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Il-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover is like a vegetarian burger patty: if you approach it expecting beef, you will be disappointed. But with realistic expectations, you might be pleasantly surprised. This game is, first and foremost, a flight simulator, and possesses many of the strengths and weaknesses characteristic of that highly technical genre of video game. As long as you don’t expect an arcade-style dogfighter that allows you to jump right into trick-flying and dramatic aerial gunfights, you may be ready for the experience this title offers.

The best-executed aspect of Cliffs of Dover is the experience inside your own airplane. The cockpits and crew positions of the 15 playable English, German, and Italian aircraft are remarkably detailed, featuring nicely rendered, historically accurate displays. Every single gauge, toggle, and lever presents accurate, real-time information and can be interacted with accordingly. Because you need to utilize these tools to successfully wield each plane’s unique mechanical and flight characteristics, the experience of operating the aircraft is both complex and rewarding.

The gaming experience begins to lose altitude, however, when you extend your attention beyond the canopy of your Spitfire and start interacting with the world around you. In stark contrast to the detailed and lively aircraft interiors, the exterior environment is graphically outdated, with dull textures and colors. And because the world below is little more than a flat plane, the game experience lacks a certain visceral quality. Along the same lines, the game’s air combat is an emotionally detached matter of flight-plan strategy and setting up a good strafing run, rather than a heart-pounding dogfight. More than any other issue, however, this title suffers from poor optimization, meaning that many users may experience graphical choppiness and other technical hiccups until it’s fixed.

With a full-scale price tag of $49.99, and the immediate need for at least a joystick, playing Il-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover is a potentially expensive endeavor. But if you already possess the equipment and enjoy richly simulated historical aircraft, this game is right up your alley.

Review: 2.5/5 stars
Release Date: 2011
ESRB: Teen
Genre: Historical Combat Flight Simulator
Publisher: Ubisoft and 1C Company
Developer: 1C: Maddox Games
MSRP: $49.99
Format: Digital Download, DVD-ROM
Play Modes: Single-Player, Online Multiplayer