The IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles Series has expanded well beyond its original Battle of Stalingrad title adding not only a series of follow-on flight sim titles encompassing World War II and World War I but it also ventured out into more risky terrain by building and integrated a tank sim into the experience. Tank Crew – Clash at Prokhorovka was the first and is so far the only release in that series alongside four collector vehicles. Two of those collector vehicles have been released and an additional two are in development right now.
The series seems to be quietly moving along with a few pieces of new content but the real question is on where Tank Crew goes next. Today I want to explore what comes after and what kinds of things Tank Crew needs to add to the experience to grow.
A new theatre
The first thing that I think Tank Crew needs is a new theatre. Clash at Prokhorovka was a really good way to get into the series and its relatively well realized. Building on an already strong eastern front aircraft set, this piece of the Battle of Kursk was ideal as it enabled the series to bring some classic tanks to life and set them in one of the biggest tank battles in history.
A follow-up title could conceivably jump forward (or backward) to another Eastern Front battle introducing more tanks from that front. But I think it may also benefit the series on the whole if it expands outwards and goes west as the flight simulation has.
There’s already plenty of speculation that the new Churchill Mark IV collector vehicle portents a move to the western front. The tank fits the Prokhorvka battle well but I also see this as a potential gateway. Building the Mark IV means that building a Mark VII would be likely easier as the foundation is already there.
A western front battle would probably overlap with Normandy or Bodenplatte in the combat flight sim space but there’s still some space for a significant battles and a focused map – such as the battle around Bastonge where the series could focus in on the battles there. That overlap would be of potential benefit too as we now have ample aircraft to interact with such a battle. Typhoons and Thunderbolts swooping down from overhead while Shermans and Churchills drove into battle would be very historically cinematic.
Such a scenario would bring in some later war tanks and some favourites in the west. Later model Sherman tanks with the 76mm gun for example. The Cromwell, M10 Wolverine, Jagdpanther, Tiger II, and late Panther tanks would surely interest a wide variety of tankers.
One of the things that Tank Crew is lacking is in replayability. The included single missions and scripted campaigns are fun but with only a limited range of experiences possible. Multiplayer is of course infinitely replayable but not everyone loves to hop into a multiplayer match.
The rest of the IL-2 series benefits from the more endless replayability of the included Career and Advanced Quick Mission experiences that let you have a far greater variety of situations. Although those can also become stale over time, they still offer a far greater range of flexibility.
Tank Crew would benefit from joining in on the AQMB experience – which is admittedly still new and not available to Flying Circus or Tank Crew addons. Selecting from a range of missions from defensive to offensive missions, scouting, and recon in force would probably help satisfy tankers beyond what is currently available.
Every time I mention Tank Crew, someone invariably brings up the issue of infantry. Although the 1CGS team have indicated that large scale infantry battles are not likely, they have said that more infantry would be included and was under development. These features have likely taken a bit of a backseat while the team presses towards release of Battle of Normandy and Flying Circus Vol 2. Still, we know that improvements here are already planned and may well be in some stage of progress.
Infantry inclusion doesn’t have to mean massed infantry attacks. Small clusters of infantry with basic move and fire capabilities linked to the already well animated soldiers we see running from tanks and walking around on airbases would probably suffice. It’s no small ask but one that I suspect may be technically feasible.
The other element would be including more infantry in anti-tank roles would prove interesting. Anti-tank rifles, rockets, and recoilless weapons were commonplace on most fronts of WWII. Operated by infantry, these weapons would add additional threat types beyond artillery and tanks that are the primary threats faced on the battlefield (along with the occasional airstrike).
Enhanced terrain, trees, and vegetation
I can forgive a lot of how Tank Crew looks because of its roots and direct connections to the IL-2 series. Having and maintaining that integrated experience is among the things that I think makes Tank Crew so unique but it comes with some visual downsides. Typical buildings and vegetation features are more than enough to look good while flying over them at high rates of speed. But in a tank you get closer – a lot closer – and while they are adequate it would be great to see them take a step forward.
Prior to release, the IL-2 team made an effort to improve the terrain and they did a great job of it adding visual details on the ground that benefitted tanks and aircraft pilots alike. I’d love to see them take this further and continue to improve the ground visuals.
Beyond that, I’d love for the team to tackle the visuals of trees and vegetation. Fighting “in the weeds” a Tank Crew speciality and for all of the fields that I’ve found myself fighting in, I’ve always wanted to see better grass, vegetation (such as bushes and shrubs) and trees. This would be no small task with the feature having effects across the series. IL-2’s trees are already impressively dense at times so this is more of a visual with enhanced rendering for all of these effects making the tank battles across grassy fields more visually impressive and immersive. Extending the grass rendering distance even further than it is now would be of a significant benefit if it can be done without a huge hit to performance
Fixes to legacy maps
If you’ve driven a tank on any map beyond the Prokhorovka map, you’ll know that there are some problems. Although most of the time these “legacy” flight sim oriented maps are just fine, there are sometimes issues near tree lines where you’ll suddenly run into an invisible obstacle. So disruptive are these obstacles that they can damage and put your tank out of commission for extended periods of time. Implementing a more global fix would be a tremendous benefit to all Tank Crew players – particularly those who play online on some of the mixed use maps.
The Prokhorovka map is also problematic online with many servers electing not to use the map. Both Wings of Libery and Finnish Virtual Pilots – Dynamic War have rolled out scenarios on this map only for it to not work correctly. Some sort of fix is hopefully possible although I’m sure the unique terrain features on the map play a role in this.
Tank Crew is a unique aspect to the IL-2 Great Battles Series. Although no formal follow-up has yet been announced, there is still interest out there for Tank Crew. Having tanks operating alongside aircraft has become normalized in the IL-2 multiplayer experience to some extent. To have staying power, Tank Crew does need some further development and a sequel would certainly open the door to more sustained improvements that would benefit Tank Crew players and flight sim pilots too.
1CGS continuing to engage Digital Forms with the Churchill Mark IV and StuG III suggest to me there’s a sustained effort for Tank Crew still possible in the future. Building these new Collector Tanks keeps the Digital Forms team building a couple of single additions while the 1CGS team finish other projects and plan future ones.
Tank Crew does need a little extra to really boost itself beyond its current form. Although lots of fun already, Tank Crew is a little light on some aspects that the rest of the IL-2 series benefits from such as enhanced replayability and greater immersion. I think these are goals that are within reach.