Out of all the video game genres out there, the flight simulation niche seems to be one of the least popular for variety. In the modern times, we’ve have the various flight simulators released by Microsoft and a few similar approaches, but outside of that there’s not been too many epics out there on to take to the skies in. The problem seems to be a lack of realism, or a lack of features.
It can be quite an issue for trying to get yourself in the mood for being a pilot, or for taking on something you’ll probably never be able to do. For those who feel frustrated when they come across something like this, giving the latest release by 1C RG Studios, IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad, might be worth your time.
It was initially released in December 2013, albeit in a beta mode, before finally being released in October 2014. It follows on from the legacy set by the critically acclaimed IL-2 Sturmovik series, that has gone on to become one of the few established titled outside of the big flight simulators. This latest installment takes you deep into the heart of Russia, and gives you a chance to witness a whole new style and quality thanks to serious improvements to just about everything within the game.
This was the 11th edition that was released for the IL-2 Sturmovik series, and gave everything a major revamp by transporting to a whole new game engine. The series itself has been running for more than a decade, with the first release away back in 2001. Although the original company, Maddox Games, went bust the series has proceeded to live on through 1C RG Studios and 777 Studios.
Since then, they’ve come a long way and the latest release, The Battle of Stalingrad¸ changes just about everything that you might expect to see if you’ve played the originals. This brings a whole new level of quality in the overall presentation and style of the series, but furthermore it ramps up the overall gameplay value that you will receive from putting the time in to give this a shot.
But how good is it? Are the battles realistic enough? Does it perform as it should? How realistic is it?
What’s It About?
First off, if you are new to the world of Sturmovik then you’ll be quite taken aback by the style of the gameplay. You can’t legitimately play this wih a traditional mouse and keyboard, either. You need to play with a joystick, so if you have picked this up and can’t seem to get going it’ because you’ll need to invest in a good joystick to get yourself playing properly. Whilst you can use a mouse and keyboard, it will severely dampen the experience and also make your entire flight far more difficult than it has to be.
It transports you into the era of 1943-1943, and does so in stunning detail. The game itself transports you – within single player campaigns – into the historical warzone of the skies of Stalingrad, one of the most decisive points of the entire Second World War. You’ll be asked to go up against either Russians or Germans depending on what aircraft you fly.
The battle of Stalingrad is one of the bloodiest wars that took place within the whole conflict, and lasted for just over five months. It’s widely considered to be the point in the war where the tide turned in the favor of the opposition of the Germans.
Would you rather fight alongside the Russians and help oppress German attacks? Or do you want to be in the Axis aircraft leading the assault? The choice is entirely yours, giving IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad a whole new feel compared to many Second World War titles that only give you access to the Allies.
The entire project takes place between the Operation Uranus and the surrender of the 6th Army. Operation Uranis was the name of a Soviet strategic operation, which led to a calculated attack on German forces that cut off a large chunk of their forces in and around Stalingrad. Without this operation, the Russians may have lost the lines quicker and been subject to a far more difficult fight – perhaps an unwinnable one – against the Germans.
Are you ready to join up and witness history? Then you watch one of the most punishingly realistic events in aviation history take place in can front of you. The entire campaign focuses on this plotline and is accurate with facts and details, so if you are here for a history lesson as well as an aviation experience you’ll be happy to know that this iteration of the Sturmovik series delivers this to you in spades!
How To Install
Installation is incredibly simple – all you need to do is download the setup program. This will give you access to their own little loader file (if you have ever played any game from Blizzard, for example, you’ll know what to expect) that will download the files directly to your PC.
It automatically checks the game before it starts to ensure it’s up to date, and then all you need to do is hit the big red ‘Play’ button and enjoy yourself!
Also, you can use the original launcher to get to help with things like;
- Adjusting in-game settings
- Getting support through the official team
- Visiting the forums for help, discussion and mods
- Update your version of the game if need be
The setup process couldn’t be any simpler, which makes it nice and simple addition for anyone who is struggling to get things going when they first install this. Remember that this is now available on Steam, too, which will handle everything above through its own launcher system rather than the independent one created for the game itself.
