In this episode, Chuck closes out the series with a look at the new tech that has been added to the game engine and finishes off with his thoughts on IL-2 Sturmovik: Desert Wings – Tobruk.
If you missed one of the earlier sections, here is a reference list of what was covered (with links):
- Part 1 – The Desert War – An overview of the history of the North Africa Desert War covered by Tobruk;
- Part 2 – “I Don’t Like Sand” – A review of the map, environments and units you will encounter;
- Part 3 – The Aircraft – Which I think that you can guess, is about the aircraft that you get to fly;
- Part 4 – Under the Hood & Final Thoughts;
Note: this article/review is not sponsored and reflects the thoughts and opinions of the author only.
PART 4 – Under the Hood
Desert Wings Tobruk is built on the aging Il-2 Cliffs of Dover engine. This means that the clunky user interface is still clunky. The shading isn’t the shiniest and the prettiest in the business. The method to spawn at airfields is still weird. Control binding is still unpleasant. The shoreline can sometimes look a bit blocky when flying at high altitudes. Internal and external shadows can be jagged at certain angles. Clouds can sometimes pop as you come within their LOD reach. There are a few bugs here and there. There are a number of legacy issues that the development team itself has little control over unless significant amounts of time and money are spent to rebuild assets from scratch and risk breaking stuff that already works. By no means is the simulator not functional, but there are areas that could use a few quality-of-life improvements.
However, while I could spend a lot of time on focusing about what Desert Wings Tobruk isn’t… I’d rather talk about what it is and what it does well. Aircraft damage, for instance, still holds up after all these years. You get all sorts of oil leaks, glycol leaks, shattered glass, torn metal sheets, engine degradation, fuel tank fires, blown up landing gears, bent propellers… If you ever fly through thick flak, you may find yourself in disbelief when looking at your plane once you land. If intercepting bombers, a surgical approach will always work better than blasting in the aircraft’s rough area. I like the fact that smaller caliber ammunition will not necessarily snap a wing in half but will more often cripple aircraft components that will eventually kill an engine in a matter of minutes. For all these cinematic one-pass-kills, cannons are more than sufficient for the job. Machinegun belts can be customized, which allows you to carry either more armor-piercing, incendiary, tracer or plain regular rounds.
The new fire and smoke effects are quite a spectacle. Some may say that it looks a bit too cinematic for their taste, but personally I think it’s a big improvement over what we had before. When a big battle takes place over Tobruk, I can just sit there and watch the fight from afar as bombers wreck the harbor and ignite the fuel reservoirs. Cliffs of Dover and Desert Wings also allow an impressive amount of units to coexist at once. There are missions where I had more than 80 aircraft, 30 anti-aircraft batteries and 10 ships all at once and I could still maintain a butter smooth 60 frames per second. Multiplayer stability is also solid from my experiences on the ATAG and Team Fusion servers. The way I always saw this particular simulator series is: once you’re up in the air and flying, it’s easy to forget about the messy GUI and just enjoy the show.
After reading this particular thread on the Il-2 forums, Team Fusion’s clear intentions of improving their sim makes me hopeful that Desert Wings is a title that is there to stay and grow with its playerbase. There appears to be plans for the addition of VR, the TrueSky weather engine, new clouds, SPEEDTREE, an increased level of detail for the terrain, control for ground and sea units… and much more.
The addition of flashcards is what I’ve been wanting for years from most of my sims. Did you forget how to use the bomb aimer station on the Wellington? It’s in there. Can’t remember what your engine limits are? It’s in there too. You can’t find that annoying fuel cock lever in that one plane variant you use once every blue moon? Yes. It’s. In. There. The Team Fusion Manual Creation team did a fantastic job of condensing a lot of useful information into a few one-pagers that are a few clicks away, and unlike some goofballs who take hundreds of pages to get you up to speed for a plane (cough cough) the flash card format does that quite effectively for a fraction of the page count. The format is uniform, the information is well laid out and relevant, and most important of all… it’s super useful! I’ve been advocating for flight sim developers to create this kind of documentation for years, and I’m glad Team Fusion finally bit the bullet and did it properly.
Part 5 – So… Is it worth it?
I’ve read a number of reviews, and I think you really have to sink in a few hours in the sim before you can manage to have an accurate impression of what Desert Wings Tobruk is. There is zero credibility to the claims that the game has no content, It’s not the shiniest and prettiest 2020 title around, but it more than makes it up in terms of gameplay, aircraft variety, mission types, and the overall feel of how the Desert War was in the air. If you’ve managed to read through the whole third part of this article, it’s quite evident that the plane roster is more than adequate for an Il-2 title. Aircraft variants aren’t limited to an up-rated engine or cosmetic items… they bring in new mission types, new kinds of armament and they show the never-ending struggle engineers and technicians had to strive for creating the best airplane they could do to win the war.
The Mediterranean Theatre is one of the most overlooked yet interesting pages of aviation history in terms of aircraft variety. There’s a bit of everything for fans of British, American, German, and Italian planes. The new warbirds aren’t cheap knock-offs; we’re not talking about modded planes, placeholder sounds and fudged performance lookup tables. We’re talking about something fresh, something that begs to be discovered…a real labour of love, if you will.
I wasn’t completely sure about how I felt about this sim until I hopped on multiplayer with the “old gang”. All it took was a few hours to get hooked back into the wonderful world of Il-2. It was “Reds” versus “Blues” all over gain, people called out that Hun on their six, people butchered airfield names… and most importantly, I was having fun. Objectively, this is the kind of game that would likely never have been greenlit by anyone in the flight sim market due to the “obscure” historical setting, and I, for one, am glad Team Fusion was able to bring to us this worthy addition to the Il-2 series.