Sam and Dan Take it to the “Danger Zone”with IL2

IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Flight simulators have been around on the PC platform for many years.  Many of them have met with strong commercial success and have led to strong franchise followings.  Developer 1C company intends to bring much of the same experiences PC gamers have enjoyed from the IL2 franchise to the home console with IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey.  IL2 places the player in the cockpit of several World War II-era war planes spanning several missions.  These missions span the history of the European front of World War II.  Tasks performed on each of these missions include escorting bombers, dog fighting with enemy fighter planes, bombing ground targets such as tanks, gunners, and bunkers; and even landing your aircraft.  The player can tackle each of these tasks from a variety of camera view points including a first-person “in the cockpit” view and a third-person “behind the plane” view.  Players can also take flight in a variety of online multiplayer matches ranging from “Team Battle” to “Strike” where teams attempt to bomb an opposing team’s ground target.  With a variety of difficulties and multiplayer options, 1C Company hope to also bring in some fresh blood to the flight simulation genre.

IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

An enemy plane just shook hands with the Royal Air Force’s bullets



What we liked about IL2>>

Bones we have to pick with IL2>>

Our conclusions>>



Dan: The graphics in this game look fairly good.  The attention to detail on the planes is amazing.  The planes looked very believable.  The details like the flaps, the landing gears, and even damage on the planes are all noticeable.  Weather effects such as a rainstorm are great fun to play in.  Not only can a player fly in the middle of a chaotic storm, but he can fly above the storm and into the clouds above.  The terrain was also rather good on a few maps, most notably being the Berlin missions.  In Berlin you are flying over a dense city that is on fire.  The city and surrounding area just has the prefect atmosphere.  The area is torn up, chaotic, and looks like a war zone.  The damage to your plane was visible and added to the overall experience as well.  Flying a plane with holes in the wings really made you feel like you were close to crashing at any time.

Sam: Along with the cities, I felt that the cockpit was also very detailed and felt accurate.  Dials and other instruments reflected the real status of my plane in the air.  Reflections from sunlight played with my visibility inside the cockpit, and the interiors of the cockpit were unique to each plane as well.  I really felt like I was flying the real plane.  I must agree with you about the atmosphere set up in Berlin.  I felt that the hectic and chaotic scene created by the radio chatter, explosions, smoke, and gunfire acted as a suitable climax to the tour through World War II that IL2 provides.

IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

The fall of Berlin


Sam: As someone who hasn’t played a flight simulator before, I was nervous that the controls in IL2 would prove too complicated to just jump into a game.  My worries were soon laid to rest as the tutorials were a great help for getting started and the arcade control layout felt very natural.  I felt that the arcade difficulty in particular was very easy to pick up and play.  One stick steered the plane while the other controlled my airspeed.  The shoulder buttons handled targeting and shooting weapons.  This implementation of the shoulder buttons reminded me of many console shooters I have played in the past.  This level of familiarity eased the adoption of IL2‘s control scheme.

Dan: I also found the controls to be adequate for the game.  The default layout works well for me in the arcade mode and are easy to figure out.  IL2 avoided using the face buttons for things in combat so that you could still fly and shoot the targets without moving your fingers around much.

Sam: I really appreciated that attention to layout.  It really helped to prevent any strange hand acrobatics on the controller.  This was very impressive considering how the developers had to map controls usually found on a PC peripheral or keyboard to a PS3 controller.


Sam: Surprisingly, given the few available actions of bombing, dog-fighting and escorting, IL2 manages to to keep things interesting and no mission ever feels repetitive.  By adding multiple objectives to each mission, spacing similar missions apart with different types of objectives and making each mission all about fast paced aerial combat, IL2 keeps every mission interesting and enjoyable.

Dan: The game did do a very good job of keeping missions varied.  I think the variety helped keep the pace of the missions strong.  The decision-making missions, while few and far between, were also appreciated.  For example, there was a mission to destroy some tanks on the ground, but when you look at them you notice they are friendly tanks and you are given the option to abort the mission and find the real enemy tanks.  The campaign missions also included voiced journal entries written by the player’s current pilot.  These entries were played after each mission and added a bit of depth to the characters that you are flying as.  I liked that small touch to the game.


Dan: The music in IL2 also helped to add depth to the overall experience.  It was nicely orchestrated and really matched the game.  The music added to the experience by setting the overall mood of the game.  The traditional instrumental music was noticeable throughout the game but was not invasive.

