It’s been a week since the final release of IL-2: Battle of Moscow and I thought it was long past time for my review. I’m going to break it up into several pieces and review each piece independently with an overall score at the end.
Initial Impressions and Content
If you have played 1C Game Studios’ excellent IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad already then the Battle of Moscow update will be no surprise in either its format or content. The same overall user profile, menu system, campaign, multiplayer and quick mission setup is essentially intact with minor changes and updates that have been rolled out cumulatively over time.
Battle of Moscow launches with some key pieces of content:
- One 290km x 270km map of the Moscow region with both late autumn and winter terrain sets
- Ten new aircraft – Eight featured in the normal product and two as premium aircraft
- One new 5-chapter single player campaign
The aircraft lineup is as follows:
- I-16 Type 24
- IL-2 Model 1941
- Pe-2 Series 35
These are all included in the regular package. If you’re looking to gather up the complete set then the two Premium aircraft are:
- MC.202 Series VIII
The aircraft lineup is essential to get right and, like Battle of Stalingrad before it, Battle of Moscow chooses key aircraft that really benefit the whole line-up.
I was worried that after Battle of Stalingrad we would go forward with the series into the next battle and that we would loose the opportunity to fly some iconic earlier types. Fortunately, the developers picked a key battle that let us experience all of those things. The MiG-3, I-16, Ju88, Bf109 Emil and Bf110 are great aircraft to have featured. We also get earlier versions of aircraft we have already which may seem like a shortcut but that is not the case here – The Bf109F-2 is distinct in its own right and amazingly has that subtly different feel from the later F-4 we already had.
The Premium aircraft are a mixed bag but I have to side with the developers. They are aircraft that fit in from a performance standpoint and add to both Stalingrad and Moscow scenarios fairly well and they offer an opportunity to get into an iconic aircraft that might not otherwise be available.
The P-40 is one of the quintessential American built aircraft of the early 1940s and the MC.202 is likewise highly recognizable as an Italian thoroughbred of a fighter. Neither fit the Moscow scenario ideally (the P-40B would have been a better fit) and the MC.202s appearance at Stalingrad was incredibly short… But having them is fun. They are collector’s items and perhaps the most important part here is that they don’t cause an imbalance in the aircraft lineup. 1CGS can not be accused of forcing players of paying to win.
Would more aircraft be nice? Absolutely. The earlier editions of the Yak-1 and LaGG-3 are sorely missed in my mind and the Ju52 is still the only non-combat aircraft present. Observer and transport aircraft, even if non-flyable, would be nice to have aircraft types in the future. They would add variety above and beyond the current 10 types in Moscow and 20 types overall.
The real benefit of the current model of development (should it stay unchanged in the future) is that improvements made to the sequel/add-on have direct positive impacts on the original. Battle of Stalingrad is not the same product that was released and periodic updates to that product have added new features and enhanced fidelity. Better atmospheric effects? Updated across both products. Improved map markings and rendering? Updated across both. Flight model revisions and 64-bit performance improvements? Updated across both. You might sense a trend here.
Graphics and Performance
The visuals in the new IL-2 series are stunning. They are probably some of the best looking aircraft around and Battle of Moscow adds new atmospheric effects including realistic sunset and sunrise, realistic night skies, beautiful reflections and fogging effects.
Aircraft cockpits, exteriors and all of the mechanical animations that go along with it are excellently done with finely detailed textures and animations for all manners of activities in the cockpit – from adjusting the trim to setting fuel mixtures and hand raising/lowering landing gear. Textures are excellently detailed and its rare to find something that is blurry or out of place in the final release (in beta we found a few issues here and there).
Texture popping used to be an issue but the 64-bit update seems to have fixed that.
IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad and Battle of Moscow are performance hogs eating up as much CPU, GPU and RAM as you have to throw at them. A budget system will not be able to handle this. My experience has been much improved since upgrading my PC to a new Intel ‘Skylake’ based CPU, 8 GB of RAM and a GTX 960. But the biggest difference was actually the 64-bit update to the game engine itself. The IL-2 series runs better now than at any point in its past.
