Console gamers wishing to reach for the skies have been pretty spoiled lately, with such titles like Air Combat 6 and the more recent Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. Both titles have been worthy of a flying medal or two, but now it's time for a veteran to take control, turn off the autopilot and turn the throttle up a notch, as it’s time to ditch all those modern fly-by-wire gizmos and into some real seat-of your-pants flying, dare I say it - simulation!
Have your flying goggles at the ready, as we are about to dive into a world of stall turns, props, rudders, ailerons, flat-spins, yaks and meteors. If all of these terms seem familiar to you, then you may already know about IL-2 Sturmovik and its heritage in the PC flight simulation scene. A few years ago I too was privy to this scene and I was a big fan, so it was with a smile and a raised eyebrow that I was excited to see how well IL-2 would carry over to the console platform, so with review copy in hand – chocks away!
So how well does IL-2 carry over onto the console’s tiny thumbsticks and limited control interface? We’ll, the answer is pretty well in fact. This is mostly thanks to the game's default Arcade mode that features throughout the game. First time flyers, casual gamers and novices best stick to this option if you wish to enjoy what IL2 has to offer in the game. Should you wish to venture beyond the call of duty, whilst giving yourself more of a challenge, then you can enter missions under the Realistic or Simulation modes. However, these modes come with the much-needed desire for a better control system, such as a flight stick (like the compatible Saitek Flight Stick, available for 360 and PS3).
In the Realistic mode your flying aids that previously supported you in Arcade are now reduced. Not only is it much easier to stall and enter a flat-spin (far too many times) but you’ll also be kissing a lot of foreign soil thanks to the harder enemy AI, who do very well to out manoeuvre themselves away from your sights. Simulation mode turns this experience up to eleven, as all the visual aids are also removed along with your vision being forced to the cockpit view. This means you have to control, navigate and fight purely using sight, feel and pure fighter ace skills. Controlling your plane outside of Arcade takes some getting used to as you really have to babysit every manoeuvre in fear that you will not enter into another stall turn or flat spin.
For most console gamers new to the genre you’ll find yourself chipping away at the campaign in Arcade mode, for that simple pick-up-and-play approach to the game. But don’t let this easy route put you off, as you will have a lot of enjoyment out of this game thanks to the well-planned missions, great presentation, gorgeous environments and models. This is teamed with a fantastic musical score and realistic effects that zoom, boom and wiz around your surround sound system.
The single player campaign alone will set you back a few good hours while you take to the skies fighting in The Battle of Britain and Stalingrad campaigns to missions over Sicily and Berlin. The campaign is fought in a chronological order, which helps guide the gamer through the allied involvement in World War 2, and more specifically its tales of the sky. This is helped by the gravely, yet distinguishable voice of British actor, Joss Ackland, who provides the narration and journal extracts from real-life fighting aces throughout the WW2 campaign.
The missions in the game’s campaign tip their cap towards these real-life reports, where you re-enact real allied sorties that took place during the war. Each main campaign is Introduced with real war footage captured during the period, which helps set the mood in the game and makes you feel part of the historical seat-of-the-pants flying that the allied pilots encountered.
Completing key periods in the campaign unlocks additional craft, encyclopaedia and journal extracts from the war. On top of this there are additional Single missions. These single missions feature outside the main campaign and lets you dip in and out of particular set mission types, ranging from convoy attacks to escort missions.
Coming from a prestigious PC heritage you can rest assured in the safe knowledge that each flyable craft has been perfectly modelled, from handling through to how it looks on the outside, and what a sight that is. As your craft is perforated by bullets and flak shrapnel, you soon begin to see your wings and fuselage full of bullet holes and torn canvas. This isn’t just visual either, as your handling is seriously effected too, even more so in realistic and simulation modes. Aces fighting in the Arcade mode will be able to relish the auto revive feature, should you ditch your craft into the dirt; this keeps the game’s tempo flowing at a good pace, even if it does feel a little kamikaze-like.
Outside the Single player missions and campaign you can venture into the online skies to fight against other flying aces. Sadly at his time of writing the servers where empty, but if the online following of the PC version was anything to go by, then you can expect a busy roster in the weeks to come after the game’s launch. However, whether this continues months after the game's release is down to its console adopters. Multiplayer aside though there is more than enough to keep you coming back for more, even if it is just the challenging Realistic and Simulation modes.
If unlocking trophies or achievements are your thing, then you’re well served here, as there are plenty to be earned by just playing through the single player campaign. The rest of the rewards remain locked up in the different realistic and simulation modes along with a few online ranking goals to achieve.
Looking ahead, It is uncertain at this time if DLC will be a big feature for the game. IL-2 on PC saw many modding communities build up around the game that spanned years beyond its original release, so it would be good to see something similar feature as DLC content for its console outing, perhaps even team based tournaments online.
IL-2 builds on existing simulation titles that have been landing onto consoles recently, and is probably the best combat flight simulation title I have played on consoles to date. With its stunning visuals, audio score, well structured campaign and insightful exploits from our WW2 heroes, IL-2 will certainly send any budding fighter jock into a flying frenzy.