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Video Game: IL-2 Sturmovik
Box art.IL-2 Sturmovik
is a World War II Combat Flight Simulator
for the PC. It was originally started by Russian game developer Oleg Maddox
as a hobby garage project featuring the famous Soviet ground attack plane
, which also lent the game its name. It was kept even after the game got heavily expanded and commercially released
, spawning this juggernaut of a series shortly afterward.
The branding has stuck to the point where the formerly-titled sequel Storm of War: Battle of Britain is now IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover
The game, along with its 3 main sequels and numerous expansion packs, features literally hundreds of planes (most of them flyable), dozens of detailed gameplay maps in every possible theater of the war and also the opportunity to fly as some of the less famous Axis and Allied powers (e. g. Finland
, The Netherlands
, New Zealand
, the French
and Polish resistance
). The expansion pack IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946
features several Alternate History
campaigns with many American, German and Russian prototype planes
that never made it into service during the war (many of them early jet fighters).
The difficulty and accuracy of the flight mechanics are extremely scalable, making the game accessible to pros
and amateurs alike. You can easily customize the difficulty and realism◊
of flight and air combat, turning the game either into a semi-realistic arcade dogfighter or a punishingly realistic Nintendo Hard
flight sim. The game also offers a lot of freedom for creating custom missions and campaigns in it's simple and intuitive Level Editor
, and is generally opened to adding player-created custom content (including the possibility to add your own skins for the various aircraft or new music and sound files into the game). There's a giant fan community and tons of game mods
in addition to the official releases. It's no secret that part of the series' success lay in a dedicated modding community worldwide. A large part of the original modder projects even became official parts of the later sequels.
The series so far consists of these installments:
- IL-2 Sturmovik (2001): The original that started it all. Universally praised by both critics and gamers, it's often credited with resurrecting and revolutionizing the whole combat flight sim genre.
- IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles (2003): The first stand-alone sequel, formerly announced as a mere expansion pack. Focuses mainly on less cited aerial theatres (e.g. skirmishes between the Finnish and Soviet air forces during the Winter War and Continuation War).
- Forgotten Battles: Ace Expansion Pack (2004): The first expansion pack, which added several new nations and lots of other additional content to the first two games.
- Forgotten Battles: Gold Pack (2004): Another expansion.
- Pacific Fighters (2004): The one Oddly Named Sequel, adding aircraft carriers and focusing chiefly on the Pacific theatre in all its entirety.
- IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 (2006): The last main installment in the original series, featuring the aforementioned Alternate History elements.
- Sturmoviks over Manchuria (2007): A small expansion pack that mostly added a few more campaigns.
- IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey (2009): A console-exclusive title (though it got ported to PC as Wings of Prey shortly thereafter). Not officially part of the original series, but generally considered an Adaptation Distillation Spinoff of it for the console audience.
- IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover (2011): The sequel formerly titled Storm of War: Battle of Britain. Likely to bring even more realistic flight models and a new graphics engine that'll bring high-end gaming desktops to their knees for the next few years if maxed-out.
This game series provides examples of:
- A-Team Firing: The Rookie and Average AI pilots in quick battle mode tend to be this. (Though, to be fair, the Average AI only misses you if you're in a turn and only just; if you're flying straight and level, you're screwed.) The Veteran and Ace Pilots? Not so much.
- Ace Pilot: Lots of Real Life aces and entire ace squadrons from the era. Also, YOU too can become a celebrated ace (at least in dynamic career campaigns), but you really need the guts and a lot of skill to achieve such status.
- Add 'luck' to the prerequisites. I personally once started off a fighter pilot campaign by shooting down five Japanese bombers in the first mission, taking no actual damage even though my plane was pelted with bullets from their defensive guns. Then, in my first ground attack mission, I took a single hit from an AA gun as I flew low to strafe a truck convoy. I was instantly killed.
- Ace Custom: Besides unique custom plane skins representing a certain ace, there are also a few slightly modified versions of standard Axis and Allied fighters, flown by famous aces of WWII.
- Airstrike Impossible: Missions over heavily defended areas and fronts (with lots of AA batteries and patrol planes everywhere). Not very common, but there are some.