Take the developer system specs seriously if you are on the fence:
- OS: 64-bit Windows®
- CPU: Intel® Core™ 2 Quad 2.6 GHz+ or Intel® Core™ i5/i7 2.6 GHz+
- GPU: 1024 Mb+, GeForce GTX 260+/Radeon HD5850+
- RAM: 4 Gb+
- Sound: DirectX 9.0c/11 compatible
- Free Hard Drive space: 10 Gb+
- Internet Connection Required for Registration, Campaign Mode, Multiplayer and Statistics Tracking. 256 Kb/s for single-player and 1 Mb/s for multiplayer
Flying, Sound, Weather and Simulation Fidelity
The thing that this series scores highest at is the overall cohesiveness of the flight model, sound, weather modelling and overall fidelity wrapped up into one.
Flight simulator developers have always been forced between two options. Model a single aircraft to extraordinary detail and force the player through detailed start-up procedures OR, offer a huge selection of aircraft. The current IL-2 series finds a high middle ground by offering excellent flight dynamics and high fidelity modeling but it makes getting into each aircraft fun and inviting without some of the tedium of start-up procedures.
I am not a pilot so I can’t lend my opinion in a scientific way to the accuracy of the flight model, however, the way that the aircraft feel is so much better than anything before. IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad set the standard and Battle of Moscow is more of the same. Aircraft feel alive and have much more personality in the air than in DCS.
Helping with the flying is the excellent sound design which is second to none in the simulator world. Some engine sounds could still be better but the overall system is excellent. Some issues with hit sounds not being heard are still present although to a lesser extent than before and most recent versions may have solved it altogether.
The weather system is also very impressive with detail clouds in semi-realistic formations both look impressive and are essential to the flying experience. I’ve yet to see towering cumulonimbus done properly and they aren’t present here but then we haven’t yet had a summer scenario with which to truly experience those.
Wind and turbulence varies realistically at different altitudes and is another essential part of the sim. A full weather system with moving storm fronts and convective storm systems is not present but I don’t think that level of detail would necessarily add to the effect. The key parts of the experience are there and they are done incredibly well!
Overall this is where the whole thing comes together and the feeling and sound of flight are impressive.
Single Player Impressions
I’m primarily a single player person these days so having a good experience is essential. Battle of Moscow is similar to Battle of Stalingrad in that the single player experience feels flat and uninvolved.
The theory behind the campaign system is sound – it lets a player jump in and experience what they want to experience with the time that they have on hand. For people with family obligations, this system is ideal (so is mid-mission pausing!). The system lets you choose aircraft, mission type, and then gives you the chance to choose from Normal and Expert difficulty modes and from a shortened flight or a full length flight – complete with takeoffs and landings.
Missions have a good level of variety, however, the same formula as before is still employed. Take off, head to waypoint, turn towards action point, head to an exit waypoint and then head for home base. Action tends to happen at each of these waypoints and rarely elsewhere. However, the Moscow and Stalingrad campaigns have gotten considerably better at throwing random events in and having some truly epic and memorable air combat experiences.
Battle of Moscow gets an extra bump out of the gate that Stalingrad didn’t – aircraft that saw service in both theaters. While this benefits the Stalingrad campaign to a greater extent, it also shows up here as you’ll find flights of Ju87, Bf109F-4, or He111.
Some campaign moments are also infuriating. A single Bf110 on a bomber interception mission should not happen. A squadron worth of interceptors up against a single He111 on a bombing run also shouldn’t happen. I can try and imagine the later as a photo recon run if only the bomber were not trying to drop bombs on a target.
The campaign needs more mission types. How about scramble missions? Tactical reconnaissance? Combat air patrol? I know if the right aircraft were available players would also enjoy artillery spotting (although I doubt I would find that interesting). Dynamix’s 1991 Aces of the Pacific had the right idea here in a system not that different from what is employed in modern day IL-2.
The campaign would ideally benefit from more historical squadron involvement (including skins and markings) and the option to choose from aircraft or proceed on a single career through a single type of aircraft.
Single player is also unfortunately the only place where you can gain access to all of the custom developer skins for the aircraft. Players with Premium access can unlock all of the equipment goodies.
Overall the experience is what you make of it. Some find it incredibly frustrating while others enjoy it. I do enjoy it but I sometimes wish it had some more.
As with many games, multiplayer is what you make of it and in this case what the community makes of it. The second generation IL-2 has struggled to attract the kinds of servers and player numbers that truly make a thriving healthy community. In part that is the slow pickup among players of the new series.
Technically, the multiplayer in IL-2 is excellent. With a good connection and decent ping times the gameplay is excellent with only a few issues with warping and aircraft doing unusual things. I’ve been able to jump into a server and enjoy the game without worrying about the underlying technology for the most part. Definitely is a nice thing!
