dangerous airfield. I left him to it. Darkness was creeping in on us and I didn't want to dally. Heading back towards friendly territory, a headlight on the ground to my left drew my attention to what I could see was a train (visible just above my canopy, in the pic below). This might have made a good opportunity target for my wingmens' remaining ammo, had I felt like risking them. Which I did not. A little further on, back over what I took to be friendly territory, a town was burning, perhaps the target of the He 111s earlier. If so, we had avenged our comrades! Soon, we were over the town of Beketovka on the Volga just south of Stalingrad, providing an excellent reference point for my final leg home and confirming the the fidelity and attention to detail with which BoS has recreated the battlefield's historical landscape. With the burning city itself below my left wingtip and looking down to my right, I got a shock to see some enemy aircraft wheeling about, low down over the frozen Volga. They looked to be single-engined types, possibly Stukas. Whatever they were, they did not molest us and with ammo low and in my case gone, I decided that honour had been satisfied and that we should all continue back to base, just to the north. The scale of this sortie had been small, but it was beautifully formed. The superb visuals; the sounds, the radio comms; the tactical handling of my flight; the air combat; the activity on the ground including searchlights and trains; the credible behaviour of the AI; the barren landscape with its battered towns rolling beneath us; the chance near-encounter with another German flight going about its own business...this mission alone was proof positive for me that BoS delivers a combat flight simulation that is deeply engaging on every level. And at the end of the mission, I actually could not wait to run through the results and check out what points I earned and what I might have unlocked! I would love to see flight results - kills and losses - added into the little sequence above which would be just enough to elevate BoS's mission handling to a much better level. But I have to say that the sim's distinctive approach to the player's role and his or her progression is something that, as a steadfast simmer, I can not only learn to live with, but to appreciate. Even if it were otherwise, to answer the question I left hanging at the end of Part 3, the depth and richness of the flying and air fighting experience delivered by BoS missions is really first class, worth coming back for more and the price of admission, on its own. Before I move on, just to cover briefly a couple of loose ends, below are the screens which show (top) on a 'Pilot card', your game profile's vital stats and (bottom) on a 'Plane card', where you stand with the unlocks for a particular aircraft, which shows both what you have unlocked, and what's left to unlock. And finally, while I haven't done any level bombing yet, here is the view from the Heinkel's Lofte bombsight, and what you see from the bombardier/navigator/airgunner position, looking back into the cockpit...which incidentally, famous test pilot Eric Brown disliked as contrary to appearances, pilot visibility was poor, dangerous in bad weather and producing a 'hall of mirrors' effect in strong sunlight. And just to be clear, missions aren't always as small-scale as the one described above. Two missions later, still flying my trusty Yak, four of us escorted six Sturmoviks on an exciting and successful low-level strike on German motor transport, ignoring a formation of 109-escorted Heinkels which were level-bombing some of our guys just over the front line. We fended off some intercepting Messerchmittts, one of which was my next kill after a difficult chase as, damaged by an early hit, he manoeuvred desperately to avoid me. That and at least one kill by a wingman was compensation for the one of our own that I knew we had lost Out of rounds I was chased towards Stalingrad by a German fighter, who gave up when a wingman rejoined me. Together we flew north back to base up the Volga, past blazing ruins in Stalingrad and the famous grain elevator, ignoring the Stukas buzzing angrily over the river. The BoS skies can be busy as well as dangerous. Perhaps only Russian developers could have recreated the time, the place and the combat so well. And so to the reckoning... Each CombatAce reviewer will have their own assessment but for me, this is a difficult one. It’s hard to avoid comparisons with other combat flight sims, especially with the original IL-2, which BoS's branding naturally invites. We do need to remember here that the original IL-2 is a product that's matured over almost exactly thirteen years of development and modding. And I think we need to take a deep breath and count to ten, before we rush to judgement on BoS's unconventional approach to some of the basics. In the developer blog, they point out that the unlocks are content that's been made available freely (albeit after 'grinding') rather than as Down-Loadable Content payware, as in RoF. It's also apparent that 1C/777 hoped or believed the unlocks would actually appeal to some players, likely including people used to 'grinding' from playing those 'other genres'. Like it or not, the BoS SP campaign approach - the unlocks, the pilot levels and awards and the lack of pilot and squadron identities - doesn't mean BoS can't deliver a solid, convincing air combat simulation experience. I find that BoS does exactly that, with considerable polish and flair in very many respects. Are the unlocks et al a show stopper for die hard fans of the combat flight sim genre? Your call, but not for me, absolutely not. The relatively recent tank sim, Steel Fury - Kharkov 1942 (SF) has no role-playing elements worthy of the name, in sad contrast to say, Panzer Elite. And SF's stock campaigns are just sets of scripted missions (with some replay variability), covering but a few weeks in May/June 1942 in a single area of operations. But once you've made a plan from the map, loaded the appropriate ammo and ordered your driver to advance, while the rounds begin to fall and the tracer starts to fly, the experience of playing the mission itself is actually very engaging. It puts you right there, leading a tank platoon into battle in a small-scale but reasonably convincing simulation of a WW2 