Sam: The soundtrack seemed very spot-on considering the subject matter.  The music did a very good job of filling in some of the audio gaps left behind by the occasional lack of radio chatter and gunfire sound effects.  In this way, I always felt like something was going on in a mission.  The soundtrack kept the game moving forward with the marching pace and grand scale it provided.  The heavy use of brass instruments gave the soundtrack a military band type of feel.  The music was big, triumphant, powerful and mimicked the forceful and proud emotions associated with war.

IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

IL2 allows players to get a first hand view of the cockpit


Dan: The variety of difficulty settings really did a good job of appealing to a casual crowd and a more hardcore crowd simultaneously.  The way IL2 accomplished this was mainly by the physics model used on the planes.  In arcade mode you can fly rather easily without much worry of stalling your plane.  By contrast, the realistic difficulty makes this a difficult task.  Quick, erratic movements will easily put your plane into a spin and such spin-outs are hard to recover from.  Flying well in the realistic difficulty felt rewarding as it was not something that you could just pickup and play.  Skilled flying took a few hours to get good at.  The removal of the lead-assist makes shooting down enemies harder as well.  Because of this, successfully shooting down an enemy plane was much more rewarding.

Sam: I found it very interesting how the difficulty of the game was increased by means other than simply making enemies tougher or putting artificial limits on the player. IL2 has three difficulties; Arcade, Realistic, and Simulation.  With each increase in difficulty, the game removes automated assistances provided in easier difficulties.  These assists include a targeting reticule that denotes where the player should shoot in order to achieve an accurate lead on a moving target, a mini-map to denote points of interest on the map, and on-screen indicators of enemy and ally positions.  On top of this, as the game’s difficulty is increased, the plane takes on a more detailed and realistic physics model.  As you’ve explained before, the planes spin out easier and are overall harder to keep in the air.  In this way, the game increases the difficulty by making the game mechanics (systems the game uses to define rule of play, player limitations, etc) more sophisticated.  Each difficulty therefore not only becomes harder to play, but a different game in its own right.  This idea of increasing sophistication with difficulty makes for a very unique and interesting means of defining a game’s difficulty.  I hope to see future games experiment with such a concept.


Sam: Along with an interesting application of difficulty, IL2‘s amount of single player content was extremely impressive.  I had spent about 10 – 12 hours playing through the campaign.  After which, the missions that are unlocked by completing campaign missions was simply astounding.  There is at least 25 additional hours of game to be had by these missions alone!

Dan: I feel much the same way.  At first I was skeptical of the amount of content.  I was more than half way through the campaign and wondered where all the content was.  Once I saw the unlocked missions though, I was very impressed.  They were harder than the campaign missions and added more options to how you played it.  The singles missions of the game had options to limit the amount of extra planes and even fuel and ammo in the single missions.  While I never did it, I’m glad that the option was there just in case I wanted a more realistic experience and added challenge.

Sam: These missions in many ways reminded me of Crazy Taxi‘s training missions.  The function of these missions was to help the player perfect certain skills needed to really do well in the game.  This was achieved by putting the player in a very specialized level where only absolute perfection in execution of a certain technique offered in the game would mean success.  These unlockable missions in IL2 acted much the same way with their more difficult focused scenarios.


Sam: IL2 presented a number of weapons.  The player could spray bullets at enemies, fire air to ground missiles and drop bombs.  In all cases, firing these weapons was extremely satisfying.  Bullets pepper enemies with holes and act just as I expected them to.  Missiles feel heavy, inaccurate, but very powerful.  Dropping bombs was probably my favorite thing to do though. I would fly nice and low (<100 ft), slow my speed, and when everything looked right drop my bomb, pull up, and crank my speed to 100%.  This was an absolute joy and was very thrilling.  The lead necessary to hit a target only added to the last minute calculation needed to ensure that successful bombing.  This was very fun.

Dan: I enjoyed the weapons in IL2 as well.  The whole ‘leading’ mechanic was an interesting experience.  Most games do not require leading machine-gun fire like it does in planes.  In arcade mode, you have the provided lead assist.  I found that it not only assisted new players, but after a few hours actually taught me to follow leads on enemies.  I began using the assist much less.  This really helped to set a player up for realistic mode, where the lead assist is removed.  The missiles and bombs were also fun to use.  The kill camera on the bombs and missiles allowed you to watch as you destroyed the ground targets.  The kill camera would show the bomb hitting the ground in the lower right part of your screen.  It was very useful for telling if you had hit a target with a dropped bomb, as you were usually past the target when the bombs hit the ground.


