IL-2 is Back, The Return of the Combat Flight Sim

By Mike on 6:00 pm

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Flight simulation is not a very popular genre. I'm referring to hard simulation which render accurate physics, controls, and flight models. This has typically been the sole domain of PC gamers, with titles such as Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane. Most flight simulators on consoles are combat oriented but are arcade style which tend to over simplify everything. The problem with hard simulators is the steep learning curve required to play them. Therefore, they've always remained a niche market for aviation fans. Hard combat sims are less common.

It's been four years since Russian developer 1C/Maddox released Il-2: Forgotten Battles. It was a re-do of 2001's original WW2 combat simulation, featuring improved graphics, more planes, and additional campaigns. What made Il-2 different is that it took place on the Eastern Front, where as most WW2 games take place on the Western Front. The player could fly for the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany in a series of dynamic campaigns. Several expansions for Forgotten Battles have been released over the years, including the stand alone Pacific Fighters. The games were excellent. However, it was arguably the last decent hard combat sim. I can count on one hand the number of decent ones released in the past 10 years.

1C hopes to change their direction a bit by moving the Il-2 series to consoles. The new game, Birds of Prey, will be a console exclusive. In an interview with IGN, 1C has said that most console flight sims are arcade style with simulation elements mixed in. Birds of Prey hopes to be hard simulation with some arcade elements. The game will feature adjustable difficulties ranging from arcade style to hard simulation. The flight models are supposedly the same as in the PC games but Birds will feature vastly improved visiuals. Seeing some screenshots, we're getting very close to mimicking the actual experience. IGN has some screenshots and a gameplay video. There are five areas in the game: The Battle of Britain, Berlin, Stalingrad, Sicily and Korsun. Unlike Forgotten Battles, Axis planes will only be available in multiplayer.
The game will be released on both the Xbox 360 and PS3. There is no PC version announced at this time. Surprisingly, it will also be made available for the PSP and Nintendo DS. One thing that concerns me though is flying. The game will definitely need flight stick support since flying with the Dual Shock 3 or 360 controller can be a bit awkward, especially for rudder control. No release date has been announced yet but it will likely come out in late 2008 or 2009.

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