Muffled sub-machinegunners scurrying like rats through ruined factories and spooky sewers, sly snipers slinging high-velocity valedictions across wastelands of rubble and snow, unpainted T-34s trundling from production lines straight into the maelstrom of battle... chances are, when you think about the fivemonth scrap for Stalingrad, you think about the war that raged in the city, not the one that raged above it. 777 and 1C want to add a little altitude to our associations.
Tasked with building a sequel to Oleg Maddox's flight sim masterpiece after the man himself fumbled a follow-up in 2011 (Cliffs of Dover), 777 are approaching their new responsibility with a confidence that seems preposterous until you remember that they're the outfit that gave us WWI wonder Rise of Flight. Roughly the same code core that enables Sopwith Camels and Fokker triplanes to turn and burn believably over the Somme in RoF will, come spring 2014, let Bf 109s and Yak-1s boom and zoom authentically over the Volga in IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad.
While the Digital Nature engine is to be refurbished and reused, RoF's free-to-play business model will remain in France. To get your hands on those Yaks and Messerschmitts, and the flyable LaGG-3s, La-5s, He 111s, Sturmoviks, Peshkas and Stukas that will accompany them, you'll need to hand over an old-fashioned fistful of cash either now – pre-orderers could be flying as early as this Christmas – or after release. It's highly likely extra rides will touch down later as single aircraft DLC or as part of larger, map-incorporating addons, so if you have happy Maddox-era memories of, say, chubby Chaikas or titanic TB-3s, a tearful reunion isn't out of the question. But, going by the pace of RoF DLC, probably isn't imminent.
One thing's for sure, any aircraft that does find its way into this sim is going to be rivet-perfect visually and bally persuasive in the flight modelling department. 777 are training their 20mm nose cannons on the same realism sweet-spot the original IL-2 peppered so precisely. There'll be basic engine management options for those who want them, but Cliffs of Dover or DCS: P-51D levels of cockpit intricacy and coldstart complexity are not planned. Expect that printed key PDF to cover half your desk, not snowdrift your entire bedroom.
Bending and breaking RoF planes is almost as enjoyable as flying them, and the same should be true of the BoS warbirds. Ramming attacks, a relatively common Soviet tactic early in the war, will be practical if perilous. Out of ammo, trailing thick black smoke, or simply incensed that the Fascist Beast is culling your countrymen and despoiling your Motherland? Try chewing the tail off that Stuka with your prop, or seeing how well that Heinkel flies with three tons of flaming fighter embedded in his port wing.
With flak, flying debris, detonating magazines, descending parachutists, airframe stress and wake turbulence all potential hazards, demises promise to be as spectacular as they are varied. Those lucky enough to escape stricken crates and not get riddled or prop-minced on their way down will alight on a 360 x 260km slab of steppe, centrepieced by a landmarklittered recreation of the titular city. Deserted except for vehicles (777 don't plan to model infantry), hopefully this battlespace won't end up feeling quite as lifeless and empty as the trenchlines in RoF. A flicker of coloured tracer here, a newly RELEASE SPRING 2014 As usual, landing Bf 109s should be tricky. Parachute failed? Start scanning the ground for unusually deep drifts or plump peasants. Ambitious bombing or the consequence of a particularly violent sneeze? kindled building fire there... there are ways of suggesting the seething savagery on the ground without simulating every stormtrooper and, fingers crossed, the devs will explore a few of these.
On the campaign front there's both good and not-so-good news. An inherited career system means, illogically, you'll need to be online to enjoy singleplayer campaigns. Phoneline severed by an expiring oak or a careless crane operator? You're grounded, old chap. More positively, when you crawl into bed after a hard day's bandit bothering or tank trashing, you won't have a clue what the next day will bring. The campaign is divided into five phases with frontlines, weather, aircraft types and sortie flavours adjusted in each phase to echo history. Individual sorties, however, are randomly generated based on choice of squadron – meaning the mix of patrols, escort missions and ground attack duties will be different every time.
With survival and success come gongs and promotions. The latter unlock optional aircraft mods such as gun pods Ramming attacks, a Soviet tactic early in the war, will be practical if perilous DECEMBER and armour. 777 are keen to stress that all augmentations will be historically based, and bring disadvantages as well as advantages. A single-seat Sturmovik may be vulnerable to six-o'clock surprises but, unburdened by that extra crewman, should be able to show a cleaner pair of heels than its sibling.
An IL-2 sequel without excellent multiplayer facilities would be like a Stuka without a dive siren or an 'Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here' canopy sticker. Well aware of this, the devs are promising dedicated servers with 100-player capability, optional global stat tracking, and bomber sharing. If Rise of Flight is any guide, they'll deliver on these and their other promises, and IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad will prove to be one of the simulation highlights of 2014. If you have any interest in accurately modelled WWII aviation or simply want to find out what happens when an 11ft propellor spinning at 1300rpm strikes a swastika-daubed tail, set aside £32 for wintry recon.