Once the game starts, you’ll be prompted to log into the official servers provided by 1CGS. You’ll then be brought to the main menu where you can actually do something in-game like fly.
Additionally, you can edit your settings and your own profile from in here as well as check out your flight record.
Think you’ve been flying well? You’ll be able to check out just what targets you’ve been hitting from this simple to use loading menu screen. The menu gives you access to everything that you might possibly need to get the party started, and allows for simple and easy configuration of the entire game whether its offline or online.
You can also get it on Steam here.
How Does It Look?
Despite the fact that this game, now powered up with the fantastic creators of the Rise of Flight sim which documented the First World War in incredible detail, is incredibly easy on the eye it’s also quite easy on the hardware as well. if you’ve been put off buying this game because it’s fairly new and you aren’t sure if you can handle it, then the minimum requirements may shock you. It’s capable of running in a high resolution with all the nuts and bolts added without going into some kind of lag-fit, so you can get a consistent FPS rating despite having this on the higher setting levels.
However, one of the most common complaints about the release is despite the high levels of detail in the aircraft and the general quality of textures, the landscapes feel a little dull. Alright, it’s set during a war in a winter landscape but the world that you fly over feels very poor in terms of life and population at times. The lack of additional action going on around you might be one of the reasons why the game runs so smoothly, but it’s also one of the things that hold it back from going mainstream in our opinion.
The map is so bland at times that it can be easy to lose your bearings and not have a clue where you are actually going – realistic, maybe, but we would imagine that even the war-torn areas around Stalingrad would have had some life going on around them. Instead, this feels fairly lifeless at times which can make the whole thing feel a little flat from time to time.
The fact that the world is pretty much universally incased in ice does not help, of course, but it does remove from the overall quality of the presentation.
However, it looks outstanding close-up, especially the level of detail on the aircraft inside and out. They all feel accurate to the finest little addition and this can go some way towards helping you settle into the game a bit more and start to truly enjoy it for all that it’s worth.
However, to return to the poor return in graphical value we mentioned above, all of the towns and airfields look pretty much identical. This is a big disappointment for us, as it really blunts the stunning quality that you’ll find in the overall design of the aircraft.
It’s one of the most impressive factors of the game, yet for all the praise the developers are due for the quality of the aircraft they lose equal amounts of face for the clear cut lack of variety and style within the surrounding areas and hills. Stalingrad, as a key location of the war, should probably have been a bit more varied in its designs – especially some of the key airfields within the region, of which you’ll take off from and not really know what it was supposed to be.
The graphics are good in patches, but overall they let you down a little bit.
As mentioned before, this game is fairly hardcore in terms of the level of awareness you need to have at any time about what’s going on in front of you. Thankfully, for the new to the series, you can take on the much appreciated series of modifications that are available for you to pick from. This lets you adjust all of the control styles that you need to make sure that you feel comfortable with what you’ll need to be pressing at any one time.
In terms of aircraft, you’ve got a fair amount of selection to pick from including;
- LAGG-3 series 29
- Yak-1 series 69
- IL-2 AM-38
- Pe-2 series 87
- LA-5 series 8
- Bf 109 F-4
- Bf 109 G-2
- Ju 87 D-3
- He 111 H-6
- Fw 190 A-3
You’ll be provided with three game experiences to pick from when you first start up – easy mode, normal mode, and expert mode. Easy mode is a bit easier, and gives you a far more traditional heads up display. It’ll point out a lot of things for you like who is fighting for who, where you need to go etc. if you want to play a strong flight simulation experience that lets you get into the thick of battle then his mode might be for you.
Normal modes gives you a fairly balanced experience – it allows you to add and remove certain features to ensure you get a more balanced version that gives you a challenge without also making your brain hurt. It also means that you don’t need to go to the super challenging expert mode without being prepared, and allows a nice move from easy.
However, for those who want the full flight simulation experience you might want to look into trying out expert mode instead. It really takes away everything giving you something a bit more alike what an actual pilot would be coming up with, and makes it far more realistic.
