IL-2 Forgotten Battles

by Tom ‘Wklink’ Cofield

One year ago Oleg Maddox’s masterpiece IL2 Sturmovik was released to largely glowing reviews and a devotion from a fan base only rivaled by other masterful titles like European Air War and Falcon 4.0. The attention to detail was then, and still is, unrivaled in just about any other simulation currently made. IL2 brought the Eastern Front to the desktops of people for the first time, creating a simulation that in my opinion has yet to be surpassed.

The game was a model of strength after strength. The flight models were heavily researched and about as accurate as you could get in a WW2 simulation. The code was relatively stable, the game looked great, and the multiplayer was top notch. Hyperlobby and Ubi.combecame the virtual home for literally hundreds of wannabe LA and FW pilots. When dealing with IL2 Sturmovik as a simulation of WW2 combat there really wasn’t a peer.

There were some problems with the game. Some, like the stutter issue, have been attacked with a vengeance by the support team at 1C Maddox Games and Ubisoft. Maddox and his team listened to the complaints and the problems of some users and worked very hard to fix technical problems. In addition they added to the game, creating new aircraft, making existing aircraft flyable, and tweaking flight models as needed. This was all provided by 1C Maddox Games and Ubisoft as free upgrades. The support the team gave to IL2 made what was an excellent sim even better.

About six or so months ago it was decided to release a newer version of IL2. This version, originally planned as an add on disk, blossomed into a stand alone game, IL2 Forgotten Battles. The game promised to add multiple new fighters, improved multiplayer support, improved graphics, and most of all a dynamic campaign to the older title. This looked to be a significant upgrade to the title.

OK, What’s new here?

I am going to start off with some of the changes in the game. The first one is the addition of multi-engine aircraft to the game. The initial release of IL2 limited the number of aircraft to single engine varieties only. Even if multi-engine aircraft were allowable the game was limited to only allowing both engines to be managed at the same time. Forgotten Battles changes this, now the number of engines manageable in the game has been increased to a whopping eight. If you wanted a virtual Spruce Goose in this game theoretically it is feasible.

Adding multi-engine aircraft to the game means now bombers are modeled. For Forgotten Battles the Heinkel He111 and the Tupolev TB-3 are the two bomber choices to start out the bombing aspect of the sim. To be honest, the He 111 seemed to be a natural choice considering its wide use by the Luftwaffe on both the East and West fronts but the TB-3 is somewhat curious. I understand that it was included first because it was the first model completed and I am happy for this but I really wish another bomber had been made for the VVS.

This isn’t a slam on Luthier, the designer of the TB-3, it is an excellent looking plane and obviously a lot of research went into the design of the aircraft. Unfortunatly the TB-3 was also incredibly outmoded at the beginning of the war and after 1941 was relegated to transport duties due to its slow speed, open cockpit, and extreme vulnerability. Considered a model of Stalin’s pre-war air force and often used in propaganda pics before the war, the aircraft in combat played a relatively minor role. I would have preferred seeing the DB-3 or the Pe-2 roll out as the Soviet’s first flyable bomber but these can be added later. These should follow later so hopefully budding Soviet bomber pilots will get to graduate to the TB-7 (Pe-8) or Pe-3.

The addition of bombers has added several new aspects to the game. Rear gunners were available in IL2, in the IL2 but this was the only plane that had rear gunners modeled although a rear gunner was added in the JU 87B added later in an upgrade. In Forgotten Battles up to 10 different positions are modeled so every position should be available for any given aircraft. Bomber stations for the TB-3 and the He-111 are amazingly realistic looking. Likewise crewed gun positions are rendered in an amazingly lifelike manner, making them look more realistic than any other bomber sim I have yet seen. When you consider that this is not a bomber sim it is even more amazing and a credit to the people that worked hard to bring these planes to the game.

In addition, the engine controls are individualized if you wish, meaning you can feather, change throttle settings or propeller pitch to each individual engine in your bomber as you see fit. This takes on some significance when you take some damage. Engines take out require changes in other engines, particularly in the four engine bombers, to ensure that you keep airborne. At the same time trim control plays more importance in maintaining level flight. I haven’t tried to land a damaged bomber yet, I’m afraid to, I have trouble landing the regular fighters in the game.