- All There in the Manual: The more detailed instructions on default keys, difficulty settings, flying and dogfighting can be found in the main manual. Then there's another separate manual which is basically a booklet that lists all of the game's flyable aircraft - with detailed information on a specific type's tech specs, weaknesses and strenghts, historical info and developer commentary, and pictures showing which cockpit readout and control is which (this last bit of info is useful for those players that want to fly a plane purely "on instruments", using the control panel's readouts and indicators as a diegetic interface.
- Alternate History: The main content of the 1946 installment, both plane-wise and mission-wise. Despite its speculative nature, it manages to nicely avert most "alternate WWII" clichés and the Stupid Jetpack Hitler and Soviet Superscience tropes. Definitely deserves a Type I on the Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility.
- Anti-Air: Lots of various static and vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft weapons. Rookie pilots will quickly learn not to play hero and attack them head-on, instead trying out some evasive maneuvers before diving and spraying the target with a burst of explosive ammo (or rockets, if the plane is carrying any). AA guns are pretty much the ultimate nightmare while storming a heavily fortified enemy airfield and take some skill and practice to be effectively taken out, with minimal losses or damage on part of the player.
- Attack Pattern Alpha: During all missions, you can give a wide range of orders to your wingmen (if you're commanding any, that is).
- Auto-Pilot Tutorial: Seriously... On the bright side, these tutorial vids also have a fair share of interesting and action-packed moments and very often even a joke or two.
- Battleship Raid: Quite a few examples, both literal (mainly in Pacific Fighters) and figurative (hunting down bombers, especially large ones).
- Big Bulky Bomb:
- There are at least several enormous bombs that one can load onto an aircraftnote ; the blasts from these are so big that, depending on the computer hardware running the game, their detonations can slow down the game. And then there's their destructive power...
- Fan-made mods add 1950s-era jet planes, armed with Mk 7 and Mk 21 freefall nuclear bombs. Surprisingly, they're less bulky than some of the conventional explosives.
- Color-Coded Armies/Colour-Coded For Your Convenience: Axis planes are always blue and Allied planes always red on the map and dogfighting HUD. The basic colour designation never changes, regardless of which faction you're playing for. This can get very confusing at times. Flying as a pilot in the Pacific theatre and trying to remember that Red contacts are Allies, and blue contacts are Japanese planes, takes some getting used to after being conditioned to associate the US Pacific Air Force with blue planes, and Japan with its token red sun flag.
- Coming In Hot: The higher the realism settings, the higher the chance of returning to base with a barely flyable machine (or not returning at all). The game's manual even advises the player to drop any remaining bomb, rocket or fueltank payloads before attempting an emergency landing. If the bottom of your fuselage is seriously damaged, chances are that your undercarriage will literally fall to pieces once you try to deploy it for landing. With a bit of luck, you can still land though - gliding slowly downward and skidding a bumpy ride on the fuselage. Of course, if you don't feel that skilled, you can always just bail out with a parachute.
- Continue Your Mission, Dammit!: The superiors in your flight or squadron will chastise you a bit if you steer too far away from the main waypoints of a given mission or from your fellow wingmen. Subverted in that they don't keep harping on about it ad nausea, nor do they reprimand you for it. They just alert you to not get lost or too far behind or too far ahead (since staying together as a group increases the chance to carry out the mission succesfully and within a realistic timeframe).
- Cool Plane: If you're a World War II military aircraft buff, you'll consider these games as outright Technology Porn.
- Covers Always Lie: A rare inverted example of this trope : The IL-2 is not the only plane you can fly in the first game (let alone the series), but the cover art and title seem to imply the exact opposite.
- Danger Deadpan: Subverted hilariously. Your fellow wingmen speak in a cool-headed, deadpan, professional manner most of the time - but just wait until you get into a particularly difficult dogfight or someone gets shot down... Mood Whiplash and Rule of Funny ensues. One of the Japanese "shot down/bailing" quotes is a particularly Narmtastic scream.
- Diegetic Interface: Wholly possible if you turn off the various HUD elements and use your cockpit control panel and readouts as your main or only source of information for flying and fighting.
