published on: 28/09/2020
Strict and accurate to it’s tradition, IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is a pure simulator, dedicated to one of the most successful and famous Russian aircraft of the time. It’s precise historical setting is the Battle of Stalingrad, in this case the air battle that took place between November 1942 and February 1943. As the player successfully completes missions, he gains experience points that allow him to access subsequent chapters of the campaign.
If you wish, you could complete the entire campaign using a single plane and always performing the same tasks, divided into six main sections: Intercept, Escort, Ground Attack, Ground Support and Bombing. The IL-2 Sturmovik, for example, can be used for ground attacks or troop support, and tasks often involve the destruction of artillery posts, columns of trucks and tanks, or trains passing through a certain area of the endless map. By selecting the powerful Russian Pe-2 ser.87 bombers and the German He 111 H-6, on the other hand, you can raze larger targets such as railway stations or cities, perhaps using the various machine gun positions leaving the flight controls to the autopilot. Light and fast aircraft such as the Messerschmitt BF 109 F-4 or Lavochkin La-5 Ser.8 are suitable for air escort and patrol missions, absolute protagonists of elegant and exciting dogfights.
What the campaign lacks tho is a hint of narrative involving and spurning the players, as the encirclement of the Sixth Army towards the city of Stalingrad continues. The almost constantly snowy, monochord setting flattens the feeling of "advance" in the countryside. It's certainly not the developers' fault if the battle took place between November and February in the rigid former USSR. Single Missions have also been further enriched, and they range from ground attacks to patrol missions, to "strike" during snowstorms or maybe at night. The variety is further expanded by the very effective quick mission editor, where the player can set and share online a whole range of parameters involving allied targets and aircraft, but also the climate, time, presence of wind, turbulence and so on. Although the global offering can still appear canonical and not particularly rich, IL-2 Sturmovik is even better as an online game, enhanced by the community and incredibly solid and realistic flight dynamics.
Unfortunately, there is no semblance of tutorials, which further exacerbates the difficulty of approach for less experienced players, especially those eager to enter the genre for the first time. Even if you select the so-called "Normal" mode, which provides a whole host of facilities for the pilot, especially for HUD and engine management, the difficulty curve is quite high and already keeping an aircraft flying is a fair success. Like any self-respecting simulator, the "dead times" spent simply flying to and re-entering the target can be very long.
IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is not a title for everyone, both for the inherent complexity and the patience it requires, and the only way to be appreciated is through a good joystick. Played in Expert mode, the title offers a hardcore challenge, where friendly fire is always around the corner -and targets on the ground must be recognized on sight, while any careless maneuver can cause a disaster.
The flight model is deep, realistic and consistent, with the aircrafts available all markedly different from each other: try a take-off with a fighter and then with a bomber, and you will find out how hard the life of the pilot can be, especially with those climatic conditions between snow on the field and strong wind. Engine start sequences, flap control, fuel mixing based on altitude, and a whole series of manual controls should be assimilated and put into practice if you do not want to end up on fire even before reaching the first waypoint.
The planes are modeled according to their original manual and their behavior is extremely faithful to the stresses they could actually withstand: a dive too fast can literally rip off the wings, just as an abrupt turn can cause a stall without the possibility of recovery. Weight also plays a key role in the physical model, where mounting bombs of a certain weight, as well as rockets or machine gun positions can make a difference in being able to perform certain maneuvers safely. Further amplifying the depth of the simulation is a sublime damage and failure system, with an extremely precise hitbox that can involve a whole range of problems in flight: from the oil that comes out of the engine, to parts that break, freeze or go up in flames, with all the consequences you can imagine.
The pilot can also be injured or killed in the air by enemy projectiles, which leave realistic punctures on the frame. Also the number of ammo is very limited and should be used dispensed with caution, with small gusts directed at sensitive parts of enemy aircraft such as the fuselage or wings. Returning home after knocking down a couple of aircraft or maybe destroying a few targets on the ground, gives great satisfaction, because taking aim is far from simple and the evasive maneuvers carried out by the CPU complicate the whole thing.
Online, the charm of the fights is enhanced thanks to numerous servers where the most passionate players organize from simple fast dogfights to long and complex missions, based perhaps on historical documentation.
Excellent from a technical point of view, especially with regard to aircraft models and lighting, the huge game map loses a bit of charm due to the background repetitiveness of the environments, almost constantly snowy.
At night, the beams of light of the anti-aircrafts revive the scenery, sometimes embellished by the presence of the Volga or particularly lush forests. As mentioned, the absolute protagonists are the aircraft, characterized by extremely detailed cockpits - especially that of the He 111 H-6-, with high-definition textures and perfectly functioning instrumentation.
If the genre has always fascinated you and you have long been waiting for a game that can give you flight and combat emotions, IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is definitely a great excuse to return to simulators, but even with all the aids activated, it remains largely out of the reach of any casual user.