For the bombers, the most significant addition has to be the highly detailed bombsight that both the TB-3 and the He 111 model. The He 111 has a more advanced bombsight, a reflection of its newer design and more advanced targeting system. I don’t consider myself an expert on German or Russian bombsights but the both appear to be very accurate representations of their real world counterparts and together they represent what has to be the most accurate representation of the bombing aspect ever represented in a simulation.

This makes me beg to ask, how hard is it to model the bombsights in this game? I honestly don’t know if the Germans used the same bombsight in all of their bombers but I wonder if the Soviets used more than one kind of bombsight. I know that a new addition to the game is the British Blenheim (in Finnish livery) which I am guessing had a different bombsight than both the German and Soviet bombers. To make this plane flyable I am guessing that the bombsight will have to be accurate otherwise Oleg Maddox wouldn’t approve it. I am sure others can shed more light on this than me but hopefully different bombsights are easily designable within the new system.

Speaking of Finns, the addition of the Northern section of the map, to include Leningrad and Helsinki is included in this version. This map is by far the largest, and probably the most detailed of all the maps. It is also the most hardware intensive and accounts for the raised system specifications. It sure does look sharp though and should be a lot of fun for coop game creators. There are new online maps as well which should make gamers happy. These smaller maps are more easily managed than the larger ones and less hardware intensive so I suspect they will be used a lot more for combat missions.

This brings me to the biggest new thing concerning the game. When you ask most veterans of IL2 what they think the game is missing, no they don’t say the flight model of the FW 190A5, they mention the linear nature of the campaign. If IL2 had a weak spot, it was in the campaign. It was linear, restricted and somewhat sterile when compared to the dynamic campaigns of competitors like EAW and Battle of Britain. Even additions like the Starshoy’s excellent IL2 Campaign Generator and Ossi’s Barbarossa campaign could only mask and minimize the deficiency.

Forgotten Battles addresses this problem. What takes this game from an add on to an entirely new game is the addition of a fully dynamic campaign. The campaign allows the player to fly as a Luftwaffe or VVS pilot in a campaign covering the northern, central or southern portion of the Great Patriotic War. In addition Finnish and Hungarian pilots have the ability to fly smaller dynamic campaigns covering their portions of the war. Finns and Hungarians have fighter campaigns; Germans and Russians have the option to fly fighter, bomber, Stuka/Sturmovik, or Jabo style missions. You can enter the war in the beginning or at set points along the timeline of the war.

In many respects the campaign reminds me a lot of the older EAW campaigns, albeit with an Eastern Front flair. You won’t spend your time intercepting bomber streams heading for Berlin or hop in a P-47 and escort B-24’s to Regensburg; instead you will do a lot of fighter sweeps, close escort for strikes on bridges and enemy staging areas, and mixing it up with enemy bomber forces attacking your airfield. It has a much more tactical feel than the EAW model but the layout seems fairly similar.

You won’t plan grand strategy in the campaign; this isn’t CFS3 or Battle of Britain. Instead you will be a pilot slugging it out over the steppes. You can advance and become a squadron commander but you don’t control the outcome of the war here. That’s fine, the campaign seems to do what it should, draw the player into the war and give some sense of uncertainty in the game. It is a good addition from what I have seen to this point. It’s not groundbreaking, EAW beat it to that thunder 5 years ago, but it is well rendered. Just like EAW there are all kinds of surprises in store when you fly these missions, you will find the battlefield ‘feels’ alive with various ground vehicles, miscellaneous aircraft, and surprises that make finishing your mission difficult.

Doras, and Thunderbolts, and Hurricanes Oh My!

New bombers aren’t the only addition to the IL2 stable. Forgotten Battles will ship with over a dozen new aircraft, plus variants, and new non-flyable aircraft to round out the plane set. Most of us are familiar with some of the new flyables. VVS pilots will get a chance to finally fly the I-153, an early war biplane that, while maneuverable, was decimated by the Luftwaffe in the opening months of the war. In addition the LA-7 (two variants) and now available. This uber-plane will cause the German fliers a lot of headaches-IMHO it is the best plane in the game right now. It is fast, hard hitting and maneuverable. It is easy to fly, very forgiving and very difficult to spin, although not impossible.

