IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles offers all of the planes of the original IL-2 Sturmovik, all of the planes included as free downloads, 30 new planes, 20 new single-player missions, ten multiplayer missions, and five new maps. The original campaign of IL-2 Sturmovik is not included, but the new campaign utilizes all of the existing maps, new maps, and other additional features. New aircraft include the I-153 biplane, the Me-262 (first jet fighter), the FW-190, the Ju-87G (equipped with twin 37-mm cannons), the Hawker Hurricane, the Curtis P-40, the huge TB-3 Soviet bomber, and the P-47 Thunderbolt. The new maps are gigantic -- most planes will run out of fuel if they attempt to cross the Finnish Gulf map on one tank. Changes to the control scheme add propeller pitch adjustment, some supercharger options (important for high-altitude flying), and improved engine temperature and drag control.
How brave can a game developer be? Take 1C: Maddox Games. They built a flight simulation themed on a rare aircraft, Il-2 Sturmovik, in a time when simulations were the industry's forgotten child. As a reward for a job well done, they secure publishing approval for a sequel. Do they then shift to W.W.II's Western European or the Pacific theaters, where a box picture of the recognizable F4U Corsair or P-51 Mustang would potentially attract more sales? Nope. They stick with the Russian theme, and emphasize even more obscure aircraft and battles. Whatever you may think of Oleg Maddox and his team's marketing sensibilities, they're a gutsy bunch, and they have again given hungry simulation fans a meaty steak to gnaw.
Forgotten Battles makes few changes to the format and formula of its predecessor, but the key differences distill into three categories. There's the addition of a dynamic campaign engine, a smattering of new aircraft to fly, and some new air forces to fly with. The dynamic campaign is something flight sim fanatics practically expect now, and the one in Forgotten Battles is competent enough. Players fly missions for their side and can affect the movement of the military front with their performance. There doesn't appear to be any force randomization in the missions, so even a dynamically generated mission sports the same adversaries in the same locations each time you replay it. But for those that like the ability to rewrite some history, the campaign does the job and adds some replay value.
There's much to do in Forgotten Battles, thanks to the addition of Finns and Hungarians to the Russian and German forces, with at least one campaign type for each. There are also new single missions for the several new aircraft, such as the Brewster B-239 Buffalo, the Heinkel He-111, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and the Junkers Ju-87 Stuka (the Stuka was previously available only via an IL-2 Sturmovik patch). The game boasts more than 30 flyable aircraft, though many are variants of a basic airframe. Some are also early war aircraft that aren't great combat performers, and perhaps only of interest to players with a curiosity for history. Still, the ability to man new bombers and their defensive gun stations gives the game a new facet.
Forgotten Battles also continues the IL-2 Sturmovik tradition of forging outstanding graphics. The sweeping vistas viewed from the cockpits are as beautiful as any seen yet in a flight sim. The cost for such visuals remains high too, however, and running Forgotten Battles isn't for those without some heavy iron in the video card and processor. This high cost also applies to the game's general difficulty and can make it unfriendly to the casual simulation player. The flight models are very good, and demand a steady hand, but this isn't the problem for most. What's a little more challenging to get around are the superhuman skills of the opponent's artificial intelligence (AI). Thanks to the realistic ballistics models in Forgotten Battles, gunnery is one of the hardest skills to master. But the AI in both cockpits and anti-aircraft emplacements seems to manhandle it with aplomb, which can make for a frustrating afternoon of gaming.
Forgotten Battles tries to soften these rough edges with many optional pilot aids, but there are still gaps in the cushions. Players can lighten the demands of physics and select easier gunnery, but there are other quirks to frustrate them. The Forgotten Battles interface is sometimes slow, especially moving between missions in the dynamic campaign. The documentation is weak on teaching strategy and tactics, often just telling players to practice. There are several functions for which there are no default keystrokes, and sometimes the defaults don't make sense. Forgotten Battles detected my joystick without problem, but in the Brewster Buffalo, button 2, not button 1, was the default gun button, leaving me surprised the first time in combat (especially since the key reference says button 1 is the weapons button). The padlock view, which aids a pilot in keeping his eyes on the target, took some valid criticisms for being unwieldy in IL-2 Sturmovik, and it hasn't changed here. Despite the presence of names and photos for squadron mates and active radio chatter, Forgotten Battles can't shake the simulation genre's chronic malady for a sterile ambiance during play.
Forgotten Battles has a few pockets of turbulence, but it is still the best recent flight simulation available, and a courageous effort. The superior graphics and flight modeling are unmatched, and game's many solitaire and multiplayer options give it long life on the hard drive. Forgotten Battles is like a cantankerous old warbird, tough on novices but rewarding for the skilled flier. It took practice to develop proficiency with those old crates, and probably a lot of bravery too.
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