The original Il-2 Sturmovik, released in 2001, was an extraordinary game. The original Sturmovik featured fantastic detail, spectacular graphics (at the time) and a varied selection of aircraft to pilot and to boot it focused on WWII's Eastern Front, something that had not received much attention in any WWII game. After it's successful release Sturmovik's developers, Maddox Games, turned their efforts to creating an expansion pack. However, this said expansion grew and grew and Maddox announced that the expansion pack they were developing had in fact turned into a fully fledged sequel to IL-2 Sturmovik. It's name? Il-2 Sturmovik: The Forgotten Battles. Did the switch from expansion pack to sequel work? The Forgotten Battles is really more like an expansion to those who already own the original but it is definitely the biggest, most feature-packed, updated expansion I have ever played. The Forgotten Battles may not be what Sturmovik fans were hoping for in a sequel but it has a lot of things going for it and for those without Stumovik it is a chance to be introduced to a larger, more polished, more structured IL-2 Sturmovik.
Gameplay - 7.5/10:
The Forgotten Battles includes nearly everything from the original Sturmovik, all the planes and maps are there but, thankfully, the original missions and campaigns have been shown the door. One of the major problems with the original Sturmovik was the very poor campaign system and thankfully it has been ditched in favour of a new one. The Forgotten Battles now offers 20 new single-player missions along with 10 multi-player missions that vary from missions of defense, escort, bombing raids, air superiority and much more. Enemy AI is exceptionally good and you will be presented with a challenge on every mission.
Unlike the original you can now chose to fly as the Finns and the Hungarians as well as the Russians and the Germans. Each side is portrayed accurately with national insignia and so forth and each side speaks their respective language. A nice little touch. You also take control of the Americans in one mission but I won't spoil it for you. While these single-player missions are of good quality, varied and exciting they do suffer from some minor problems. Load times is the major one, with times exceeding to minutes for even the mightiest computer. There is also the occasional cough and splutter during the game as more data is processed, once again, even on higher-end CPUs and 3D chips.
Built into the game is a full mission editor and a quick mission builder that lets you craft a variety of air engagements and air-to-ground engagements. In the quick mission builder, you are given several variables which you can configure yourself, such as the type and number of friendly and enemy aircraft, their loadouts, the AI skill level, starting altitude, weather, objectives and more. As a bit of damper you only get three maps to play this quick missions on, no new ones either, these maps are recycled from the original.
Thankfully, the campaign system has been revamped for The Forgotten Battles (Yes, yes, you can stop your cheering now...). What we now have is a dynamic mission generator. At the beginning of the campaign you choose which side you want to fly for, the starting year and region of your campaign and the general type of plane you wish to fly. Before you get too excited, this new campaign system does have its problems and sadly they were seen in the original Sturmovik as well. First off, you will have to test your patience against some stupidly long load times. The next major issue is attuned to the heavily realistic nature of the game. You may find yourself having to travel upwards of 100 kilometres just to get to your objective! Thankfully, someone was nice enough to include time-compression and autopilot making it not so much of a problem more an inconvenience. Missions in the single pilot's career also start to get repetitive and similar very quickly. Overall, however, you do get a lot of variety through all the different career paths available.
Mission briefings seem like very bad Hollwood B-Movie dialogue to make a comparison. Briefings are also very simple when it comes to the statistics of the mission which tends to drive some of the atmosphere away. The AI of your wingmen is also a little jittery, not as nicely refined as enemy AI. I've witnessed too many a time where my wingmen have decided to go for a wander and never return, release their payload, way, way too early or charge into the heart of enemy flak fire under some false sense of bravado.
One of The Forgotten Battle's greatest strengths is multi-player, either online or on a LAN. You can choose to play adversarial or cooperatively on some thrilling new maps. The one major problem with multi play is on the internet portion which is not a direct fault of the game - you have to use Ubi Soft's match-making service which at best is laggy and slow and frequently disconnects you from games. Because of these problems there is only a small number of people using Ubi's service. Never fear though, as after talking amongst the IL-2 crowd the place to play online is a place called Hyper Lobby, http://hyperfighter.jinak.cz/, the ultimate haven for IL-2 players wanting to play online. If you want to play IL-2 or TFB online this is the place to be.
