Why so serious?
IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is a game for only the most diehard of flight-sim aficionados or the most diehard World War II fans… or a (diehard) combination of the two. Underneath the veneer of WWII combat is a plane-sim that requires delicate control, precision, and actual skill, but who has the patience for that anymore? IL-2 is both frustrating and engaging, exhilarating and boring. Someone stop me before I start quoting Dickens.
[image1]Let’s face it though, World War II games have been done, and done, and done, so when IL-2 tells you that you’re playing as Corporal Wright, you probably won’t give a flying fortress. Lt. Duncan and comrade Danilov, the other player characters, are going to fly under your radar too.
The radio chatter is unintelligible and garbled, and therefore meaningless. All objectives are clearly labeled on your HUD and on the map, though discerning key objectives and secondary targets can be a little difficult. Commanding officers could have been ordering me to get them a sandwich, but I certainly didn’t hear it.
For a game that includes a little picture-in-picture kill-cam (did they have those in WWII?), the radio static is just too frustrating. Even when you turn on the subtitles, they take up too much screen real-estate and go by too fast. For a game that prides itself on realism, there are plenty of elements that violate that sensibility. All of the on-screen directors keep you on target, but without hearing the urgency of the matter, I might as well be playing Battleship.
Ground units seem like little tiny bugs, and enemy fighters and bombers break apart into chunks. Little graphical touches like these lend themselves to the overall visual experience. If you’ve punctured an enemy and their craft is smoking, flying through the smoke will splatter the HUD with engine oil. The corners of your vision fade to black, adding to the IL-2‘s dark style. You could argue that IL-2 gets a little two brown and grey, but Gaijin Entertainment doesn’t disappoint on the visuals and they really draw you in from battle to battle.
[image2]My real guff with the soundtrack is that it breaks the experience. The same music repeats from mission to mission, as well as across all menu screens and loading screens, which are just lazy screenshots of the game’s title slapped on each and every one. Hey Gaijin, how would you like it if I just went around slapping ‘F’s on all the reviews I wrote? That’s what I thought….
The meat and potatoes of this battle to Berlin are the flight controls, which range in difficulty from Arcade to Simulator. Arcade isn’t exactly a walk in the park, but at least the plane doesn’t spin out all the time like it does on Realistic and Simulator. I guess I don’t have "the touch". With all of the different tutorial missions, it’s possible to learn the nuances of when the plane is going to stall or how to maneuver tightly without… jamming on the stick. Giggle at my wording all you want, but completing all of the story missions and the extra "single missions" on Realistic or Simulator is going to require a lot of dedication.
The different control schemes don’t alter the mission parameters as much as they alter the way you control your craft. You aren’t even required to blow up every single enemy unit from mission to mission. You have the choice of continuing the fight after completing primary objectives, but secondary objectives consist primarily of returning to base and landing. How am I supposed to work out all my nerd testosterone if I’m not tasked with taking every single Jerry straight to hell with me?
More planes, missions, and encyclopedia articles unlock as you play and lend a lot to keeping the player involved. This is good because a few of IL-2‘s story missions can be serious milk runs, which is just nice WWII lingo for "They were boring and they sucked."
[image3]Other things you could describe as a "milk run" in IL-2 include the encyclopedia entries, the old war footage that runs during the campaign, the voice-overs during that footage, and landscapes you fly over.Too much of IL-2 can be described as factual and stiff. When you fail a mission, the game states: "This time you failed to carry out your orders. Try again." I’d hope someone over at Gaijin has seen Patton, but this is not the way you inspire the couch potato troops.
IL-2 is a tough bird to land. Mediocre and failing audio are only counterbalanced by great visuals. While the controls are solid and deep, you’ve got to want the simulator experience to enjoy it. Unlocks are bountiful but some missions don’t really make you feel like you’ve earned them. Still, if you have even a passing interest in flight combat games, IL-2 is worthy of your time.