To add to the mix are several new lend lease aircraft. For the Russians the P-40 (four variants) makes its home on the Eastern Front. The Kittyhawk, a much maligned plane in US service, performed well on the Russian front. In addition the P-47D Thunderbolt (3 variants) will make an appearance in the sim. This plane, rugged, fairly fast and hard hitting, should make ground pounders happy but probably will not be a dogfighter of choice. The low level nature of the Eastern Front means that for dogfighting the P-47 will be out of its element and it should be eaten alive by 109’s and 190’s.

The Hurricane is also modeled in the game. The .303 modeled Mk1 and the 20mm Hispano gunned Mk II comes with the game as well as a Soviet modified version. The Hurri saw significant service on the Eastern Front although it wasn’t as popular with Soviet airman as the P-39. It will add some more ground punch to the Russian attack.

Germany wasn’t left out as well. The Bf 109 now has three new variants, the G-10, G-14, and K-4 models. Right now I would rate the K-4 the second best aircraft in the game. It climbs like a banshee, is almost as fast as the La-7 at ground level and is quicker on the throttle than any other aircraft. The G-14 isn’t far behind. The G-10 is about 40k slower than the K-4 at ground level but it is a little more maneuverable and climbs just as well. It should give the La5s a good run for their money in the arenas. I have been told that the flight models for the 109s, aren’t complete yet so I am not sure how the final product will fly but for now they seem very stable, forgiving of input mistakes and overall very enjoyable to fly. From everything I have heard about the 109’s they feel like 109s.

In addition pilots will now get the Dora to fly. The FW190a series, with its BMW 801 engine, pretty much had reached it’s zenith with the A8 and A9. While the aircraft displayed pretty good low altitude performance, and for a while was dominant over similar allied fighters, its performance dropped off significantly at altitude. The Junker Jumo equipped D series, using a D-213a series of inline engines, increased the overall length (the tail had to be lengthened to accommodate the change in center of gravity) of the bird and increased high altitude performance significantly. It could compete well with the P-47 and P-51 interceptors used to escort the B-17 and B-24 formations deep into Germany.

I am not sure how much use the Dora will actually see. It is fast, almost as fast as the La7 down low and much better at altitude but most of the dogfights end up as low level knife fights and I think the D model may be out of its element. The A-9 (another new addition) seems to accelerate better, is just as quick down low and seems to maneuver better.

Another new plane is the Brewster Buffalo, under the model 239 moniker for the Finnish AF. The venerable Buffalo, a plane given much scorn while under the F2a moniker for the US Navy, was well loved by its Finnish pilots for its durability and maneuverability. This stubby little plane was used by the Finns early in the war and was the backbone of their air defenses until Bf 109’s could be purchased. The flight model wasn’t completed at the time of writing so I am not sure how it will fly. I have been told the performance is similar to the F4F Wildcat so I will compare it to Warbirds and Aces High Wildcats when I do the review.

Two new Stukas are also in the game. To add to the B-model released as an add on to IL2 late last year the D and G models of the German dive bomber make their debut in Forgotten Battles. The D model is still a traditional dive bomber, albeit with a bigger payload and better armnament. The G model, a modified D-5 without the dive bomber equipment, is a dedicated tank destroyer; with two VK-3.7 (modified Flak 18) guns capable of destroying the top armor of an enemy. Both planes will see quite a bit of action with Stuka squadrons online. I enjoy flying the Stuka in IL2 although without fighter cover your life won’t last long.

The final flyable aircraft (I probably missed one or two, sorry) is the Me 262s Swallow, the first operational jet fighter. This Luftwaffe monster should probably be considered the German biplane, although it has its vulnerabilities. Yes, it is fast, very fast in IL2 and once it gets its speed up nothing will catch it. However, it turns like a pig, accelerates slowly and takes forever to slow down when you want to slow down. I imagine in some servers, where vulching is the norm, it will not see much use. Others will futz around with it and get tired of not being able to line up on anything. It will be a real experten plane, something that regular fliers will avoid for the most part.

