IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad preview: license to crash

Whenever I watch a documentary about a World War II ace, I think to myself, "I bet I could do that." After all, I've played hundreds of hours of TIE Fighter and Ace Combat. It couldn't be that hard, could it? 

But then I sit down to play something like IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad, and I remember, "Oh yeah, just flying a plane is hard." Real planes can't turn on a dime, and they don't magically stay up in the air either. Over the course of a half dozen or more attempts, I wasn't able to record single kill, though it wasn't for a lack of trying. I was told that the flight sticks that developer 1C had on hand were a little finicky, and that the engine is still a work in progress. But you know, as much as I would like it to be otherwise, I'm pretty sure I'm just really bad at honest-to-god flight sims.

 That doesn't make Sturmovik any less compelling though. focalbox The flight sim series that got its start on PC in 2001. Battle of Stalingrad is very much for the subset of gamers who keep a flightstick and a throttle in their closet for special occasions; the ones who are still playing Falcon 4.0 after all these years. For these underserved fans yearning for the days of MicroProse and the Microsoft Flight Simulator, Battle of Stalingrad ought to be a comforting throwback to the glory years of PC flight sims (and I say this as someone who loved F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0 back in the day).
 
The bulk of the action takes place during some of the most brutal fighting of the Eastern Front, when the Germans and Russians fought almost house-to-house among the ruins, and Soviet Yaks did battle with German Messerschmitts high above the city. It's not exactly a new subject in video games, not even for Sturmovik, which has depicted the battle in the past, but the scope is much greater this time, and so is the realism. The map of Stalingrad, for instance, is roughly twice the size as the one in the original Sturmovik, and features a city accurately recreated from World War II-era photos. It also features a brand new flight engine, with planes accurately recreated from actual intelligence that was recovered after the war.



IL-2 is quite the looker

Of course, my own experience was mostly with the damage model, which admittedly remains a work in progress. The first time I drove into the ground at full speed, my plane's flaming fuselage bounced roughly 50 feet into the air before eventually coming to a rest, prompting a passing 1C representative to comment: "Never seen that before." 

When I wasn't crashing and burning, I was either tracking my opponent and trying to get on their tail, or just watching as the wind buffeted my plane. For the first time, I felt aware of how fragile these contraptions really were; not much more than a paper glider with a high-powered engine attached. Perhaps even more than the crashes, this is what I remember of IL-2 Sturmovik. 

I wish I had some more interesting stories to tell than, "I flew around for about five minutes, then I went into an uncontrolled spin and died," but honestly, that was kind of the story of the night. I wasn't alone, either. Everywhere I looked, I saw grim-faced journalists clutching their flight sticks for dear life, desperate to stay in the air. I would even say that I had more success than most

Ordinarily, I might be a little harsher on a demo in which I had a little to no success, but I'm aware of Sturmovik's pedigree, and my own limitations as a pilot. I expect that when Battle of Stalingrad is out this fall, it will be a bit more forgiving, and that the missions will consist of more than trying (and failing) to shoot down one enemy fighter. For now, it's all potential.
 
But even in it's relatively limited state, I can see reasons to be excited. Among other things, it's gorgeous, even when the ground consists of nothing but an endless snowscape dotted with the occasional house. 1C says they're building Sturmovik for the best computers on the market, and I believe it. This is also a developer that has been building strong flight sims for a while now, and I see no reason to expect that Battle of Stalingrad will break that mold.

If 1C follows through on their ambitions, then Sturmovik will once again be one of the best World War II flight sims on the market. I have faith that they can pull it off. I just hope that one day I get to be a good enough pilot to really enjoy it.