- Diesel Punk: To a degree, especially in 1946. It's got a more realistic than Rule of Cool tone, though.
- Do a Barrel Roll: And many other manoueveres, both basic and advanced - whether you're dogfighting or just plain flying around. Needless to say, they're depicted as realistically as possible, in keeping with the series tone.
- Dodge by Braking: The realistic version of this trope. Also one of the basic manoeuvers while dogfighting in the game.
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Averted. Though the game is deliberately minimalistic in its presentation (it doesn't even have cutscenes in the classic sense), the mission briefings and squadron documents seen in every campaign will remind you of how many of your wingmen were KIA or went MIA (not to mention the number of enemy kills you've achieved). And to further shatter the reassuring notion of A Million is a Statistic, in this game, The Dead Have Names. Not only that, they also have their personal photos, records and awards - in the exact same way as you, putting the concept of soldiers as replacable cogwheels into an unnerving and unglamorous perspective.
- Duel to the Death: Happens frequently after encountering a large enemy squadron or Worthy Opponent Ace Pilot.
- Eagle Squadron: There are some examples of this, but they're already more official variations of the trope (e. g. British pilots helping the US in the Pacific theatre) or have something to do with the Allied lend-lease project.
- Enemy Exchange Program: Seen constantly, just like in the real Second World War. Often results in the Allied and Axis side both using some of the same aircraft models or brands.
- Fighting for a Homeland: The Finnish, French, Polish and Soviet air forces would be the most clear-cut examples. Many additional fan-made mods also feature pilots of foreign occupied nationalities serving in the RAF (e. g. Czechoslovak fighter and bomber pilots). The French, Polish and Finnish air forces also double as La Résistance - the French forces being the Trope Namer, of course...
- First-Person Ghost: Played straight in cockpit view. Averted in all external views, where you can see the pilot characters clearly. They even make slight movements during flight.
- Game Mod: Thousands of new planes, paint schemes, maps, new sound and graphic effects packs, you name it. (Though installing them into the game can be quite a headache, since there are several similar but different applications for doing so created by various mod teams. Also, you have to make heads or tails of which version of the game you have and whether it's properly patched up, otherwise you're screwed.) The game boasts an impressive worldwide modder base, probably one of the largest ones continually in existence.
- Grey and Gray Morality/My Country, Right or Wrong/Worthy Opponent: Part of the appeal of the campaigns is that they focus on the life and work of military pilots from their own personal perspective, instead of shoehorning in a discussion on the politics of the war into a mission's backstory. The regimes that some pilots serve might be reprehensible dictatorships, but it's not ultimately the pilots' fault, nor are most of them gleeful, monstrous killers. Sometimes, the nations and factions portrayed are caught in complex and decidedly non-black-and-white political situations (e.g. Finns, Romanians), and often, even "the good guys" have to carry out examples of I Did What I Had to Do in order to score a victory that might end the war sooner. As far as the player is concerned, everybody is just doing his job and experiencing first-hand that even among the clouds, War Is Hell.
- High Altitude Battle:
- Not as many as you would think, though a few missions involving bomber-busting start off in quite high altitudes.
- More common in multiplayer as long as there are a few moderately experienced pilots around. Follows naturally from two or more pilots trying to achieve energy advantage over the other, or attempting to use their aircraft's high altitude performance to their advantage. These fights are usually of completely different nature than low or medium altitude dogfights and furballs. The low air density up high means the engines are also producing less power and thrust, but the airplanes need to move faster to produce sufficient lift. Luckily, low density air also reduces the drag, but maneuvering becomes much harder and slows down the aircraft rapidly, so the emphasis is usually on flying as cleanly and economically as possible, and the one who manages to gain an energy advantage usually wins. This can result in prolonged, high-tension battles, compared to fast-paced, action-packed low altitude furballs.
- Just a Stupid Accent/As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Averted. The pilots of every featured nation are voiced by genuine native speakers.
- Nose Art : Both in the form of actual nose art and selectable skins for the planes. The markings on your plane depend on the nation/faction you're flying for and can be turned off if you wish.