I have not had any experience yet with any catastrophic engine failures on hard acceleration but remember this isn’t finished code and I haven’t flown the 262 but a couple of times. I am not sure Oleg is going to model this problem with the aircraft or even if he should. Possibly, it is a well documented problem with the Jumo 004 engine and its problems of literally exploding when throttled too hard. Related to both the new technology and the primitive alloys available in 1945, the actual design of the J004 engine was basically sound, just not for its day.

Some time at the stick:

Well, the game certainly feels the same to me. I suppose this is to be expected, it is IL2 after all, even with some new bells and whistles and it won’t take vets long to pick up the game and fly like they always have. I would give vets about three hours, of that two will be learning to set up some of the new features and fine tuning their HOTAS for the game.

The AI has been worked with, actually, it was rewritten from scratch, not just tweaked, it seems more intelligent than it did before. AI appears to use the vertical more than it did in the past. I do notice that some of my older moves, like split Sing out of trouble, don’t work as well with the new AI. All dogfights still seem to end up at ground level over time, something that an intelligent pilot can avoid if he tries. I understand the low level nature of the game but sometimes it gets to low too quickly. This could be me, and to be honest I don’t think the five or six actual flight days with the game qualify me to completely comment on the AI.

To be honest, I have always had a pretty good respect for the AI in the game. While at times they could have been more aggressive, defensively I always had trouble lining up a good shot on them. I don’t see much difference on the defensive but they do seem to latch on to my tail quicker in this game. On ACE settings I get whacked very quickly. I will say at times I think the AI still tries to dogfight more than using their aircraft advantage, I took up some Bf 109G10s against some La5FNs (ace settings all the way around) and I noted the 109s trying to dogfight at co alt with the La5s. I myself climbed up and tried to pick someone off that was straggling as opposed to diving in. No AI is perfect, I shouldn’t expect the AI to not try to dogfight but it didn’t take long for the better turning La5s to dispatch my 109s.

Now against I-16s the 109s did stack themselves high and boom and zoom them. I happened to be in the I-16 and couldn’t get a good shot on but one or two 109s due to their ability to engage and disengage at will. They set up high and nailed me when I was in trying to get behind another diving 109. So maybe the dogfight vs. climb may be based upon relative performance or maybe I didn’t lead them high enough. I don’t know. We shall see when the final version comes out.

Some improvements appear to be apparent though. One problem I always had with the AI was its inability at times to leave its assigned waypoints and follow me in the attack. I remember several times finding the enemy, ordering an attack only to find my AI happily flying along on its assigned path, oblivious to my orders to come help me. This was more apparent in multiplayer and I haven’t played with anyone in MP yet but offline the AI actually listens to me and follows the leader, even when he strays off course.

Likewise, I haven’t experienced some of the laser tank shots that I used to see in the first game. I need to do some more ground missions to be sure but it appears that tanks don’t have the ability to track and shoot you down like they used to. Anyone who has gunned a tank, even an M1 can tell you that shooting down an aircraft doing 250+ MPH with a main gun round at 1000 meters would be one of those one in a billion shots that you rarely ever see. Did it happen? Yes, I am sure that it has happened, maybe several times on the Eastern Front but to lose a career or have to refly a touch mission because of a lucky shot like that is about as fair as adding random wing failures because the Soviet industry was pretty bad at building planes in the beginning of the war.

Flying the game is as fun as ever. The planes just feel good in this game. If this game never had combat in it I would still fly the aircraft simply because I enjoy the feel of the game. I stated that in the first version of the game and it feels good in this one as well. Every aircraft feels different, even different aircraft of the same series feel different. The Bf 109E4 jabo version feels much less stable than the F models and the K feels like a hotrod compared to them. The I-16 is one mean little fighter. You can do some amazing acts with it but once you leave the performance envelope you learn about her nasty side. She had to be murder on the inexperienced VVS pilots that took her up against the Luftwaffe.

All of these planes generally fly appropriately. Yes, I know there is a vocal group that states that the VVS planes are over modeled and there are people that have xxx flight data saying that yyyy model of the blah blah is off by at 195kph but overall, judging from what I have read, the aircraft perform within reasonable expectations of what I think they should. Whiners on both sides of the aisle notwithstanding, you aren’t going to find a more accurate flight model out there, at least under 15,000 feet. It isn’t perfect, I am sure that people better than I will find holes in it at review time but the flight models are as solid as they were for IL2.