all-arms, company-level operation. What SF does, it does more than sufficiently well, to pass muster as a top-notch tank sim, in my books and for many others. Despite limitations elsewhere. So let it be with Ceasar. Or said of BoS, in my view. Like SF, BoS lacks some features I would like to see, including some I consider quite important. Some of the features it does have, nicely implemented though they are, I'm not crazy about. However, for me, in the round, and judging first and foremost from the experience BoS delivers, upon release, of flying Eastern Front air combat in WW2 (as opposed to simply 'flying WW2 planes') this is a great new addition to the combat flight sim genre. We have a decent set of superbly-rendered aircraft (soon to be joined by an AI Ju 52) with a great feeling that you're actually flying or fighting from them. We have an historic battlefield rolled out before our very eyes, with adequate levels of ground activity, pleasing to the eyes and recreated in a depth and to a level of detail which more than compensates for the limited breadth of a single area of operations. We have the opportunity to fly small-scale but reasonably challenging and generally convincing sorties over this battlefield, as the battle itself unfolds, in its successive phases, where history, not the player's actions, determines the course of events. The air-to-air and air-to-ground action can be as visceral and exciting as any I've experienced. Sure, a little more suspension-of-disbelief-building in mission presentation (and less 'gamey' objectives and terminology) would be nice...but when you're up there in BoS, over that white-frozen but beautiful virtual landscape, in that nicely-rendered virtual cockpit, fighting for your virtual life while the war goes on around you, all other things seem somehow less important. Back down to earth, here are my pros and cons. Pros Beautifully-rendered aircraft, especially externally Great feeling of flying combat aircraft Beautiful (if snowbound!) environmentals Generally very good combat experience Good developer support & exceptional engagement Good aircrew animation Good planeset Good set of well-presented on-screen aids Ability to fly, gun or bomb 'Complex Engine Management' adds depth (if you want it) SP campaign follows the main phases of the historical battle Crisp, clean easy-to-use interface and high 'production values' Mostly, decent AI Mission Editor is opening up additional SP campaign possibilities Cons No real pilot persona or historical squadrons in stock campaign Unlocks could be handled in a more historical fashion (or opted out of) No padlock in campaign Edit - padlock IS now functioning in campaign, as of the pre-Christmas 2014 update Limited ground control/tower presence 'Gamey' terminology in some places Wingman command windows large and centred Near cloud effect interferes with aircraft rendering And since life's not all black-and-white, just to expand on the above assessment... Some room for improvement? In campaign, no ability to view your flight's results post-mission, just player's solo achievements Difficulty organising flight in making effective ground attacks Formations are sometimes small, even for the Eastern Front Aircraft could be visible further away, without icons/labels Formation-keeping - there's a certain amount of straggling Laden bombers seem a bit too agile Aircraft lack individual/unit markings Stock SP campaign mission briefings rather bland Landscape perhaps a little too bland, even for 'snowbound' Own pilot is invisible, in 1st person view Greater ability to fine-tune on-screen aids, within presets, would be useful Limited flexibility of graphics adjustment (presets) And the score? I make no allowance here for longer-term potential or the desirability of 'supporting a new product in a niche market'. Nor am I having any regard, either way, to any (sometimes rather fraught) discussions of, or opinions expressed about, BoS, elsewhere. However, I am making some allowance for: the fact that a manual is coming; the prospect of user-made campaign mission sets, which have already begun to appear; a facility to incorporate user-made 'skins' which is I believe coming; and the fact that an AI Ju 52 is definitely being produced, filling the big planeset gap. The mission editor is reported to be tricky to use and we may never get pilot logbooks; but sets of scripted missions, able at least to give the player an identity and an historical squadron, will likely see the arrival, over time, of a decent supply of at least adequate, and possibly very good, 'conventional' if not 'dynamic' Single Player campaigns, which will boost longevity. So, remembering that I'm rating only the Single Player element here, on this scale..... 5 - Must Buy - Delivers a consistently outstanding experience with minimal flaws that do not detract from the gameplay in any significant way. 4 - Highly Recommended - Delivers a fun and enjoyable experience well worth your time and money, despite some room for improvement. 3 - Recommended - Delivers a solid gameplay experience with a few irritations that occasionally disrupt enjoyment. 2 - Difficult to Recommend - Delivers some of the promised fun, but not without significant problems in the gameplay experience. 1- Not Recommended - Delivers a sub-par gameplay experience; doesn't fulfill its promises; offers more bugs than fun. ...this reviewer's final score is: 4 - Highly recommended As things stand, with a few non-critical reservations, I would recommend the new sim to any air war enthusiast and in particular, to those with an interest in the Eastern Front or in the Soviet or German warbirds which fought there. BoS should also appeal strongly to those who relish the extra realism of being able, if they choose, to manage their airscrew pitch, mixture, radiators and all the other stuff the real pilots had to handle. I have found IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad to be a detailed, well-produced, enjoyable, effective and rather beautiful evocation of the air war over and around one of the decisive battles of the Second World War. Which, I guess, is about what it set out to be. But - unlike the Stuka below - we're not quite finished here yet! Coming next - the view from the other reviewers' cockpits...including Multiplayer!

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