There are few things more disappointing than waiting half a decade for a game release only for the game to be rushed, broken and no way near as enjoyable as the original. Sadly this was the case with IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover - the sequel to the fantastic IL-2 Sturmovik series of realistic WWII simulators that stretch all the way back to 2002. In fact, the game was so poor, we only published a review in our sister magazine, Custom PC back in March last year, so lets have a recap for the things that made it so bad.
It was clear from the outset that the game had been released too early. News that Oleg Maddox, the game's developer left the team very close to the release date seemed to confirm suspicions that Ubisoft had lost its patience with the game being years passed its deadline, and pushed it out the door too early. This was apparent in the lack of advertising and marketing pre-launch and the fact the release practically came out of nowhere.
Frame rates were terrible, graphics were choppy and the game lacked a good campaign mode - one of the best features of previous versions due to the fact they are far more immersive than playing through single missions. Personally, I loved the occasional aircraft upgrades too, with new marks and models hitting the scene every now and then, just as they would have in WWII. Instead, the game had one dire, and one mediocre scripted campaign - far cry from the dynamic campaigns that were promised early in the game's development. These issues were amongst numerous others that, all in all, made for a very disappointing game, especially if you played offline more than online.
Since release, the game has received four patches, with the last in October last year, so our task here today is to see if, a little over a year after the game's release, it's actually worth getting. It still retails for £30 on Steam, but improvements in the performance, particularly with lower-spec machines appear to have been a key goal from the first update. Specifically, the April 2011 patch has apparently added fixes that will drastically improve frame rates, particularly if you have a four or more CPU cores. Another gripe that has apparently been fixed is the momentary freezing, which was apparently caused by trees and other vegetation.
How it plays in 2012
Sadly, the opening screen reveals a number of disappointments. There still appears to be only two campaigns and a tiny selection of historic missions, despite promising more content in the first patch over a year ago - the only addition seems to be a few more quick missions. A majority of the pre-release work as far as gameplay goes has gone into the multiplayer aspect of the game - this is fine, but with the series having such a great pedigree in offline play, it's a shame it doesn't look like this is going to be fixed any time soon.
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There are of course numerous third party missions and even a work-in-progress dynamic campaign, however we're looking at the game as it is out of the box and unfortunately it's still lacking in these areas.
Thankfully, on the graphics and performance front a lot has improved. We used the same Core i5-2500K and GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB that we did when we looked at the game over a year ago, and there's clearly been some serious work going on to improve the issues with frame rates and stuttering. Instead of frame rates regularly dropping below 20fps, we were now whizzing around at 30fps+ even at low altitudes and over built up areas. This is with the graphics settings set to high and with 8xAA at 1,920 x 1,200. At higher altitudes things got even better with the frame rate hanging around the 50fps mark.
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Strangely, the fabulous-looking cockpit really hammers the frame rate. In most situations, it cuts it in half, compared to the other cockpit modes or external views. This certainly didn't happen in its predecessor but maybe it's a sacrifice for the superb visuals of sunlight illuminating the controls and dials.