- No Swastikas:
- The German planes never carry the black swastika and the Finnish planes do not carry the historical Von Rosen cross, a light blue swastika on a white circle. This, despite the fact that the adoption of the Von Rosen cross predates the adoption of the swastika by the NSDAP by several years, and in any case was done to honor the Swedish count Erik Von Rosen, who had donated planes to Finland during their civil war. Soviet planes in the same game still carry the red star, which of course has unsavory connotations for many. In the real world, the Russian military still use the red star, despite the Soviet Union having been gone for 20 years, although the version now carried by the Russian Air Force, at least, is a red star outlined in white and blue, thus including the three colors of the Russian Federations's flag. The original Russian version of the game has both German and Finnish swastikas. Russians don't seem to mind. Naturally, many fan-made skins for German and Soviet aircraft also prefer historical accuracy over inoffensiveness.
- A humorous subversion appears in the case of smaller countries allied or subservient to the Axis powers. Romania, Slovakia and Hungary have stylized aircraft crosses unique to the era of their WWII regimes. These ultimately have the same connotations as Nazi Germany's swastikas, but the censors seemingly took a double standard approach in their case (probably because of the "My Friends... and Zoidberg" status of the countries in the Axis). Anyway, this leaves these countries having more period-accurate insignia than the bigger players in the war. The insignia aren't completely uniform though : The skins donated to Forgotten Battles by Slovak modders feature both the roundels of the WWII regime and the local La Résistance.
- Official Fan-Submitted Content: As already mentioned a few times, a lot of the extra content - including new theatre maps, working planes and voice acting - was submitted to the developer by modder teams from various countries, as part of a contest for expanding the series scope with the addition of smaller countries and their distinct air forces of the WWII era. Most of this fan content was released in two smaller expansion packs or in free DLC and official patches.
- Old-School Dogfight: Well, duh. The series is set during a time period where planes really did carry only line-of-sight weapons and got into dogfights regularly.
- Overheating: One of the many realism elements that can be turned on or off is the overheating of your aircraft's engine(s). Luckily, if your engine has only just started overheating, you can always cool it down by simply lowering your speed (thus lowering the strees on your engine, until it cools down). And if worst comes worst and your engine catches fire, you can quickly cool the engine with a key command assigned to the on-board extinguisher (roughly two doses available before you run out of extinguishing fluid).
- Some of the German fighters in 1946 (the Ta-152C, Ta-183, and Lerche) carry X-4 guided missiles. Of course, as the setting saw the beginning of guided weaponry, these missiles have to be manually guided to their targets.
- A patch for 1946 adds in several more actual WWII-era guided weapons (namely the German Hs-293 anti-ship missile and Fritz-X radio guided bomb, and the American Razon guided bomb and Bat anti-ship guided bomb). Although the first three also have to be manually guided, the Bat is a "fire-and-forget"-type weapon.
- Rare Vehicles: The 1946 expansion added some speculative implementations of German and Soviet prototype aircraft, most notably the Heinkel Lerche (the aircraft that looks like a rocket/cigar surrounded by a shrouded turbofan).
- Scenery Porn: Even on lower settings, the graphics in each game try their best at awing the player by the detailed and fluent surrounding environments. Observe.
- See the Whites of Their Eyes: Justified, since this is the most reliable way of scoring a One-Hit Kill against enemy aircraft, especially if you're dogfighting aboard a fighter against other fighters. It also eats up much less ammo compared to attempts of shooting someone down from a far greater distance (like, say, a mile or two).
- Shoot The Fuel Tank: Played straight with some aircraft, subverted with others. It all depends on what class, type and specific model of aircraft are you shooting at. Each has different design weaknesses, including vulnerable (and well exploitable) construction flaws.
- Sink The Life Boats: Shooting parachutes. You can shoot the pilot, leaving his lifeless body dangling on the chute. Or you can shoot the chute, sending the poor devil plummeting to his death.
- Shown Their Work: And how! This game is among the most realistic combat flight simulators ever made, particularly if you fly on max difficulty, and the devs are studiously careful about historical accuracy as well.
