IL-2’s graphics have made big jumps forward

Sometimes a flight sim takes a big leap forward and looks like a whole new sim all at once. DCS World did when it jumped up to version 2.5 and it did again when it went to 2.7 introducing new clouds, lighting, and all kinds of new effects. The team at 1C Game Studios working on the IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles Series have taken a more incremental approach releasing a significant new visual effect and then moving on to tackle something new. The latest patch has introduced some new visual effects that bring together a series of visual updates that we’ve seen over the last several months… some of which have had a dramatic impact on the visuals in the sim. This is what IL-2 looks like now.

Clouds, sky, sun, stars

The biggest visual changes that we’ve seen from the series involve the sky and I’ll start with the clouds. I’ve already written a piece about how the technology changes to the clouds in the series have altered not just the visuals but how you approach dogfights, strike missions, and more.

The new cloud technology in IL-2 provides for more variety, more depth, more layers, and physically bigger clouds and cloud formations. Tower clouds, thin wispy clouds, popcorn clouds, and a variety of other types of clouds are all represented in a series of new sky conditions. We also now have localized rain and snowstorms that move across the map according to the wind conditions. For a sim that is focused on air combat more than the weather, it’s an impressive improvement.

IL-2 is up against some serious competition with Microsoft Flight Simulator and DCS World offering what I think are still better looking clouds, however, IL-2 has always done well by offering nearly the same visual appeal with minimal performance impact. The series has also always done well by offering a cohesive visual style that fits in so beautifully with the rest of the art in the sim. These don’t exceed the competition but it keeps IL-2 in the very close running. These are still significantly better than any of the volumetric clouds that X-Plane offers (paid and free) and they perform better too!

The other big change is the sky which was introduced in the most recent patch (coming out mid March of 2022 if you read this later on). The sky visuals are no longer an art asset and are instead calculated using real world physics calculations to simulate the way that the sky should look. The change is subtle at times yet still impressive when taken in together with the new clouds.

No longer do we have unusually dark, almost candy coloured sunsets. That’s been replaced by a much more convincing look! Most or all of the colour-banding that I saw before is gone or reduced to such a minimal level that I don’t easily notice it. The sky feels smooth, bright, and more accurate to the real world than before.

The sun and stars have also been overhauled in the most recent patch. More sun effects on clouds appear to be present and the visual of the bright sun feels smoother and more organic than before. The stars have also been given an overhaul. Some are not quite sold on their appearance and I agree that they are maybe just a little too big in some cases… but the overall effect is impressive. And beautiful.

Lighting and other effects

The other big change in the most recent patch is a rework of the overall lighting scheme for the sim. Its subtle but the lighting on objects such as aircraft appears to have been improved bringing out more subtle shapes and hues as the light dances across the texture maps.

The recent lighting updates really bring that to the fore even in lower light situations where the subtle patterns and textures on aircraft seem to come out even better than they used to. In direct sun, the aircraft have what I think is an appropriate level of shine. To the best of my knowledge, IL-2 doesn’t officially have the PBR style rendering system that some other sims are sporting these days but it doesn’t seem to matter as IL-2’s artists and engine programmers have managed to make it look just as good.

The 4K upgrades to the cockpits and exterior textures have also added to the visual feast. Many of you will have also noticed that bomb effects, crash effects, tracers, and smoke effects, have been all tweaked over the last several months as well. The overall effect is more detail, more authenticity, and a better looking sim that seems to be running just as well as before if not better.

Final thoughts

IL-2’s developers have carefully improved their visuals without significantly impacting hardware requirements. To be fair, these have crept forward and GPU VRAM requirements have gone up slightly as a result of the new sky technology with increased memory usage being needed to help calculate the new physics based approach. Still, the increase is minimal with 1GB of VRAM being dropped as the minimum spec in-favour of 2GB of VRAM. I know a few of you may still be running with GPU’s with small amounts of VRAM but cards dating back several generations were offering more than 2G of VRAM and most other sims are asking for much more. At some point the sim has to move forward.

Of course, to get the most out of the sim you’ll need to set it to the maximum settings. Fortunately, IL-2 works well across a wide range of hardware types so recent systems can easily run the sim at maximum settings with buttery smooth frame rates. Even my six year old system that I was running on until just recently was able to keep it at a solid 60fps at 1080p nearly all of the time. VR remains more demanding but VR simmers tell me that IL-2 is still the smoothest VR experience you can have.