Sam: I really found it interesting that the developers could take a difficult challenge that all WW2 pilots had to deal with and simulate it in an accurate way while also integrating it as a game mechanic.  In essence, meshing the challenges presented by reality with challenges posed by the game world itself. Very well done, 1C.


Dan: Along with the variety of weapons, the variety of planes was also very impressive.  All planes had a distinct feeling to them, they would fly different depending on the model and type.  Bombers felt much heavier and couldn’t maneuver as quickly as the smaller airplanes.  All the planes felt very vulnerable, especially the larger ones.  You sometimes got a sense of helplessness when being tailed by a vastly more maneuverable plane.  Bombers could take out ground targets much better than anything else so you overall got a sense of balance.  The Spitfires were lighter and faster than the bombers.  This made them great for taking out bombers and other planes, but not effective against ground targets.  The smaller planes typically handled much better than the larger bomber planes.

Sam: You know, I got the exact same impression when flying these different planes.  There were times flying a bomber that I felt vulnerable and the plane handled like a boat.  I also grew an appreciation for the Spitfire.  This plane made for a very formidable foe in the skies.  When on a mission, I would see one of these things coming towards me and know I was in for a very twisty and fast paced fight.  Moments like these really made me appreciate the attention to detail when it came to how different planes handled.

IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

Sam closes in on a group of targets in his British bomber



<<What we liked about IL2

Bones we have to pick with IL2>>

Our conclusions>>



Dan: While I liked how realistic mode brought the game play closer to reality, I thought the steps taken towards a simulation introduced by simulation mode made the game impossible to play.  While locked into cockpit mode, your view is very limited.  On top of this, the icons used to denote friends and foes was missing from the screen.  I understand this is supposed to be a simulator, but at this point I personally found the game no longer fun.  I think it would of helped to have a lot larger screen and a real flight stick.  You can’t simulate flying with a DualShock controller.  The DualShock controller works great for arcade mode and acceptable in realistic mode, but really feels out of place in simulation mode.  The fact that you are trapped in the cockpit mode without much GUI assistance doesn’t help at all. It was enough of a task just to fly that combat felt impractical.  Planes where not much more than tiny dots on the screen making them hard to distinguish from everything else.

Sam: Well….everything you are saying is true.  The controls and graphics really seemed to drop the ball on providing a competent simulator.  However, given IL2‘s background I don’t see the how developer could get away without including the mode.  IL2 is a game that is very renowned in the flight simulator world.  Thus, making an IL2 game for the consoles without a full simulation mode would have been too big of a departure from the series.  The tutorial provided for the simulation mode was also very flawed.  In one part of the tutorial, the player is expected to follow the flight instructor’s plane in order to adjust to maneuvering in the new mode.  In my experience with the tutorial, I had accidentally flown past the instructor before I had approached the former mentioned part of the tutorial.  As such, when the instructor has asked me to follow him, I had no idea where he was.  I accept that the features removed from the interface were removed to bring the game closer to a simulation of real flight, however, I doubt in a real training mission the instructor would have simply flown away without ensuring the trainee, who is supposed to follow him, was indeed behind him before beginning the exercise.  Little flub-ups like this really made simulation mode frustrating to play.  The kinds of details overlooked in scripted events and the AI seemed to depend on game world interface assists in order to make up for it.  When these assists were taken away, the game’s various actors couldn’t compensate.  The insufficient hardware and expectations from the franchise fan base seem to come at odds with one another.  I feel that modifications to the simulation mode’s interface and better constructed tutorials would have eased the simulation’s transition from the PC to the game console.


Dan: While IL2 has a strong single player component to it, the multiplayer was disappointing.  Mainly I just couldn’t find enough people to play online with.  Maybe I was looking at the wrong times of the day, but IL2 just didn’t have very many people to test the online multiplayer out fully.  I really wished there was an option to play the campaign co-op.  That would have made the game more enjoyable to me.  I think the addition of a cooperative mode would have been extremely beneficial.  In the single player mode, the AI wasn’t to my liking, as I will explain later.  Because of this and the lacking existing multiplayer, a co-op would have had a great opportunity to steal the show.