- Some Dexterity Required: The flight models are generally very twitchy and unforgiving of hamfisted flying. If you don't handle the stick and rudder with finesse, you WILL get the aircraft into a nasty stall or spin that you can only recover from after massive altitude loss-if you don't get shot up while trying to recover. In addition, gunnery is very difficult and will require a steady stick. This is especially true if you turn on all the realistic settings. The whole game can be controlled easily via keyboard, but joysticks are generally the better controller on higher and more professional difficulties.
- Storming The Airbase: Missions focusing on bombing enemy airfields and airbases, particularly their AA guns, supplies and parked aircraft.
- Subsystem Damage: Individual cockpit instruments can be shot out, in addition to control surfaces, engines, fuel tanks (they may just leak instead of outright exploding), and of course, the pilot.
- The most recent patch added support for realistic pilot injuries: Your avatar can injure each limb separately, which affects how well the plane can be controlled. You can also bleed to death, fast or slow depending on how heavily you are losing blood, and non-lethal head injuries create a red haze on your view.
- Tech Demo Game : Especially when it first came out in 2001. Amazingly, if you purchase the final 1946 edition of the game and crank up all the graphic settings to "perfect", the game can still put quite a bit of strain even on a current high-end computer. Not bad for a game that started development in the second half of The Nineties.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The AI pilots' flight model is simplified, and even though this has been toned down in the many patches, they still don't suffer from blackouts or engine overheating. They also have superior performance in general, but thankfully this is not a problem in multiplayer...
- AI pilots - and AI gunners - are absolutely unaffected by turbulence and G-forces, which leads to a curious situation where the most dangerous opponents in single player mode are modest attack aircraft with a rear gunner, as they can perform evasive maneuvers whilst delivering a continuous stream of lethally accurate fire to your pilot's head. Whether this was intended to make the IL-2 itself more survivable (the real airplane suffered horrendous losses) is debatable.
- The Dev Team Thinks of Everything:
- You can customize your pilot in Cliffs of Dover, selecting various flight suits and other equipment like life jackets and parachutes. You can also select not to wear a parachute, in which case bailing out causes your pilot to flail around as he plummets to his death.
- In the original 2000s series, if you crash land or bail out while behind enemy lines, you get a message that you've been captured and had become a POW.
- The IL-2 Is About to Strafe Your Tank
- Wide Open Sandbox: While every mission (whether standalone or a campaign/career one) has a fixed set of main and optional objectives and recommended waypoints, the gameplay and your route to victory can be completely nonlinear, based on the player's own preferences. The stock campaigns have a marked "choose your own adventure" angle and the two different mission editors (one for quick battles and one for full missions) can leave the player in a fun Quicksand Box.
This series also completely (and notably) averts the following aviation tropes:
- Air Jousting: However, there is one rare situation where this can become Truth in Television - when an enemy aircraft is coming directly toward you at high speed. The one who manages to shoot a burst of ammo at his adversary first, comes off as the victor in these instances...
- Mind you this Trope is encouraged by some Real Life dogfighting Dictas (like Dicta Boelke for one) but only in certain circumstances like when there are a bunch of fighters on your six.
- Most experienced pilots in multiplayer avoid head-on approaches like a plague because they put both aircraft in equally great danger of getting hit by bullets or the other plane, and instead elect to avoid the head-on and try to gain an advantage in angles or energy to get into good firing position.
- By contrast, head-on approaches seem to be the only thing that inexperienced players ever do at the start of the engagement.
- Bizarre and Improbable Ballistics/Bullets Do Not Work That Way: The devs are just as studious about projectile physics as the are about everything else.
- Bottomless Magazines: Ammunition and fuel for your aircraft is not infinite and you have to keep an eye on them while flying a mission. However, a lot depends on what you've switched on and off in your realism settings, so you can play the whole trope straight if you like.
- Easy Logistics / Infinite Supplies : Particularly averted in the dynamic campaigns, where much is made of the fact that even moving a war front even with the strategic help of air power can take quite some time and that aircraft and pilot lives are invaluable, the loss of even a single one being a hindrance to the war effort. The latter trope comes up particularly painfully in the campaigns where the defenders are isolated from outside help or reinforcements, e.g. the Dutch campaign in Indonesia.
