IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover review

IL-2 Sturmovik Cliffs of Dover Thumbnail

When Joseph 'Mutt' Summers landed after test-flying the prototype Spitfire for the first time, he was so impressed he told Supermarine's engineers “Don't touch anything.” After test-flying this long-awaited follow-up to flight sim legend IL-2, my message to 1C's engineers would be a little lengthier:

“Don't touch anything except the painfully primitive campaign, the embarrassingly inept training mode, the clumsy GUI design, the dodgy comms, the bugged AI, the inadequate documentation, and the ill-optimised graphics engine.”

The most distracting of CloD's many shortcomings (and hopefully, the most easily rectified) is the feeble framerate. However much money you've thrown at your rig recently, it's going to gulp when confronted with busy dogfights over land. Until 1C deliver promised refinements, fluid furballs over London are about as likely as bluebirds over Dover.

Harder to fix will be the achingly unambitious campaign. In sims like Battle of Britain II, the 1940 air war is a breathtaking thing, a swirling sea of unscripted savagery you throw yourself into for day after memorable day. In CloD we don't get anything half as involving. The immutable sequence of small-scale sorties has been carefully pre-prepared in Moscow. A page of memoir-style preamble before take-off, then another when you land, is as far as mood-setting goes. Often these texts don't even reflect the action. More than once I've bagged multiple bandits, only to be accused of cowardice on returning home.

The training mode is as crude as the campaign. Ten minutes into my first trip in the beautifully crafted two-seat Tiger Moth, the instructor informed me he was taking the stick for the landing. Seconds later we were plummeting into a cornfield. SNAFUs like this, in combination with a plethora of unassigned controls, and an idiosyncratic interface, make CloD impossible to recommend to fledgling fliers.

The more you see of this obviously unfinished creation, the clearer the target audience is. For the last six years 1C haven't been striving to satisfy the casual simmer, the gamer who yearns for the days when sims enveloped rather than confused; they've been building a sim for 'fullreal' fanatics.

If you're the sort that always flew IL-2 with the complex engine management tickbox ticked and the cockpit graphics on, you'll adore CloD even in its current state. To max-out the realism settings and clamber into any of the 16 stunning flyables, is to participate in a revolution. No developer, with the exception of FSX artisans A2A, has ever treated WWII warbirds with more respect. The flight behaviours, the cockpit functionality, the damage models, the engine alchemy... it's all recreated with astounding subtlety. Suddenly the job of the '40s combat pilot is right there in front of you, in all its stark, sumptuous complexity.

Fail to master the murky interrelationships between prop pitch, radiator settings, fuel mixture, and throttle, and you'll be gliding to the ground long before you encounter the enemy.

If the likes of the Spitfire, Stuka, Fiat G.50 and He 111 were FSX add-ons they'd cost £20 a piece. Treat CloD as an interactive museum, a tool for setting up small photogenic skirmishes, and it's marvellous. As a game, it's much less successful. I advise waiting a year for the makers and modders to work their magic.