Sam: I know exactly what you mean. I found that there were very few people playing.  Those that were played in were games with few people in it.  I had also ran into some serious net bugs that caused many sudden unexplainable deaths.  In one case I was playing a game mode when the objective was to protect owned airports and take the enemy team’s airports.  During the game I had accidentally crashed my plane into the ground.  When I respawned my plane immediately exploded in mid air.  The game indicated that I had crashed my plane, however I was over 1,000 feet in the air.  I continued to explode for six or seven respawns.  After this, I quit the game out of frustration.  This was the only major multiplayer bug I has found, but it was certainly a game breaking one.  Most of the dog fights I got myself into were not bad.  Lag was never an issue, but there just were not many people to play with. Perhaps the inclusion of bots would have been helpful.  This being a game based in a niche genre, relying on multiplayer modes that require lots of active players seems like a questionable decision.

IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

An empty server browser, a screen we saw all too often


Sam: Another questionable design decision was to allow the WEP mode (an overdrive for the plane’s engine) to be easily abused and never had a downside in arcade mode.  The tutorial warns against overuse of WEP, however, there are no repercussions.  If a feature is mentioned, than I expect it to be implemented. I spent much of the game easing off of the WEP thinking it would blow my engine up or something.  This made some of my fights rather tense.  The WEP would always blink when I used it too much, which happened to always be at the worst times.  Later on, I realized that after the WEP blinked for a few moments, it simply stopped working for 3 – 5 seconds, then resume normal overdrive functionality.  I began to abuse the feature and missed the tension I had experienced before.  While I understand arcade mode is supposed to be easy to play, I feel that including a downside to WEP would have made the gameplay more interesting.

Dan: This seems more like nitpicking to me, I thought the WEP was useful and kept the pace of the game faster, it would make some of those far missions take longer to get to the battlefield.  The WEP allowed you to travel fast in one direction but I found that in combat that amount of speed was usually unstable and caused accidents.  So in that way I thought WEP was overall balanced.


Dan: One feature that was severely underdeveloped though was the AI teammate implementation.  There were only four orders you could give them and their success felt very hit or miss.  They usually were too far behind me to help much it seemed.  You could set them to group up, defend you, attack x target or follow mission.  Whatever you picked really didn’t seem to matter.  I sometimes wasn’t sure if commanding them really helped at all.  Again this goes back to me wanting co-op, I find human players are much more reliable than bots and are more fun to play with.

Sam: Yes, I agree that the AI partners were rather lacking.  I had run into a couple strange occasions where I completed mission objectives by shooting down only a single plane or a single target.  Some other times, I would have to destroy every single target an objective required.  This kind of sporadic performance by the AI wingmen led me to simply not rely on them.

IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

AI partners have a habit of flying into your line of fire, which can often get them killed


Dan: The last thing that bothered me with this game is the lack of control options.  While the default controls are adequate, there were no options to really change them.  The one thing I wanted to do is swap the the analog stick’s functions but you can’t do that.  You can’t rebind any of the buttons making it impossible to change the POV camera to an easier button.

Sam: It seems surprising that given the niche market of flight simulations, such a feature wouldn’t be implemented.  I would expect that the intended audience would have been a mixture of standard breed gamer and flight simulation enthusiasts.  Options such as control configuration seem to be something that any enthusiast would expect to find in the software they purchase.  Perhaps this was a concession made since the title was trying to reach a broader audience, but I don’t think the omission of customizable controls was a very good idea.



<<What we liked about IL2

<<Bones we have to pick with IL2

Our conclusions>>



Dan: IL2 feels solid for a $50 game.  Its single player is strong and has a decent amount of content to play with.  The graphics are great mainly due to the attention to detail.  It has good music that matches the game perfectly and the difficulty is challenging if you try ‘realistic’ while being enjoyable and easy to pick up in ‘arcade.’  Other than simulation being too hard and multiplayer being a little lackluster, this is definitely a game that feels worth the price.

Sam: IL2‘s gameplay mechanics are extremely polished.  Everything in the arcade mode and realistic mode controls extremely well.  Graphically there are few rivals to IL2.  There is no texture pop-in, no real issues with aliasing, and the level of detail just makes the world look beautiful.  The audio brings the march of war the the player’s eardrums.  The muliplayer was rather weak with this title as well as the simulation mode.  These flaws would have hurt the game more, except that the overwhelming amount of single player content more than makes up for IL2‘s shortcomings.  Novice players can easily get into IL2, experienced players have room to grow with realistic mode, and there is enough content to keep a player entertained for at least 40 hours.  I think IL2 is worth $50 -$60 because the single player content and technical polish are on par or exceed many triple-A titles in that price range. 