- Every Bullet is a Tracer: A lot of them are, but not all.
- High-Speed Missile Dodge: Since only one or two planes (from 1946) are equipped with guided missiles, the aversion of this trope also applies to machine gun fire from close distances.
- Historical Hero Upgrade/Historical Villain Upgrade/Video Game Historical Revisionism : While none of the canon (i.e. released) missions and campaigns allow you to do things as excessive as the bombing of Hiroshima, everything else is fair game and the political implications of fighting for a specific faction are barely ever brought up. The games don't focus on the politics of WWII, but on the personal experiences of common pilots. Given this focus, Gray and Gray Morality abounds.
- Hollywood Tactics: Just try dogfighting or doing an attack run in the way it's usually portrayed in most films, and you'll soon find yourself plummeting to the ground in a burning (or exploding) aircraft.
- Hyperspace Arsenal: Only if you turn off Limited Ammo in the realism/difficulty settings.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Played straight by some individuals on multiplayer, though. There are people who can genuinely manage astonishing feats of virtual aerial gunnery.
- Improbable Piloting Skills: Well, even on the hardest realism settings, you can still try to pull off very risky maneuvers and other insane daring-dos, but don't be surprised if your plane starts falling apart or malfunctioning afterward...there's a reason each plane has a value called "Velocity Never Exceed".
- In-Vehicle Invulnerability: Pilot kills are actually one of the best ways to shoot down enemy aircraft. Though rare and purely a matter of lucky aiming, Instant Death Bullet headshots through the canopy are actually possible.
- No Campaign for the Wicked: The series not only allows you to fly not only for Germany and Japan, but also for the minor Axis air forces of Finland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Nearly all countries that participated in aerial combat during the war are present in the games, in one way or another. It's also unusual to have a game that lets you play as the Soviet Union (sort of the Allies' Token Evil Teammate) rather than just the US or Britain. Until later games in the series, it was almost inverted with regard to the Western Allies. Later expansions changed this, but it still holds to a degree—for example, there is still no campaign for USAAF fighters in Western Europe. (There is one for them in the Pacific, but it's not nearly as in-depth as the ones for the USN or USMC.)
- One Man Air Force: Played straight only when you turn off Vulnerability, Limited Ammo and Limited Fuel.
- Pinball Projectile: Bullets behave very realistically. Most of the time, you will not have problems with them accidentally bouncing off anything. For the simple reason that most of the time, you will not be hitting anything with your stream of bullets (especially if you keep gunning from ineffective distances, where your bullets are very easily affected by gravity).
- Ramming Always Works: It kind of does, but is almost impossible to achieve properly. And if you don't have Vulnerability turned off, it usualy means curtains for you as well as the enemy.
- Sighted Guns Are Low Tech: The only way you can fire effectively at anything is with the use of your gunsights in the cockpit view. In addition, the gunsights need to be switched on first and occasionally even manually tuned to work properly at all.
- Small Reference Pools: One of the selling points of the series is that it focuses on a lot on the criminally overlooked theatres of the Second World War.
- Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure: Played realistically. Unless you have invulnerability turned on, there's no way you can attack a fully functional anti-aircraft gun the same way you would attack an unarmed column of supply trucks. You need to learn different manouevers and tricks for different types of attacks.
- Suicidal Overconfidence: Chase a bomber close enough and they'll outsmart you by dropping their payload and starting evasive action, sometimes even before you start firing. Damaged fighters will disengage and try emergency landing. Every plane crew will bail out when enough damage is done, even when it's still flying.
- Translation Convention: The radio voices always have pilots speaking their native languages. Good thing you have subtitles to work with and that all radio chatter is virtually identical, albeit in a different language.
- Vapor Trail: Although averting the trope in meaning, all aircraft in the game start producing contrails at altitudes over 7,000 metres, where the water vapour on the exhaust gases condenses into visible trails. There are also oil trails, fuel trails and different kinds of smoke trails depending on the severity and type of damage, and if your plane is on fire you will be pulling a long tail of fire.