I suppose some of the fun lies in the overall fit and polish of the game. Il2 was amazing for its time when you consider the attention to detail that Oleg put into this sim. If something was in a real LaGG then it would be in the game. I still haven’t found more realistic looking cockpits. People can say that this little part may be not correct but to find supposed errors you really have to look, and look hard. It’s amazing to see how we have progressed from the old Aces Over Europe days where we were lucky if the pixels even remotely looked like a Bf 109.

Continuing the fit, and overall reality feel of the game is the terrain. The terrain, as mentioned before, is essentially the same as before. There are some new terrains, the Northern one being the most prevalent and breathtaking, but all of them look great. Flying low level over a city, if you have the hardware to do it at decent settings, is amazing. Even with the settings toned down it looks good, personally better than any other flight sim made, civilian or military.

Ok, is it really worth buying?

I haven’t even gone into a lot of the intangibles simply because a preview shouldn’t be longer than most game reviews. Many things have been tweaked and improved in Forgotten Battles. The mission builder, considered by me the best single mission builder ever made, is still there and essentially is unchanged. Some small add ons have been noted, like the ability to individually assign altitudes and such to each aircraft in a flight division. Others include the ability to add different objects (buildings and such) so you could create a fictional town in no where-no roads though.

Other things I didn’t mention were the new non flyable aircraft like the G50 (Italian fighter), Bf 110 (finally), or Me 210Ca. There a lot of little touches added to the game, most the result of listening to individual suggestions (and complaints) and implementing them to the best of Oleg and companies ability.

I guess the big question that has to be asked is, “Is this game improved enough to warrant me going out and buying it again?”

In answer I will give a qualified yes. What does that mean? Well, to be honest the tweaks and improvements to the game make what was an excellent game a superior game but not everyone is going to want or need some of these improvements. This may come as a shocker to the faithful, of which I certainly have been one. Don’t get me wrong, I love this game. Right now, Il2:Forgotten Battles is better than any other simulation I have played. It is better than CFS3, better than Battle of Britain, better than EAW, better than Longbow2, better than anything that has come before it. And yes, it is better than the original.

Ultimately, whether you call this IL2: Forgotten Battles or IL2Gold what you have is basically the same thing. It is an updated original game that has multiple tweaks and improvements being packaged and sold at full price. This isn’t a slam, this happens a lot, has been established as normal, and I think it is appropriate to charge a full price for all the work done to improve the game. Oleg put out multiple fixes over the last year for free, something this big is worth buying. I have picked up 1942 Gold after buying 1942, bought USNF 97 after USNF, have owned Fleet Defender Gold after playing the original, picked up Longbow Gold after playing the daylights out of Longbow so my pre-ordering of what I call ‘IL2 Gold’ is perfectly acceptable to me. But if others don’t upgrade they still will be flying IL2, and basically they are flying the same game.

Whether this game will be a necessary upgrade depends upon what you want to do. In all honesty the biggest change in the game is the dynamic campaign, something that is good, very good but not everyone is interested in anyone. I think most of these guys will pick the game up simply because of the new iron in the game, along with a loyalty to Oleg. Anyone who picks this up will not be disappointed, it is good and I am sure the online component hasn’t changed. But if you don’t buy this game and are an online only flier I do think that you probably would still be just fine.

Hopefully no one is burning me in effigy for even suggesting that the game may not be a total necessity but it isn’t. I suspect most people will buy the game. Add on packs for The Sims cost more and you still have to have the original game. Players that have never played IL2 are well advised to pick up Forgotten Battles when it comes out. I generally don’t recommend a game based upon a preview but this really is not a totally new game and from what I have seen I don’t have any problem saying that short of a major screw-up from the developers this game will ship fairly stable and relatively bug free. I don’t see that happening.

System Specs:

AMD Athlon XP 2100+ processor on an K7S based Motherboard
512 Megs PC2100 DDR
NVIDIA GF 4 Ti 4600 vid card (128 meg) with 40.72 drivers installed
SB Live sound card

Click on a thumbnail below to see the enlarged image.

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