December 30th, 2014 by Bone Head
Review by NS-IceFire.
1CGS’s IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad is a successor product to the original IL-2: Sturmovik series that has dominated the PC World War II flight simulator market for the better part of a decade and a half. Does the new entry in the series measure up to its predecessor? The answer is both yes and no.
What you get
There are two versions of the simulator available for online purchase. The Standard edition is $59.99 USD and includes the core of the game including quick mission builder, single player campaign, and multiplayer modes plus 8 aircraft. The Premium jumps up in price to $99.99 and adds two additional “special” aircraft to the set.
The Battle of Stalingrad is a key World War II battle and 1CGS have created a huge 385 x 230km map including significant parts of the battle area including Stalingrad itself and huge stretches of territory both east and west as well as a narrower section to north and south of the city. Everything from Set from November 1942 to March 1943 – basically you have the major pieces like Operation Uranus, the air bridge campaign and the final liberation of the city. Expect a lot of snow!
The aircraft set is well chosen with the specific types and variants that flew during the battle. The Russian side gets the IL-2 AM-38 (both with and without the field modified rear gunner seat), LaGG-3 Series 29, Yak-1 Series 69, and the Pe-2 Series 87 (and Series 110 with the modified rear gunner station).
For the German side we have the Bf109F-4 and Bf109G-2, Ju87D-3, and the He111H-6. All contemporary types and sub variants that fought in the battle. If you opt for premium then you get the La-5 Series 8 (first introduced during the Battle of Stalingrad and the FW190A-3 (introduced on the Eastern Front during this time period but not at the Battle of Stalingrad specifically).
All of the vehicles, artillery, tanks, and trains are historically and faithfully recreated. The important landmarks of Stalingrad circa late 1942 are there including the infamous tractor factory and scenes that any Red Orchestra infantry player might find familiar – just rendered from up high in the sky.
For the history nut (like me), this is a great collection of pretty much everything that is essential to this battle. The glaring omission to the aircraft set is the Ju52 transport aircraft that played such a key role during the air bridge scenario. Developers have shown the aircraft in development and we expect to see that sometime in 2015.
7/10 – Good value for the money but this is an expensive product if you go for the Premium version. Two extra planes for $40 is not great value. Recent holiday sale prices make the extra aircraft more reasonably priced so jump on those when a sale comes up if you can wait.
Flight Modeling, Damage Modeling, Sim Stuff
Battle for Stalingrad really shines on the simulator side of things. The feeling and sensation of flight with the physics engine they have implemented for this game engine is superb. I’m not a technical expert in this area but the developers claim to have developed the flight system from highly detailed technical reports and using methods similar to those of what you might see in Eagle Dynamic’s Digital Combat Systems (DCS) more recent additions to that series.
The aircraft feel like they have weight, you almost feel as if they are cutting through the air and that the air is pushing back. There is a distinct feel to each aircraft and the historical strengths and weaknesses are all there. It’s everything you would expect from a modern flight simulation and although there have already been concerns about some areas of the performance modeling or the handling – the core technologies really do shine here. These issues will be worked out in time.
My impression is that this flight model takes things a step further than anything you might have seen in IL-2 1946. It is really quite impressive overall.
Damage modeling is highly detailed with individual components failing due to battle damage and misuse. Wings crumple, fold, and break apart in a convincing manner and gun ballistics are all there. Some of the most impressive damage I’ve seen is in the crash landings where pieces bend or break depending on how great an impact was sustained. There are also great moments where you hit your target with a cannon shell and at first it appears as if nothing has happened but then slowly you see the wing begin to deform and then the whole thing comes apart. Spectacular!
9/10 – It really feels like you’re flying along and that is easily half the battle with a flight simulator.
Graphics & Sound
Battle for Stalingrad also really shines in the graphical department and not too many people are going to be disappointed here.
Aircraft are faithfully modelled from a visual standpoint and they are beautiful both inside and out. If you look strictly at 3D object and texture quality, IL-2 Cliffs of Dover still has an edge here with slightly more detailed aircraft, but Battle of Stalingrad is very close.
Shadows and lighting effects, not to mention some of the more sophisticated particle and fire effects, are also really impressive. Just look at the screen shots that are part of this review or that are out there (full disclosure: mine are taken at the second highest graphical setting). A sunrise or sunset with banks of clouds, a little snow and that golden hour shine in your cockpit is easily one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had in a video game.
The sound is equally impressive. There are some sounds that could be slightly better but there is definitely an authenticity to everything. The whine off the Bf109s supercharger is there and the harsh sounding M-105 engine stands in stark contrast. The AM-38 on the IL-2 has a beautiful purring sound and the ASh-82 and BMW radials capture their distinct character very well. Gear drops, flap systems, bomb releases and so forth are all there and they sound a lot better than the stock sounds in the old IL-2 1946.
