When a once-popular genre goes underrepresented for so long, it's tempting to give any new entry the benefit of the doubt. That's especially true when that new product comes from a developer known for its dedication to the subject matter. IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover is one such game, and Maddox Games is one such developer. What to make, then, of this unfinished fiasco, especially when its target audience has so few modern options? Like previous IL-2 installments, this World War II combat flight simulator will benefit from a passionate community and the included modification tools. But that's no excuse for the clearly broken state it was released in. The technical issues are a real shame, for underneath them is a solid and complex simulation that deserved a worthy package to showcase it. In time, Cliffs of Dover might soar. But for now, all but the most patient simmers should leave this damaged aircraft in the hangar for further maintenance.
6308880The sun is hardly the most troubling obstacle you face in this disappointing package.None
That something is wrong with Cliffs of Dover is clear from the moment you boot it up and the grating, synthesized fanfare struggles to play, sometimes going silent, other times starting only when you click on various menu options. Once you're in the cockpit, your initial fears won't be unfounded: Cliffs of Dover struggles to maintain a smooth frame rate on machines exceeding the recommended specifications. You can fiddle with the in-game settings, but doing so doesn't always have the drastic effect you might expect, and it might cause unforeseen side effects that should have been noticed and fixed. For example, if you play the tutorial missions on low settings, you can't see the yellow rings you're supposed to fly through. The sudden jitters, drops into single-digit frame rates, and overall choppiness aren't just annoyances: they make the game unenjoyable, at times bordering on unplayable.
Of course, many outstanding PC games have required beefy rigs to get the most out of them, but you generally expect technical struggles to come with an obvious benefit: gorgeous visuals. IL-2's cockpits look phenomenal, and the waters of the English Channel undulate authentically underneath your roaring Spitfire. Most everything else looks just so-so, from canned explosions, to low-fidelity ground textures, to bland buildings. The older Wings of Prey was not a proper simulation, but it set a high bar for flight game graphics using the IL-2 Sturmovik graphics engine, ironically enough. Cliffs of Dover is nowhere near that level of beauty, which makes the chugging even harder to stomach. It's easy to admire how shadows roam across the cockpit if you manage to run the game at higher settings and the way bullets shatter your windshield and leave holes in your wings. (This series' damage modeling has always been terrific.) But it all seems so meaningless when you fly above a relatively bland-looking London or a garish green-yellow countryside, only for the game to turn into a slide show.
It's the little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that's not important right now.
That aforementioned damage model isn't just cosmetic: enemy bullets can puncture vital mechanisms (or if you have bombs at the ready, do something more immediately dramatic), though they are hardly the only factor in how your aircraft handles. Make no mistake: this is the real deal. If you are a dedicated simmer, you will appreciate the attention to detail in the way airplanes feel in the air and react to your actions. Crank up the realism options, and just getting off the ground is as daunting and rewarding as you might expect. A full takeoff procedure is emulated here on these settings, so you need to consider fuel mixture, open radiators, turn on magnetos, adjust prop pitch, and so on. Once you're in the air, vibration might indicate bad pitch, and failure to manage your systems can result in leaks and blown gaskets. (Having your windshield splattered with black goo is always a terrifying sign.) Sim fans will adore this kind of detail, though even they will note some obvious bugs and flaws. For example, you can pull up a menu for communicating to your wingmen, but the options don't actually work. Thus, you may come in for a successful landing, and then have your wingmen crash into you.
If you are new to flight sims, Cliffs of Dover lets you tailor your experience, though you have to jump through a lot of hoops regardless. The useless tutorial missions gloss over too much basic information to make them helpful for new pilots, so neophytes will need to study the manual and adjust controls in the in-game menus before feeling comfortable in the sky. (You absolutely need a joystick to get the most out of this game.) Fortunately for those folks, you can tweak realism settings in any number of ways, so if you are frightened by the prospects of full takeoff and landing procedures, you can avoid those steps altogether. Or better yet, choose the option that lets you start your engine(s) with a single keystroke. You might also engage the autopilot on long stretches and crank up the game speed, turn on the eyesore icons that identify friendlies and enemies, and even turn off stalls and spins. You couldn't call IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover friendly, exactly, but after the initial curve, there are plenty of ways to tailor the experience to your skill level.