It all depends on what you are looking for, really. You’ll be spending a lot of your time messing around with this interface and gameplay experience until you get something you like. Some complain that the easier modes are a bit too ‘arcade’ but if you aren’t looking for something quite so heavy on the sim experience; you are easily capable of changing to this.
When you do decide to try it out at the most difficult style, though, you’ll be able to do it with ease. You have total control over what kind of hints and help you get, too, so the gameplay experience is something that you’ll have full control over.
For most users, the main thing that they will get involved with is the campaign mode. It’s the “bread and butter” of the series and is where most of the developmental love has gone in. If you aren’t a campaign player then you might find the whole experience a little bit limited, however. Because most of the content in the game is linked to your single player performance, you’ll need to be prepared to put in the hours to get good enough to unlock everything within this.
When you start a campaign mission, you’ll be starting either in the air or on the ground – the choice is entirely yours. The campaign is built around five different chapters that take you through various parts of the campaign, including the Uranis campaign right up to the end. You’ll start off by picking your side of the war, your aircraft and even the airfield you’ll start from. Then, the game will generate the mission to correspond with the chapter you have chosen.
Typically, the game opens up the next chapter after five or so victorious missions. You can, however, keep going back and playing as many randomly generated missions as you like. You have total freedom over which part of the war you are going to take in, making it so much easier to boost replay value of the campaign. This lets you try out the campaign for various perspective both in terms of what side you are on, and what kind of aircraft that you’ll be taking into battle.
Whilst most campaigns in games today are a lot of run, they tend to lack value in terms of going back again and again. This takes away that problem in stunning fashion and makes it much easier to keep going throughout the same chapter long after you first finished it.
The campaign briefing is nice and simple, and takes just a few minutes to go through. You’ll get a brief bi of information about what you’ve to do, and then you just get in the cockpit and fly! The only problem here, though, is that this is when the lack of static maps and objectives become a problem.
You’ll just feel like you are taking part in lots of normal battles, skirmishes. There are no historical events, no photographs of facts to make the whole thing a lot more realistic. For those who want to play a campaign that will really give you all the facts and figures of each individual part of the battle, you might be left a little bit disappointed.
The criteria for success in the campaign is incredibly simple and makes it much easier to shoot through each part of the game in relatively no time at all once you get used to the style of each aircraft. However, the positive to this kind of simple criterion is that if you don’t like the mission that was generated you can simply try again.
Get something a bit too similar to the map that you just cleared? Then you can easily swap to something a bit more effective. Sometimes, you’ll get an incredibly deep mission with massively challenging waypoints that will make sure you need to do far more than the basics. For example, a common campaign mission is invading an enemy airfield – this can be incredibly exciting.
You’ll need to approach the whole thing differently to a basic dogfight, and makes you really take a far more measured approach to your battle strategy. If you want a higher level of tactics to be required, then the campaign can be an absolute godsend for you.
The realism factor is a big issue for some people, as the dogfights that you get involved are limited in size. Whilst each plane you come up against is almost as smart as a human competitor, it makes it a bit harder to get involved with when you don’t have the massive numbers you would have expected to see from a Second World War flight simulator.
However, it has been shown that many smaller skirmishes did take place due to lack of resources around this time so maybe we can let the designers away with it this time!
Another common gripe with fans is that you don’t get a huge amount of ability to take on different aircraft. You’ll find that even the ground targets are quite similar in style and design across both sides, and this can leave you with a limited selection of structures to attack. Wars revolve around taking out things like oil tankers and ammo depots, not just lots of the same ten things over and over again!
In terms of squad AI, they can be very good but be prepared to have to send commands to wing-men a few times to get them to truly respond to you properly! Overall though, the realism factor is boosted by just how good the actual aircraft perform in the skies. If you want to really enjoy yourself, it becomes incredibly simple just by not letting all the tiny things that are missing get in the way of what is a very in-depth flight experience.
The multiplayer aspect of this game is one of its more impressive, allowing you to get involved with ease. You’ll games both through Steam and through the servers if you don’t play it through Steam, so getting a game online should be very simple if you look around enough.
You get the typical game styles to pick from – team deathmatch variants mainly. If you look around you’ll find some third-party additions that let you take to the skies and take on capture the flight style rules. If you find the deathmatch a bit dull after a while, this is well worth looking into if you want to find something unique.