I have a constant reoccurring problem where I don’t hear impact effects on my own aircraft. So sometimes I will be hit and have no idea despite the hit being from a 20mm cannon. This is experienced by some but not all players and it seems to be a bug.
9/10 – Graphics and sound are superb although missing impact effects for some players is a notable problem.
This review probably sounds pretty upbeat so far and that is because as a simulator product, IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad really shines. It has the fidelity and the historical attention to detail that you need for this type of product. Where Battle for Stalingrad has serious problems is more on the game side of the equation.
The campaign and multiplayer are the areas where things tend to fall apart. I’m going to be honest and say that I actually like the concept behind the campaign. The designers have created something that is easy to jump in and play.
When you start up a campaign you have the 6 phases of the Stalingrad battle with historical front lines and bases. You pick your plane, your preferred mission, and then the whole thing is generated dynamically. This is a great way to get into a mission and experience the battle in a short amount of time – and that time is often pretty tight for many of us these days.
Unfortunately, the missions at present tend to be repetitive at their base level. An intercept mission plays out basically the same way each time and the ground attack, ground support, bombing, and escort missions do too. The briefings provide all the necessary detail but are also very mechanical. There are a few waypoints (takeoff, midway to the action, action point, midway home, and landing) in each mission type and that is pretty typical of a campaign mission. The one thing that saves this from a boring monotony is the random events generated on the way. You may be on a ground attack mission but a formation of enemy bombers with escorts may fly overhead.
Dynamism in each mission aside, there is no investment in squadrons or wingmen and it’s hard to have that feeling of what being on the front really is like. It’s definitely missing that human factor that could have propelled it to the next level. The approach overall is valid but a few extra layers adding squadron/aircraft combinations (with the historically appropriate JG and IAP and GvIAP units for example) would have been a great way to add to the experience.
Any investment in your own pilot is done through a leveling progression system whereby additional equipment and skins for your aircraft are unlocked. Your pilot levels up (like in a RPG) and the equipment for your aircraft and skins are unlocked by scoring XP points playing through missions and accomplishing your goals. None of the unlocks are strictly necessary but some players find this a chore.
Worse yet is that you can’t do the unlocking of these extra pieces of equipment in competitive multiplayer like you might with Call of Duty or Battlefield – you have to do this in the Campaign mode. For players who spend their time exclusively online, this is a critical decision as it forces them to grind through a single player experience they don’t want. Simulator pilots that are used to a more sandbox approach aren’t going to like this and I’m not convinced more casual gamer types are going to appreciate this much either. If Multiplayer and/or Campaign mode contributed in the same way then I think this would be less of an issue.
Speaking of catering to different types of gamers and Sim pilots, there are two levels of difficulty. Normal and Expert take care of some of these needs. They both have similar difficulty level when it comes to flying the aircraft so the simulation level is there no matter what mode you’re in. Where the two really differ is in the helpers involved. In normal mode you can play with just the basics like throttle, flaps, gear, guns, and so forth and a kind of AI system manages the rest. With Expert mode you also need to worry about engine RPM, fuel mixtures and supercharger settings and these vary with aircraft and engine involved. Normal is good for taking care of more casual players but it’s not going to simplify down to the same level as the War Thunder Arcade mode might – this is still a serious simulation. Expert mode is considerably more difficult but it also doesn’t go down to the level of detail as a DCS module like the A-10C might although I’d say it’s still pretty close.
The QMB mode is ideal for quick action and although it is fairly simple, it has all of the features that you’d need to get a quick dogfight going and it’s often my go-to for a quick dogfight.
5/10 – The campaign system itself has potential but is hindered by an unwanted unlock system and repetitive mission types. Multiplayer unlocks being tied to the single player campaign unlocks are a poor design decision.
IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad is an essentially near bug free release with a great simulation engine and excellent flight dynamics and historical detail. Its game elements are less well implemented and the campaign’s predictable missions could use more variety. The unlock system is highly controversial.
Battle of Stalingrad has great potential. It can’t yet take the crown from its predecessor having neither the scope nor the flexibility of the past title but it has a solid technological base with a great selection of aircraft that they could expand on from here. 1CGS hasn’t revealed future plans just yet but we have seen some very early development images of a MC.202 and a Ju52 (non-flyable). A future I-16 addition has all but been confirmed so more content is likely to come and community issues are hopefully going to be addressed as time goes on.
With some design changes Battle of Stalingrad could be an excellent successor product with all of the pedigree of a simulator we might still be playing ten years from now. It’s not clear if that will be the case but Battle of Stalingrad is a good, if sometimes rocky, start.
Overall score: 7.5 – An authentic World War II combat simulator held back by some of its more “gamey” features.
All screen shots taken at the High detail level (there is one higher) on a four year old gaming rig (Core i7 870, 12GB of DRR3-1333 RAM, nVidia GTX 570 1GB.