A Second Opinion
Ah, IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover, so many things to say.
I’ve been eagerly following this title since the day of its release back in April 2011, where even buying the game came with the adventure of guessing whatever the Russian for “credit card” was. Since that day I’ve played about 200 hours, with about 80 hours of those in the video options screens and another 20 of those editing cryptic config files like a shaman throwing chicken bones and pretending that they did something. You could make a valid argument that there is nothing wrong with this sim and perhaps a lot wrong with me, but I’ve enjoyed it all.
During these early playing days the lack of information we had and the bizarre nature of the discoveries made it a sport worthy of comparison to actually playing the flight sim in terms of fun. Sharing findings of why the Blenheim would ground pivot on the spot like a deranged kite, or why the mixture on the Hurricane was upside-down, and why the atmosphere seemed to stop at 17,000 feet went from the ridiculous to the sublime. The community of brave explorers at the time felt like they had discovered either some elaborate gaming ruse or a Salvador Dali simulator. The forums swung up and down on an emotional rollercoaster of “I can’t believe they modeled the backup generator for engine 6!” to “Why does Dover look like Telly-Tubbies land?”.
If I could summarize the estimated 20,000 SimHQ forum messages I’ve read in the last 5 months or so in one word it would be “Drama!”, and again, it’s been something I’ve enjoyed enormously. There are few PC sim titles that could have generated this level of drama, disagreement and discourse and people have loved and hated it with equal passion. CoD is many things, but it’s an important title in our shrinking PC sim world.
Reviewing CoD is so difficult (Sorry TC) because it is really what you think you deserve when paying for a flight-sim in today’s PC market. You are right to expect quality and polish, just as you are right to expect potential and patches. Any review that doesn’t point out the flaws (and they are numerous) would be negligent. But a review that didn’t at least mention the touches of brilliance would be inadequate too. It’s an awkward situation where in some ways praising a sim that has such obvious problems brings a pang of guilt as if you’re trying to excuse them, which (nearly) always isn’t the case.
My one-word review for CoD would be “Inconsistent”. There is gold in “dem thar” hills for sure, but I can understand why you wouldn’t want to dig in mud all day to find it. The sim shows signs of such incredible depth it almost becomes frustrating in that you can see what they were trying to do and to criticize it seems mean-spirited and churlish.
The 3D models have been made by someone that clearly loves WWII era aircraft with a passion.
The cockpits are sometimes breath-taking in their realism, but then somehow the quick mission settings don’t work or the multiplayer menus were designed by someone with a pathological hatred of all humans. It’s infuriating to think of flight-sim Michelangelo deciding to join forces with Homer Simpson to produce this odd and curious master-class of inconsistency. It would be an easy sim to give up on but for the pure ambition shown and glimpsed.
So what now? In some ways it splits to if you want to look back or to look forward.
Looking back shows a comedy of errors, where arm-chair quarterbacks and software archaeologists can keep mining the drama, the present shows something mediocre but with flashes of brilliance, and the future shows some promise. In the short time since the U.S. release there has been a flurry of activity in terms of community created mods and improvements. There’s now free new dynamic campaigns, better single player missions, improved sounds, multiplayer servers running great missions and rumblings from Maddox Games that whole parts of the game are being rewritten for an “imminent patch”. The extensibility of the sim and the underlying API have revealed the depth and there’s an army of willing IL-2 veterans prepared to make things better. There will be further progress of this sim even if Ubisoft decided to refocus on Angry Birds as their newest flight sim product strategy. Again, the drama rumbles on but you can never accuse things around CoD of being dead or boring.
Would I recommend this sim? Probably not today, not without knowing more about you. If you have an interest in WWII aviation, a decent PC and some patience, then it’s certainly worth all the drama.
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