Typically, servers have a limit of 32 people per server although there were murmurs of this being increased in the future. Dogfights are 16v16 at the moment, then, meaning that whilst you can get a good fight on the go it’s not the madness of other flight games in the past that allowed for much more crammed fighting in the skies.
Be warned though – the servers are full of campers. They’ll just swarm around your airfield waiting for you to re-spawn and take off. Then, you’ll be promptly shot out of the sky. This can be quite frustrating and lead you to finding new servers fairly regularly. This might be an irritating for those who are more honorable gamers, but for anyone who is used to a bit of online banter it’s not too bad.
You can also team up with a friend who can ride with you in a bomber, allowing you to both work together to keep the enemy off you whilst taking out key positions. This adds a bit more magic to the whole affair, making it a lot more fun to be engaged in than you might have originally thought. Whilst the online is still being developed at the moment and it’s not exactly brimming with options, it’s more than good enough for those who want a simple flying experience that’s quite enjoyable.
One of the features that we never mentioned in any great detail until now is the epic experience system – it’s one of the biggest draws of the game, and really gives it a much greater overall feeling than without it. To actually progress in the game and unlock new stuff, as intimated earlier, you’ll need to do well in the campaign. You don’t just get access to all the mods, all the planes and all the stages – you need to earn them!
This is something that we feel adds an incredible level of replayability to the entire occasion. Once you start unlocking things they can be used in quick flight skirmishes as well as online. Every flight that you take part in will be evaluated, giving you all of the help that you need to see where you are going wrong and what has to be improved upon for your next flight above Stalingrad!
All of these modifications are historically accurate, so you won’t be flying some magical version of these famous aircraft that are found in the game
The game itself comes with a fairly enjoyable campaign that can be a bit basic, yet still gives you enough random changes and additions that can make it pretty fun to play for the long-term
Typical online gaming experience that’s plenty of fun to be involved in, if a little bit limited
Quality graphics that go above and beyond the call of duty in some areas, let can let the whole atmosphere of the game down with a lack of detail in certain parts of the game
Huge attention to detail to the sounds of each of the 10 aircraft that are usable within the game, as well as authentic damage that will be noticeable to the aircraft as the battle progresses
Handy parachutes so that you don’t need to be a casualty!
Massive map that spans an incredible 358 x 230 km. This is the largest representation of the Battle of Stalingrad that any virtual environment has ever seen
Sure, there are plenty of little chinks in the armor that take away from the entire experience a little bit, but what do you expect? This is overall one of the most refreshing additions to the flight simulation community in quite some time.
Not only does it add a whole new layer of quality to the original releases in the series, but it adds to one of the richest aviation environments that humanity has ever seen. Whilst nobody wants to actually be involved in war, being able to get right into the heat of the action in such stunning detail is always worth trying out!
The overall design of the game itself is very impressive if you weren’t expecting an absolute gluttony of features and additions, either. The fact that the game itself was nearly bug free on release is a nice plus as well, especially given the length of development time. This means that those who are just getting started out will be pleased to know that they’ll be playing a game with a minimal amount of bugs throughout.
The performance of the game is very strong, too, although as we touched on it’s probably down to the miniscule detail. Whilst it’s easy to see why the game was so minimal in its design, it can become a little bit hard to accept when you see the contrast in the aircraft and the actual realism of the aircraft.
For anyone who wants to fly an aircraft that feels authentic to the timeline its set in, you’ll get what you need here. For those who want an aircraft simulation that makes everything feel pretty awesome, and really brings the world around you to life, this might not be your best bet. It’s fairly limited in presentation and concentrated far more on the realism and authenticity in the cockpit than in the world around you.
We'd say that whilst IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is a very entertaining piece of software, it’s not quite got the same level of quality as the Microsoft Flight Simulation series in terms of detail to the world. However, for a combat simulator that blows its opposition out of the sky, there aren’t too many better to start looking into than this series.
You might not get to fly a Tornado or use any of the aircraft we have available today, but you'll be pushed to the limits tactically and really need to resort to your piloting expertise to be successful!