IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles

14Roaring off the runway in late 2001, IL-2 Sturmovik took the combat flight-sim genre by storm. Initially slated as an add-on pack for the original sim, IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles grew to such monumental proportions during its year-and-a-half development period that it eventually spilled over onto two CDs and ultimately into a standalone retail box of its own. It’s easy to see why: IL-2’s crowded hangar of flyable aircraft has increased to over 80 with the addition of such storied planes as the Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber, Brewster Buffalo, and Me-262 jet fighter.

Additionally, the inclusion of multi-station bombers like the Heinkel He-111 and Tupolev TB-3 now lets you jump from the pilot’s seat into the bombardier and defensive gun-turret positions. While the realism and challenge level are fully configurable to suit all players, the complex new engine-management features — which include fuel mixture, prop pitch, and supercharger control — will be a big hit with hardcore simheads.

The featured aircraft are superbly modeled, with some of the most historically accurate cockpit treatments and flight models I’ve seen. Moreover, the OpenGL and DX9-powered graphics engine handily delivers some of the most exquisite visuals ever seen in a combat flight sim. Individual aircraft models are packed with insane detail, blinding weapons pyrotechnics, and amazing damage effects, and the game’s five new Eastern European scenery maps sport shimmering land and waterscapes. Unfortunately, some leisurely load times and the occasional screen stutter are a couple of bothersome new by-products of these ambitious visuals.

The biggest single enhancement in Forgotten Battles is an all-new dynamic campaign structure. IL-2’s hard-scripted campaign was one of its weakest features, but that shortcoming has been soundly remedied in the sequel with a fully randomized series of Eastern Front career paths.

13You can now fight for the Germans, Finns, and Hungarians on the Axis side, or fly as a fighter or bomber pilot in defense of Mother Russia. Although there is no significant participation on the part of the Americans or Brits in the game (something that’s likely to undermine North American retail sales), this omission in no way detracts from its sheer entertainment value. The robust single-player game — which also includes 20 standalone missions, a comprehensive mission editor, and challenging AI opponents — is supplemented by one of the best multiplayer in the business.

Forgotten Battles isn’t without some minor hiccups, including a cumbersome padlocking system, an AI “cheat†that allows computer-controlled pilots to spot enemy planes at night or through clouds, and some non-interactive training missions that lecture much more than they train. Nevertheless, it’s navigated its way through the pack to establish itself as the finest WWII prop sim of its era. Perhaps even of all time.

System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 1.1 GB HDD, WinXP

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