Sam & Dan's Final Comments - IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey




Your support is appreciated! 


6 Responses to “Sam and Dan Take it to the “Danger Zone”with IL2”

  1. Chris B.

    Just like last time, I’m very happy to see someone willing to give such a detailed review. Thanks again and keep it up!

    I do have a few comments on the review, both good and bad.

    Firstly, I think the intro was a nice change-up from last time. I really felt like I was lead into the discussion within the review. You got the main features of the game out of the way so I could understand what you’d be talking about. This lead-in really helped me out to understand the article more deeply and effectively. Nice work.

    Secondly, the article felt very focused (much more than last time). Points brought up by both of you were very clear and well-explained for the most part. There were no negative points brought up in the beginning or overly-positive points in the drawbacks section. This helped digest the argument in the article that much more. Even the pictures I felt were well chosen for the points they illustrated (especially the Battle of Berlin discussion). There was a flow present and I went with it with little difficulty.

    Thirdly, thanks for patting the developer on the back when it was appropriate. I don’t see too many reviews or articles directly say “Thanks developer” or “Well done developer.” These guys work crazy hard on these products, thus I can see such a direct complement to be very appreciative to the given party.

    Fourthly, I really wish Dan elaborated more on his points. Throughout the article, I found myself wondering what exactly Dan was thinking about when he would mention how good the music was or what coop could have exactly brought to the gameplay experience. It felt like Sam was stealing the show with his perspective being very specified. There were moments when Dan really shined, especially when Dan discussed the lack of people playing the multiplayer mode (something Sam did not discuss very much). Dan could have had another shinning moment when mentioning Sam’s nitpicking, but the level of elaboration present in other sections of the article was not there. How exactly was this nitpicking? Where did you see the WEP fitting into the game compared to Sam’s perspective? This felt like the moment where “Sam vs Dan” could have really been “Sam vs Dan.” Instead, I was left asking more questions. It would not be true or fair to say that Dan does not elaborate very much at all (he gives some very interesting insight on the appropriate amount of content for single-player levels), but the level of elaboration is not up to where Sam’s is throughout the article. Case-in point, the breakdown graph illustrates this point best. I really want to hear what Dan has to say about these games more than just the “good and bad,” but also why things should be the way they are or could be.

    Finally, where is the “vs.” in “Sam Bushman vs. Dan Morrison?” In the past couple of reviews, I’ve found you guys agreeing more with each other than anything else. That’s not a bad thing in itself (and probably true given this is a review and like-opinions can happen), but when the author name infers conflict and a very detailed review is posted, where is the counter-argument? You guys could take these reviews to the next step by getting a little more focused on some of the fundamental choices in a game’s design. For example, perhaps Sam might see certain aspects of design more important than others, but those sensibilities don’t match up to Dan’s. How will this change the review? What other information can be uncovered about a game with this kind of approach? This angle could e worth exploring.

    Overall, this is a very well conceived review. You guys again have shown that you know a thing or two about games and why we should pay attention to them. There is still some room for improvement, but I don’t think that’s outside for your skill sets. You’ve got a couple of reviews under your belt. Now its time to turn up the heat. Best of luck and keep up the good work.

  2. Gregg

    Great work, guys! I’m downloading the demo now!

  3. Brian White

    I said it to you privately and I’ll say it to you in public…job well done…AGAIN!

    As per the informative and much welcomed comments of Chris B. above, I truly do find myself immersed within your reviews as if I was playing the game. You guys go well beyond the cliche sayings such as “nice graphics” and “good audio” to give such an intricate/dissected point of view and peek into the excessive hours of game play you invest into each review. On top of that…BONUS!!!…Real screenshots! You can’t ask for much more!

    Keep up the great work and continue to instill upon this gaming amateur (me) as to what’s worth plopping my hard earned money down on. Thanks!

  4. Blake

    I would like to congratulate you both on another great review. I know from first hand experience that you guys put a lot of time and effort into the games you review. Keep up the good work!

  5. Scott T. Morrison

    Nice job guys. I love the depth and detail both of you put into your reviews. I can’t imagine how much time is spent playing the game and putting all of your thoughts down takes. keep up the GREAT work. Can’t wait to read your next review.

  6. Susan Bushman

    Although I’m not a gamer, I felt this review would be very helpful if I were considering it for someone else. Both Dan and Sam did thorough job critiquing this game. Their knowledgeable analysis and mostly positive comments could persuade even the inexperianced to give the game a try. You also did a good job of keeping your readers interested.