by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
Repairing a genre
In the past few years, games have simply had to feature aeroplanes in order to be able to get away with calling themselves “flight simulators.” Being able to climb vertically without stalling, having limited rolling ability, and having to press a button in order to perform special evasive manoeuvres are all features of an arcade shooter brought into the 3D world. One of the games best known for its realism in everything from aerodynamics to ballistics is IL-2 Sturmovik. It has become the WW2 flight simulator to which all other games in the genre are compared and during this year’s Gamescom, I was lucky enough to have some hands-on time with IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle for Stalingrad and the Oculus headset. As an ex-pilot myself, I can vouch for the feeling of realism this combination gives you. The only thing missing is the feeling of being pressed into your seat during sharp turns.
Highest level of realism
February 2nd of this year marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad. It is therefore very fitting that this rebirth of a beloved franchise should bear the name in its title. To those of us familiar with the mechanics of the original, much will change. The development team wanted to bring a new level of realism and immersion into this sequel and enlisted the aid of a 91 year old decorated pilot who flew the IL-2 during the Battle of Stalingrad when he was just a 19 year old rookie. In addition to this, many documents have been declassified in the years since the release of the original IL-2, including details of tests performed on captured enemy aircraft. These documents have greatly helped the development team ensure the highest level of realism in their damage modelling, flight handling, and physics calculations.
The advances of modern computer technology have also allowed the team to make dramatic improvements on the game’s graphics. The original was released in 2001 and in my pocket I have a phone with more processing power than the computers the game was designed to run on. Although this game is far from release, everything from the planes themselves and the pilot to minute details like the dials and throttle handle look absolutely superb.
Bigger and better
Compared to many other flight simulators, the original IL-2 featured quite an impressive map in terms of size. The sequel will feature a much bigger map, encompassing the entire battlefield of the Battle of Stalingrad. Many of the iconic locations familiar to players of Red Orchestra, such as the Grain Elevator and the Red Square, will be fully rendered should you want a scenic tour or a memorable location to crash into.
Single Player Online is a term that sends shivers up many players’ backs. It reminds us of games that have forced players to stay online while playing single player games, simply in order to monitor whether their copy of it is genuine. This form of DRM is an atrocious violation of the otherwise decent relationship we consumers have with game publishers. In regards to this game, the term carries a completely different meaning. Should you chose to concentrate your efforts on AI controlled enemies, your score will still be factored into your online stats and you will have full access to the mission generation system.
By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the Oculus Rift system. It is an exciting step into a truly immersive VR environment, featuring a stereoscopic 3D display and head tracking. For a game like IL-2, it’s the perfect companion. Many first timers complain about feeling nauseous after trying it out, but I felt very comfortable. The development kit I had on was quite heavy, but the final consumer version will supposedly be much more streamlined and lightweight. The responsiveness of the head tracking feature is quite astounding and the camera turned virtually in sync with my head. Looking around the cockpit, out the window, and at my wingmen as I flew by them brought a whole new level of immersion into the game and I can honestly say that it was almost like actually being there. Flying is an activity performed while sitting in a chair with a flight stick in your hand and that is why the marriage of this game with the Oculus headset works particularly well. The only thing missing is the feeling of being pushed down into your seat at take-off and the feeling of the seatbelt holding you down as you level out.
The series has truly carved a unique name for itself within the niche genre of realistic combat flight simulators. To enthusiasts like myself, this game will be a must-have upon release. Those of us who want to experience the real thing, or at least, the closest we will get from our living rooms, will be sure to pick up the VR set along with it. I just hope they will be available as an official IL-2 bundle.