The water effects are improved quite substantially. The original water textures were downright awful and in the channel campaign actually detracted from the channel portion of the campaign. Shockwave has significantly improved the water effects and the game now has some of the effects you expect when flying over water. It isn’t perfect, there is a shimmy from a distance that doesn’t look quite right, but the improvement is substantial and attacking those convoys won’t be as distasteful.
Clouds were a strong part of the original game and BoB2 has improved on these and right now this game has the best cloud effects ever seen in a flight simulation. The clouds look downright realistic, move and flow and actually have a place in the game. In some games the clouds look good but have served little purpose, at least when flying offline. The AI has been tweaked and will actually lose you in the clouds. That means the clouds are tactical, not only for your enemies, but for yourself too.
Probably the best graphical sight in the game has to be the view you have of a stream of bombers heading toward your airfield. There has only been one game that has equaled this game in the number of bombers rendered at one time and that was the original Battle of Britain. Even European Air War, with it’s impressive numbers, was not quite as adept at producing bomber streams.
Sound ranges from excellent to just so so. The aircraft sound pretty good overall but the engine sounds seem too muted and in some respects fairly general. They aren’t terrible but compared to some sounds they do sound muted. Machine gun sounds are relatively tinny but this is (at least to me) probably realistic. The RAF flew aircraft with rifle caliber weapons meaning you won’t get the “whump whump” sound that you get in the Bf 109 and its 20mm cannons.
The explosion sound effects are fairly cool but overdone at times. I shot down a Do 17 and as I flew over it I heard this huge explosion. While I suspect that you probably would hear a boom when you flew over an aircraft, the effect is overdone and really somewhat surprising. While this is supposed to be immersive I found that the loudness of the explosions sometimes was more of a distraction than a help. You shouldn’t hear that much of a boom inside of a high performance, un-mufflered aircraft; especially one flying away from the explosion at 350 mph.
The explosion graphics however are fantastic. Often you will find yourself looking out the cockpit of your aircraft just to admire the explosions as they overwhelm your airfield. The explosive effects seem to be individual (I was told they were) and the effects on an airfield are quite impressive. I cannot find a game with better explosion effects. The effects are just as good on water as they are on land. Smoke effects after a plane crash or after something good blows up on the field are also well done. Not only does the smoke look fairly realistic but it also sticks around for a while. The only fault I can find with the smoke is that it goes straight up; there is no movement of the smoke based upon the wind. It is a minor gripe and something I just observed. I don’t think any other simulation models this though.
So overall I would rate the graphics as a major improvement over the original but unfortunately there is a price. The graphic requirements are pretty high and a lot of folks are finding that their mid to mid high range systems are having trouble running the game at acceptable frame rates. I generally get an fps of somewhere between 22 and 30 fps but my system is fairly fast. Others have complained of low rates of 12-20 which is hard to play. Turning some effects (like mirrors) off helps but people with less than optimal systems might not be able to play the game.
The other visual problem appears to be stuttering. This was an original problem with the first game and there seems to be something of a problem with this one. I myself have seen some small stutter effects when looking at a wingman or when in exterior view. In the cockpit I see it less and I haven’t noticed it that much when engaging that bandit but others have had varying difficulties with stutter. It is something that the Shockwave team is trying to get to the bottom of and hopefully it will be a relatively easy fix. Note: As of this writing a patch has been released which supposedly corrects some of these problems.