Rather than offering a massive visual update across the entire sim all at once, 1CGS have, as I mentioned in the preamble, been busy updating the sim one component at a time. Although it doesn’t have the same visual jump forward that we have seen elsewhere, it still has impact and I love to see sims like this one continue to push forward. Pushing the limits here have been done very carefully and the result is a sim that continues to look better all the time while walking the tightrope between eye-candy and performance.

The Great Battles series has never looked as good as it does now.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Piotr Góra says:

    thx for a few words, but as you can read on Il2 forum there are a lot of problems with the new patch and VR. Sun, and lighting is overdone, stars are to big, banding colours of clouds and sky at dawn or night is huge. We are waiting for a patch because it is very annoying during flight ;( It seems that developer doesnt test the patch on VR headsets (HP Reverb G2 especially)

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    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I hadn’t heard anything about this. Sorry to hear that the VR experience isn’t working as well.

      It looks superb on a flat screen and I don’t have much VR experience unfortunately.

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      1. Firdimigdi says:

        I play sims almost exclusively in VR and indeed there are some issues still around in IL2 – relevant bug reports have been made about them.

        Sky color banding is there but different, it never bothered me that much before so YMMV, but it’s still definitively there even at the highest quality settings both on monitor and in VR. But the lighting model used now is so much better.

        Planet/star size is unfortunately still exaggerated in VR even after the latest hotfix which reduced it, but TBH that doesn’t really matter too much as the night-fighter or bomber experience needs more fleshing out to justify sinking hours in night sorties. As it is at least, once more, the lighting model is very pleasant and natural feeling at night as well.

        This brings me to the one major, game effecting, problem the sunglare in VR has: it is triggered even when the sun is barely in your field of view – whereas with a monitor you have to pretty much look in the direction of the sun to get it to activate the white-out effect. And before the experts jump in saying the same things they say in the forum “but if you stare at the sun bla bla bla”; I live in a country were we get plenty of sun and I’m out in it more often than not even at summertime, this isn’t it trust me.

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      2. Firdimigdi says:

        Just piping in after having had a look at the latest hotfix as of this writing, 4.703c. I can quite happily say that all the issues found when playing in VR I mentioned in my previous reply here have been addressed – they’ve delivered and then some.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Excellent news! Just writing up something on that now.

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    2. Skycat says:

      I also have a Reverb G2. My observation is sunset and night clouds look better with HDR enabled. Clouds set to Low quality and with HDR turned on will render with less banding than clouds set to Extreme quality and HDR turned off. Furthermore, there is practically no banding when clouds are at High or Extreme quality and HDR is turned on. The trade-off is HDR turns night into a flat, muddy gray. If you turn HDR off, night becomes dark and the stars look more natural; but the clouds look awful. Conversely, mid day scenarios with HDR turned on look slightly washed out and the clouds lack detail. Turning HDR off is subjectively the best setting for daytime missions.

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  2. CanadaOne says:

    I spend precious little time with IL2 these days but the new graphics are very nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      It’s tough to stay up with more than a couple of sims (I try and stay up with 4!) . But definitely worth keeping tabs on the latest in IL-2 land as they continue to improve the sim!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oyster_KAI says:

    Grayscale color at night is very scientifically based, because the human eye cannot perceive the correct color in low light. If you turn on the landing lights, you will see colors where the light hits.
    If you think the night is too clear, adjusting the gamma to 0.7~0.8 works very well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Yes, I love that they did that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another sim do it and while I was taken aback at first it made a lot more sense to me as I started flying it. Very cool!

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    2. Firdimigdi says:

      This was indeed the most surprising aspect of the lighting model change. It was so intuitive too that it took me a while to register that it was happening.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Cahokia says:

    I agree visual effects are better than ever.
    However 3D models are way below current standards.
    Even in the game two generations of models cohabit.
    Look at the Yak-1 and compare it to Yak-9.
    More polygons in the latter.

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    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I wouldn’t say way below current standards. IL-2’s older models are not quite as good looking as their newer ones but they all blend together well thanks to a common art style and upgraded textures.

      The story is the same over with DCS World where the latest modules have some absolutely insane detail levels but we also have the S-3 Viking and C-17 as counterpoints – models that are decades old.

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