IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad first look

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.