IL-2 Sturmovik Review

The IL-2 Sturmovik is not a plane that conjures up much emotion among most gamers or even flight sim enthusiasts.  However, this ground attack plane was instrumental in helping the Soviet Union beat back the invading Panzers of the Third Reich during World War II.  Packed with machine guns, cannons, rockets, and bombs, the IL-2 was affectionately referred to as the "Flying Tank" by the Soviet forces and earned the nickname "Black Death" from the Germans who had to face it.  Because of the huge number of mechanized forces which clashed across the steppes of Russia during operation Barbarossa, it is not too surprising that the air war on the Eastern Front of World War II has been largely forgotten by computer game designers.  This oversight has now been rectified by IL-2 Sturmovik, and the result is an engaging, realistic, and, most importantly, fun flight simulator.

IL-2 will appeal to both occasional computer pilots and hard-core flight sim jockeys thanks to an easy to use panel that allows players to select the game's level of realism.  Having a tough time fighting engine torque and avoiding ground traffic while taking off from a crowded airfield?  Turn off the engine torque option and select another which allows you to begin your missions in the air without having to worry at all about takeoffs and landings.  Of course, if you enjoy the challenge of getting airborne while being buffeted by the winds of a thunderstorm and carrying a full bomb load, then you can select all of the game's numerous realism options.  Despite the ability to tone down the game's flight model, IL-2 is not for beginners.  It is still not easy to hit ground targets or score aerial kills, especially if the player is new to flight sims or used to racking up frags in action and arcade games.  These players may find their initial ineffectiveness in combat to be a source of frustration.  The game does include tutorials, but they are more akin to watching a training video than to hands-on instruction.  Players read instructional text and watch demonstrations of various flight and gunnery fundamentals, with only about half of the tutorials allowing players to try it on their own after watching the instruction.  The hands-on portions do not help that much, as players are left on their own to try and put into practice things they read about five or ten minutes ago.

The game's realism extends to the aircraft modeled in the game.  The various aircraft actually do fly differently.  You'll even find that a plane will handle differently when laden with bombs than when it is not fully loaded.  At times the IL-2 will really feel like a flying tank, and you'll feel like you just hopped from a delivery truck into a sports car if you fly an ME-109 immediately after.  You'll have the chance to fly a variety of aircraft on both sides of the conflict.  While the game box claims that there are 31 flyable aircraft, this is only the case if you count the IL-2M as a different plane than the IL-2.  Variants aside, the total number of aircraft flyable is more on the order of ten.

Weapon accuracy and damage are also quite well modeled.  Machine gun and cannon fire sends tracers and smoke trails all over the sky, giving the player a sense of how inaccurate these weapons are when fired over a distance from a moving and bouncing platform.  When aircraft are hit, the damage is realistically portrayed - shooting up a wing results in a steady spray of debris while scoring engine hits results in a quick and fiery demise for the target.  This realism extends to attacks on ground targets as well.  A truck convoy can be lazily dispatched by flying back and forth along the road peppering the vehicles with machine gun fire.  A tank column, on the other hand, requires some up close maneuvering to get a bomb to drop on top of a tank or to unleash a rocket salvo into its side.  You'll even be given the opportunity to attack naval targets by dive bombing, torpedoes, or trying to skip a bomb across the water's surface.

IL-2 does have a nice feature that will help beginners get a handle on combat, especially bombing runs.  In addition to the standard time acceleration modes which prevent players from falling asleep while making their way to their next objective, the game allows time to be slowed as well.  This is an invaluable tool to learning how to align the plane properly with respect to the target without having to risk stalling and dropping out of the sky or zooming wildly past the target over and over again.