A new Battle of Britain sim still needs some work.
A few issues back, we asked, “What is the cost of being a follower?” A leader innovates, and innovation brings he cost of being a leader and the with it the risks and challenges of entering new territory. Such is the case with IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover, a next-generation sim by the same team that built the IL-2 Sturmovik franchise ($50, requires Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/7, Intel dual-core processor or comparable, 2 GB RAM, 10 GB hard drive space, 512 MB 3-D video card, Ubisoft Entertainment, il2sturmovik.ubi. com/cliffs-of-dover).
Note that IL-2 Sturmovik is part of the title merely as a reference to the previous product produced by the same team. This new sim, based on the Battle of Britain, doesn’t actually include the heavily armored ground attack plane. Also note that Cliffs of Dover is likely the first in a series of releases based on this new simulation engine. The plan was to innovate and deliver a stronger simulation experience, and in Cliffs of Dover we see improvements to the graphics, flight physics, damage model, cockpit details and campaign play. The effort put forth is evident—yet Cliffs of Dover disappoints due to bugs and performance issues.
The deficiencies are as evident as the gains. Mission set-up screens have an aircraft preview page that shows up blank. The joystick defaults sometimes refer to a second joystick not installed on the system. The sound sometimes doesn’t work in the main menu screens—a harmless flaw. But performance issues that cause the game to crawl or crash are not minor. Systems that exceed the recommended specs for the game still provide weak performance, even when the user disables visual enhancements such as anti-aliasing and high resolution.
Cliffs is deep with well-researched, realistic aircraft. But unlike with recent offerings in the Digital Combat Simulator series from The Fighter Collection (see DCS: Black Shark and DCS: A-10C Warthog in past “Airware” columns), there’s little guidance for players eager to get these beautifully rendered Hurricanes and Spitfires off the ground. The tutorials and manual fail to identify the procedures, and this game lacks a pop-up checklist available in other sims. If not for videos posted on YouTube, anyone who hadn’t flown a Spitfire in real life would be lost.
Players patient enough to wrestle with these issues, find workarounds and wait for patches will eventually be able to appreciate this sim’s magnificence. I was happy with the original IL-2 Sturmovik’s visuals, but Cliffs of Dover raises the bar. Water and clouds are amazing, and the terrain may be the best yet. Beauty proves to be more than skin deep when the sim’s graphics synchronize with an impressive damage model. It seems like every bullet hole is illustrated. Where in some games it’s common to see parts of a wing or fuselage damaged, Cliffs’ granular system can show things like engine cowlings and portions of canopy or cockpit instruments being shot. What’s more, the damage degrades the aircraft’s capability.
The campaigns included with the sim offer missions for both British and German sides. The British campaign follows a fictional story of a pilot joining the RAF, but historians will appreciate the approach on the German scenarios: no story, but every mission is based on a real-world mission from World War II.
Good leaders innovate, but they’re also held accountable. If history repeats itself, the development team will stand by Cliffs, and continued support will ultimately yield a complete product. In its current state, it’s too frustrating for any but the most dedicated and prepared players to enjoy.
Originally published in the January 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.