One thing players will quickly notice is the huge array of planes, most of them available to fly. You'll fly planes such as the title named Soviet IL-2, the P-47D, the Stuka dive-bomber and countless others. The variety of planes that you can either fly or go up against is mightily impressive. They are also wonderfully modelled and beautifully textured, but more on that later.
One of the new features in The Forgotten Battles is the ability to pilot multi-station bombers. Not only can you pilot these massive things but operate the bombsights and take control of all of the gun turrets. The AI steps in to help by taking control of any station not occupied by a human player. It is an exciting and exhilarating fare to command of these beasts, something that I can only wish more was included.
Flight models are convincing with several options available to heighten or lessen the realism of the flight model and other aspects of flight in general. Those not wanting to fly ultra-realistically, which requires much practice and comes with a very steep learning curve, are easily catered for. Those wanting that extra bit of realism will be happy to see that several options have been included especially for the hardcore aviation fan such. Most notable is the inclusion of advanced engine management which allows players to alter the richness of the mixture, change the supercharge stage and much more. While on the whole it doesn't drastically affect the core game play those who have the patience and time to learn how to use it will find it invaluable and greatly welcomed. Unfortunately, the manual does not do a fantastic job of documenting many of the advanced features making that learning curve just a bit steeper.
How does The Forgotten Battles look? Put simply, damn beautiful. While based on the existing Il-2 Sturmovik engine used in creating the original, it has been updated, modified and changed so much and it looks and acts that so much better. The visual splendour of an aerial dogfight is wonderfully portrayed. The lick of machine gun fire cuts through the air, coloured tracers fill the sky, the explosion of rockets are lively and believable.
Planes also take damage realistically, debris will come off while taking damage cutting open large chunks of the aircraft. You can see them riddled with holes, burning with plumes of smoke radiating from them. Planes explode, either in the air or by slamming into the ground, in spectacular fashion. Basically, the whole plane is destructible. There is nothing more disconcerting that seeing the better half of your right wing disappear only to spot it a second later plummeting to the ground below.
The models are extraordinarily detailed both inside and out and look superb with equally detailed textures. 3D cockpits are recreated authentically and with stunning results. They are also animated and not static. The actual aircraft models are truly something to behold, even more so as you see them get shot up, blown up and or crash.
The Forgotten Battle's graphics don't stop at the aircraft models and effects either. Terrain is equally beautiful. Cities and large open farmlands are wonderfully recreated. The sun reflects of the water of a lake or river. Clouds look fantastic, looking at them from a distance or inside them looking out. Red-outs, black-outs glare from the sun, lens flares are all reproduced accurately.
The go with the excellent visuals is some fine audio as well, although it suffers from some problems. Those with a good soundcard and speaker set up will be in for a treat. Engine sounds are convincing with a dull, heavy sound to them. Gun fire is strong, as it should be. Dialogue is clear and, as said before, in each respective language with subtitles appearing at the top. Those with lower-end sound cards may have a few troubles such as the sound strangely disappearing and reappearing at random, changing the sampling rate seemed to help although not completely. When the sound doesn't go, however, it really does help immerse you in the setting and environment.
In conclusion IL-2 Sturmovik splits two ways. If you are an owner of the original Sturmovik you may feel a little short changed as you have about one third of what The Forgotten Battles is. For all its improvements The Forgotten Battles still has some problems, some of which could be cleared up with a future patch, with others having seeped over from the original IL-2, and on top of this some of the new features are not quite as polished and honed as they should be. The campaign system is still not quite right but a lot better at any rate.
However, looking at The Forgotten Battles as a brand new game and not in the context of IL-2 Sturmovik it is a different story. It is arguably (and yes, I have argued!) the best combat flight-sim on the market and looks to be for a little while to come. It features very exciting combat in a virtually untouched setting in World War II, extraordinary attention to detail, a pantheon of aircraft all wonderfully modelled and textured, varied mission both single-player and multi-player on a variety of maps all on a top notch graphic engine and much more. While not a true sequel for the owners of the original, those flight-sim fans without the original Sturmovik have nothing to lose with picking up a copy of The Forgotten Battles which is everything of the original Sturmovik and more.