Variety is the spice of life and in the latest Scripted Campaign direct from 1C Game Studios and their in-house campaign author, Black Six, you get more variety than you’d expect from flying the IL-2 Sturmovik. ‘Ice Ring’ is the third Scripted Campaign from 1CGS focused on the Battle of Stalingrad. This scripted campaign focuses in on the winter part of the campaign including the air bridge and the attempted Stalingrad breakout. What is the campaign like, what experiences will you have, and is it worth it to buy? Let’s have a look!
Any time I do some work that crosses over with content I write on the blog, I let people know about that relationship. I worked with Alex / “BlackSix” and Jason Williams to create the promotional trailer for this campaign and I want to be upfront and transparent about that.
I write my own reviews and at no point has anyone told me what to write or gotten a preview of my review before I published it here. I do my best to give my own opinion in an unbiased a way as possible and to give you as much information as possible.
The Stalingrad encirclement
On the 19th of November, the Soviet army launched Operation Uranus – an operation directed at the Romanian 3rd Army. The Romanians, denied any kind of reinforcements, were quickly overrun by Soviet tanks with parts of the offensive reaching from the south and north to meet at Kalach. This began the encirclement of Stalingrad and set the stage for the next few months of fighting for the city.
A massive airlift effort was put into operation with much of the Luftwaffe’s precious Ju52’s were pressed into service transporting supplies for the beleaguered army group. That’s where the story of ‘Ice Ring’ begins with the first few missions setting you up with a special air group.
The 226th ShAD was tasked with taking IL-2 pilots that had some air combat experience and putting them to work against the Ju52 flights. During this first phase of ‘Ice Ring’ you’ll be performing reconnaissance and interception flights. Later, as the campaign progresses you’ll returning to more traditional IL-2 tasks.
Variety and immersion are key features
Far from being “just another campaign featuring the IL-2,” I found Ice Ring to be very interesting and varied as I said earlier. Its missions are drawn from the history of the battle portraying the progression from interception flights against the air bridge effort to attacks on air bases and then attacks on ground forces as the encirclement around Stalingrad gradually closes in. Then, finally, a last push as the German army group at Stalingrad makes an effort to break out.
Because of the historical nature, there is a certain repetitiveness to the basic concept of the missions in each of the phases. Two missions back to back with similar goals might appear boring from the outset, however, what BlackSix does really well is give each mission its own unique character. The weather, time of day, and the tactical situation all combine together to make for interesting missions.
BlackSix’s mission design blends the missions of your flight in with dozens of other aircraft and the busy skies around Stalingrad never feel empty. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do it a better with air combat and other combat missions all happening at once nearby while never really feeling like they are crowding you out. Combine that with ample pockets of ground troops engaging in firefights across different parts of the frontline and you have a very immersive single player experience.
The story of an IL-2 pilot
As with previous campaigns from Black Six, including the IL-2 Model 1943 based ‘Sea Dragon’s’ campaign, you’re treated to a story that goes along with the campaign. It reads like a novel with the notes and diary of a pilot telling them the situation from their eyes. I’ve read the story before each mission and it often sticks with me as I’m flying the actual mission providing depth and context to what you see while you’re out flying. They aren’t necessary but it is a nice touch that helps offer some polish to the campaign.
Some may skip these stories altogether but I really found them to be interesting. The challenges of fighting a war in a deep freeze are played out here as is the camaraderie and occasional difficulties between fellow pilots and other members of the squadron. It’s a nice touch for each of the campaigns that BlackSix has released over the years and this one is no different.
My only issue here is that when I do need to look something up mid mission, I do have to scroll past a lot of text to get to the bottom. That’s more a limit of IL-2’s mission briefing system and maybe a future suggestion to have a story and mission objective tab for scripted campaigns.
Scripted Campaigns are a key part of the IL-2: Great Battle Series single player experience. While the Career mode offers plenty of replayability and endless numbers of generated scenarios, there’s something to be said about playing a hand crafted experience where you know that a human mission designer spent time and thought through each part of the experience. Here is where a campaign like ‘Ice Ring’ shines and indeed ‘Ice Ring’ is a very consistent experience with quality mission design running through the whole campaign.
The 15-missions included are, for the most part, fast, fun, and have plenty of variety when it comes to what actually goes on during the mission. Every mission feels extremely polished and there were no problems with triggers not working or parts of the mission stopping because you just missed a waypoint by a few meters.
I liked the shorter nature of the missions in this campaign. While a few will have you cover some greater distance, the tactical nature of the Stalingrad campaign is such that IL-2 squadrons were based just minutes from the front line and so if you like relatively quick action, this campaign will deliver – along with a few surprises of course. If you wanted a longer missions that you can really dig into this campaign may feel a bit short.
For myself, I was enjoying the snappy and fun nature of the missions so much that I was able to play through all of them quickly with the story and fast action driving me along. I found that I was easily able to fly a few missions in one sitting. It’s a bit of a paradox then that this campaign is so much fun and yet over so quickly.
Ultimately, ‘Ice Ring’ is very much on par BlackSix’s previous IL-2 campaigns and especially the ‘Sea Dragons’ campaign that came with IL-2: Battle of Kuban. This is an excellent set of missions that offers you a lot of variety of mission type. If you like flying the IL-2, and enjoy single player scripted campaigns, this is one of the best experiences you can have.
An assortment of screenshots from the campaign.
As mentioned in my initial disclaimer, I worked with BlackSix using a finished version of the campaign, to build a promotional trailer. I hope you find it fun to watch!