Some of the features work very well too. The ability for a mission creator to set aircraft numbers and modification availability is all there. Some servers have configured and scripted detail supply chains. A team that fails to defend their supply chain will suffer from fewer aircraft with the choice options sometimes not being available.
Mission objectives and the status of airfields under attack are great options here. Something sorely lacking from the original IL-2 and a great addition when Battle of Stalingrad came out. Tweaks have been made over time and this interface is better than ever.
You can also elect to join other pilots on their missions by becoming a gunner. It’s a great option to have!
The server browser is the weakest link here. It’s a barebones system of finding and connecting to servers. It works fine but it has none of the community options that HyperLobby (admittedly a third party option for the old IL-2) had. You also can’t look up server difficulty settings before joining. Unless you know the server or they write it in their description, you can never know what it is that you’re joining. There are also no friends lists and in the day and age of some very impressive online multiplayer games, this is sorely lacking.
Traditional co-op and more complex campaign co-op systems are not available in the new IL-2 series. There have been many discussions on how those may be created and 1CGS have stated unofficially that alternative multiplayer modes would be an interesting addition.
Joining an organized server event such as those put together by the Dedicated Bomber Squad (DBS) are great ways to have the same kind of co-op experience from the original IL-2. But it does require an extra level of organization not required by the original.
Overall, multiplayer is very good but it is also lacking in a few areas.
IL2: Battle of Moscow is a worthy addition to the IL-2 Sturmovik series following up the great work on Battle of Stalingrad with an equally comparable product that, together with the original, are greater than the sum of their parts. Combined with a strong community and what appears is ongoing developer support, the IL-2 series will hopefully have a bright future ahead of it.
Battle of Moscow retains some of the controversial elements that proved so divisive with Battle of Stalingrad. The unlock system being tied to Single Player campaign progress only is still a huge problem with the design of the game. I enjoy the unlock and campaign progression system as it gives me something to work through the missions for. I’m also a player of a great number of games that have used similar systems so it works for me. The biggest issue is not allowing multiplayer to open up the same possibilities as there are some players who play multiplayer only. Forcing them into a sometimes sterile and lackluster single player campaign experience is not the best move.
The campaign itself has a good structure but needs more depth to really become something good. At the moment it’s a more complex and randomized version of the quick mission generator. That’s ok… but it needs more. More squadron involvement, more player investment, and more mission type variety.
I give IL-2 Battle of Moscow an overall 8.5/10. Over a year ago, I reviewed IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad for Battlefield UK and gave it an 7.5/10 overall score. I stand by both numbers. Battle of Moscow, along with improvements to Battle of Stalingrad, bring the experience forward a few notches with more planes and more variety overall combined with technical and graphical improvements that also increase my enjoyment. It needs better single player elements and it needs a better multiplayer server browser – possibly with a chat system built in.
Battle of Moscow is hamstrung by some elements that still need refinement. It is, however, on the road to being the best World War II flight simulator ever created. In my mind it has the ability to surpass that of the original. A couple of additional expansions and further raising the bar on fidelity and gameplay elements will make this next generation sim into the legend that it deserves to be.
Overall Score: 8.5/10 (not an average)
Review update November 27, 2016: Since the release of Battle of Moscow final, the product has continued to undergo some significant changes and even larger changes are on the way for anyone who already owns the IL-2: Battle of Moscow or IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad product. Here are some of the changes:
- The unlock system has been completely removed for owners of both Standard and Premium. Unlocks are now called “modifications” and are available to all.
- Multiple performance improvements are on the way including an engine re-write in DX11. (coming December 2016)
- Full VR support will arrive in 2017.
- An entirely new campaign system based on the excellent one used in Rise of Flight will replace the current campaign system in IL-2: Battle of Moscow and Battle of Stalingrad. (coming sometime in 2017)
The state of the game continues to improve as shortcoming are redressed. Check out the rest of the blog for updates.
The one thing I did not get into in all of this is flight models. It’s a tough thing to review and be objective about. I’ve decided to steer clear of all of the FM debate for this review after having been in dozens of arguments over the years about this plane and that plane and so on.
The IL-2 series, with Battle of Moscow being the latest iteration, do an excellent job at aiming to have the kind of high fidelity that flight simulator pilots demand. Things tend to get complicated when it comes to the extreme levels of flight model examination.
This is what I can tell you. This is not War Thunder where the aircraft fly in a simplified fashion. IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad and Battle of Moscow definitely rival the excellent flight modeling of DCS – in some ways does it one better.