Meet ‘Francis Hall,’ fictional squad leader of No. 3 RAF squadron in IL-2

One of the goals of IL-2’s Career mode, introduced in 2018 with Battle of Kuban and applied retroactively through the rest of the series, was to make you value your simulated combat pilot alter ego. Over the years I’ve occasionally written about my experiences including the untimely death of my first career pilot and I thought I’d write about my most recent career experiences – this time with a fictional No. 3 RAF squadron leader by the name of Francis Hall in IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte.

It had to be a Tempest pilot

As many of my readers know, the Hawker Tempest is one of my favourite aircraft of all time and it has been a real pleasure to be able to take this aircraft back to the skies in IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte. When IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad came out and a new generation of IL-2 was born, I had assumed it would be a very long time before I was able to enjoy the aircraft in this new sim… and to some extent I was right in that it has been a long wait. But it is here now and I’m having a great time!

My first career for IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte had to be with a Tempest pilot and so Francis Hall has become my alter ego in this scenario.

Not too many know but the pilot biographies were also part of a community effort and so somewhat selfishly I decided to make Francis a Canadian and use one of the bios that I was able to contribute to the series. It’s rare that I get to do the kind of writing that these biographies offered but this turned out to be a lot of fun – doubly so seeing as I have a great deal of history that is both personal to my family as well as acquired through pilot biographies that cover pilot training in the RCAF as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).

Mission experiences

Picking No. 3 RAF, as one of the famous Tempest squadrons of WWII, was also almost a given and it didn’t hurt that you quickly transfer forward to Volkel – a base that Allied Tempest squadrons used for the remainder of the war and for quite some time was not too far from the frontlines.

This suits the Tempest really well as it’s low and medium altitude performance, excellent climb rate, and intended use as a tactical fighter come into the fore in these kinds of situations. It also means that mission time is compressed and no long distance missions are required to be flown at all.

The nature of the Tempest’s use also keeps the variety up. Free hunts, air base attacks, convoy interdiction, and the occasional attack aircraft interception are all types of missions that have come up so far in my career with the fighter.

Because I’m the squadron leader, I also get some ability to influence what happens during the missions by reassigning pilots and picking armament or other modifications. Sometimes I don’t want to fly a particular type of mission so I assign it to the second in command. Though the IL-2 Career experience isn’t a full dynamic campaign system, these kinds of added features do give me at least the illusion and impression that I’m making decisions that will at least affect the potential outcome of a mission – even if it’s in a minor way.

Career advantages

The other big advantage of the career at this point is that you start in the late summer and then transition quickly into the fall. During this time, the Tempest has a distinct advantage against most of the German aircraft available along the frontline.

So far I’ve faced off against Bf109G-6’s, Bf109G-14’s, and FW190A-8’s (and/or F-8’s) for the majority of the missions that I’ve been flying. Me262’s have made a brief appearance but I haven’t yet had a chance to confront one directly.

Though most of the opposition is capable, they don’t have the performance level that the Tempest has and it makes fighting the opposition a little bit easier. The challenge has definitely gone up over the last few missions as IL-2 patch 4.003 has added considerable more variety and versatility to what the AI can do which has increased the challenge considerably.

IL-2’s Career mode is, in my experience, filled with potential and is already a compelling experience that has connected me to a virtual pilot and given something of an identity to that person. That part hasn’t changed very much since my first experiences with the mode in March of 2018 and that’s not a bad thing.

1CGS has also created unit banners, a history for each squadron, and put a lot of planning and detail into the career mode. Patch 4.003 has also tidied a few items up like making sure that the Tempests are all using the ‘early’ skin at this stage of the conflict in Europe (no yellow surrounds on the upper roundels and a white nosecone and recognition band are the most noticeable differences from the later version) and 500lb and 1000lb bombs are locked out as they weren’t used by this squadron or at this stage.

A few complaints

There are still a few areas of the experience that occasionally fall short. First, as improved as the AI are now, there are still some weak spots that I hope will see further tweaks in the future.

During my last mission the AI struggled with our assignment of attacking an enemy airbase. Though ground attack AI seems to have been improved quite a bit, they still do some weird things. If the target they intended to attack is destroyed they tend to break off prematurely (even if they had a few kilometers to attack again) and end up circling the target doing nothing. In that same mission we were bounced on the way home and despite me cutting down several of the attacking fighters in a prolonged fight, we ended up over our own homebase with the AI circling to land while Bf109’s attacked – the AI seemingly oblivious to the danger.

In other instances, the AI pilots can sometimes chase you clear across the map forgoing any concern for themselves or their own fuel state or well being. Sometimes this leads them to get drawn into flak defenses and handily shot down – although the AI flak gunners can sometimes be a bit less than capable at times.

As time goes on and the new AI programmer tackle new features, I expect these issues to be solved because they have less to do with IL-2’s Career mode as they do with the overall AI. It’ll never be perfect but every improvement brings the experience up a few notches.

Overall a fun experience

The improvements to AI, on top of a very good single player generated experience, and a bunch of mechanics that make you at least feel like you’ve got an identity and are part of something going on are all part of a really good experience that you can have as a single player pilot in IL-2: Great Battles.

Right now, none of IL-2’s competitors offer that kind of guided experience in any way and so I was very glad to see it come over from Rise of Flight and even be improved. Though not perfect, Career mode can be fun and I always like to have one or two Careers going at a time.

The improvements to AI have made the experience better though as I noted above can still be problematic at times. It’s not a huge turn off and frankly I think if you’re a fan of single player you should give career mode a strong look because it can be incredibly fun and even moreso if you try and get at least a little bit invested in the life of your virtual pilot.

I have found that my personal approach to the Career is useful to keep things at least somewhat fresh to what can become a predictable formula:

  1. Never fly more than a few missions at a time. I try and keep the experience fresh and try not to rush through completing a mission. Instead, I fly a mission or two, and move on to the next day in the squadron without trying to hurry along towards the “end” of the campaign. I find I enjoy things much more.
  2. Always play with ‘Iron man’ mode on. This ensures that if your pilot dies or is captured, the career mode is over. I find I fight harder and longer to keep this pilot alive and even ensure that when the odds are against me that I run for home and do what I can to save the pilot if not the aircraft.

Career mode can be great fun and I’m now a bit attached to Squadron Leader Francis Hall. Hopefully I can keep this pilot going through most of the remainder of the war and even on to victory! My fingers are crossed because it’s just as likely that the next mission could be the last…

2 Comments Add yours

  1. CASEY PETERSON says:

    Great write up. I’ve found the same things with my AI wingmen. Flying P-47s at flight leader, I’ve been bounced a few times on the way to the target and all the AI drop their bombs to engage leaving me the only one to push on to the target. Would be great to have the flight break up into “top cover” and mud movers. In most missions I find I’m shooting down 109’s and 190’s chasing my flight. But those are my only big complaints. The experience is so immersive I find myself thinking about missions throughout the day, thinking about what I could have done better, running through what the “debrief” would look like with the CO back at base. It just keeps getting better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Definitely a few things on the AI side that could still get better to make for a better overall experience, however, also very glad to hear that other people are enjoying Career mode as much as I do.

      It’s a good mix in with some of the other ways to fly IL-2.

      Like

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