Golden oldie… Or is it?
I have played flight sims for a long time. I’ve played most flight sims that have been released. At least the ones with things that go boom. A while back my trusty old flight controller died, leaving me with only a MS Sidewinder that I had used up until that time only for games requiring both mouse and occasional flight control. Battlefield, Operation Flashpoint and Arma1/2 to name a few. Up until the point that my FC gave up its long life, I had played Falcon4 the most of all. It’s excellent complexity, accuracy and good dynamic campaign – in particular with FreeFalcon or similar mods applied – appealed to my love of detail and procedure.
After finally giving up on my trusty old CH FCS stick, I played Arma and similar games for a while, in lieu of more serious sims. I then decided I needed a more solid fix than these games offer. I had from time to time tried IL-2 Sturmovik of 1c Company. I now decided to give it a more serious try. It had been hanging around, not getting much use. Since the time of Pacific and European Air War I had had little interest for me.
The first iteration of IL-2 was especially uninteresting, dealing primarily with the epynomous airplane of CCCP manufacture. A heavy duty ground attack plane designed with close support duties in mind. An early forerunner of the A-10 one might say. The design gives insight into the tactical know-how of the late war CCCP war leadership. In comparison the US and UK had no specialized close air support planes until shortly after the war. A number of airplanes were successfully employed in the same role, e.g. the P-47 and the Typhoon. Both were originally designed primarily as fighters with a secondary ground attack capability. So, while the IL-2 is undoubtedly – academically – quite interesting, still a ground pounder and not so intersting to me as a subject of a flight simulator.
So I hooked up the Sidewinder, wich still works very well even in Windows 7, and installed IL-2 – 1946, i.e. the complete package. I started it up and went into the video options. No widescreen resolutions are available. Baffled, I checked the configuration file, which I found by the simple expedient of sorting the installation directory by modified date. I opened the file, found the resolution settings, and set them to 1680×1050, my preferred resolution for most games. Starting up the game, I again got black bars on either side of the screen. Maybe it was just the menu I figured and started a quick mission. Nope. This game, even patched to max, does not support widescreen resolutions. Not a good start, but I can live with it I suppose. For reference, Falcon4, patched, supports any resolution you can dream up, as long as you can find a cockpit graphic for it. I used to run it at 1920×1200 at all times.
I started a new campaign game, selecting the USMC campaign, with the first mission starting on Guadalcanal in 1942. I did a mission, base defence, and promptly waded through the horde of zeros and bettys. It seemed all other planes in the area were flown by idiots. After landing, I went into the options and turned everything to the hardest setting, and then restarted the campaign. First mission, take two, base defence. The Wildcat I was flying suddenly had stalls and damn near zero climb rate. In addition, I was last of the Wildcats in line to takeoff. The lead fighter sat on the field, revved up with flaps in takeoff positions for 3 minutes before taking off. By this time the specks in the distance had taken the form of airplanes. By the time I was in the air the lead was under attack by what seemed like 10 zeroes. Apparently he decided to ignore them and try to climb to frontal attack the incoming bettys. Things went downhill from there. I managed to down 2 zeroes in high speed frontal passes before being forced to land, triggering the mission accomplished flag.
After 10 base defence missions with precisely the same opponents, attacking from the same direction I had almost had enough. The next mission was a ground attack mission on some tanks standing compliantly in line. There was also a ship nearby, but when I went off to strafe it, the flight leader started shouting “Stay with your leader!”… repeatedly. So I ignore the ship and go back to trying to strafe tanks with .50cal MGs.
This goes on for 10 or so more missions, doing imtermittent ground attack missions and base defence. I then start escorting B-17s on bombing runs in various seemingly ground support roles and interdiction. The B-17s utilize dive bombing, yet another glaring AI flaw. 20 or so escort missions later, where I just turn on the AP at mission start, set time acceleration to maximum, and make the wife tea or something, I am starting to get fatigued by this game. The B-17s never attack anything other than neat lines of 8 tanks placed at random locations on the island. The frontline never changes position. A loose count of destroyed tanks determines that I or my allies destroy a tenth of the total number of type 95 tanks the Japanese ever had on the Pacific island campaigns. The campaign winds up suddenly after escort mission no. 21.
I start a campaign in the USN, flying F6s off the Sara, attacking targets on Palelieu. The first mission is a ground attack mission in support of troops. I’m carrying a 1k lbs bomb and 6 HVARs. Fine. I take off with some difficulty, fly to the target, bomb some random stuff, HVAR some houses and shoot down at least 4 Georges.
Something is wrong. The flight characteristics feel somewhat familiar. In fact, they feel precisely the same as the Wildcat’s that I flew earlier. I switch out of the campaign and do a quick mission in the Wildcat. Yep, they feel precisely the same. I start a mission in a P51, P38 and a few other plances. All are the same. For kicks, not really willing to beleive this, I start a game as a german flying a 109F. The P38, a two engined fighter, has the same sideslipping high-G flat stall character as the Corsair, the fighter that was designed specifically to be the smallest fighter possible to be fitted around the Wasp engine and had horrible low speed stall characteristics. This was happening at 200mph or more.
I quit in disgust. This game has been hyped by people I generally trust to have an objective opinion on games in the genre. It has been hailed as the saviour of the entire genre, in fact. I was so disappointed. The list of flaws is as long as my arm.
Many have praised the game’s excellent AI. I failed to notice any excellence in the AI to be quite honest. After a frontal pass a Zero will damn near invariably dive. From Wildcats, or later even from Corsairs and Hellcats and P38s or P51s or even from the P47, then king of divers. What in the fuck? In addition, they will do slow barrel rolls all the way to the deck, often ending up barreling into the ground or sea at the bottom of the dive. I’ve managed to do this quite a few times after running out of ammunition, chasing Georges, Zekes, Franks or whatever, right into the ground. In the later years of the war, this would have been understandable perhaps, but early on, the japanese pilots were extremely competent and well trained, often with hundreds of hours in type. My “wingmen” were no better, often ploughing right into the sea, the ground or other handy objects based in the firmament of mother earth.
The graphics are very bad. This is to be expected from an older game, but why has this not been addressed in later patches? Airplanes are colourless and lack in detail. Even the addon skins are unambitious and uninteresting. Tracers are uniform and hard to see for some reason. The ground geometry and texturing is just terrible. Truly awful. The interface is the worst I’ve seen in some time.
The controls are decent but some actions are strangely not mapped after install. One interesting shortfall is the “Release chocks”, an absolutely neccesary action when taking off from a carrier. All my flight controls were inversed, but that was quickly corrected. The problem with the chocks took more digging.
I’ve uninstalled the game now. I’m sad about it. It could perhaps have been better, but it’s not. It is mediocre in every way. The campaigns are monotonous and impersonal. The flight dynamics might look good at first, but don’t hold up under scrutiny. Every plane handles the same, only differing in small ways in speed and therefore climb and dive characteristics. What a shame.