This game is going to be absolutely HUGE! But not just yet. I understand that there are a couple of major patches still in Beta which are being tested prior to the US launch on May 24th. The April 19th patch delivered major FPS gains for me, to a point that made the game playable. However, gameplay is still weak compared with "IL2 1946". I believe this game will be a new benchmark for the WWII combat flight simulator genre. But it's not ready yet. Any review I write will have to reflect this opinion. In view of the pressure to publish prematurely, I therefore intend this as a "Preview" to be followed by a, hopefully, more positive "Review" following the US launch patches.
I have been playing "IL2" in it's various incarnations online for almost three years now, and hardly a day goes by without having to feed my addiction to the roar of Merlins and clatter of 20mm cannons. "Cliffs of Dover" is going to be the successor that takes the game to new heights of graphic eye-candy, sophistication in flight and damage modelling, and in-cockpit realism, with a new game engine and bolt-ons that were undreamed of when we first strapped on a Spitfire. When I first saw the trailers, and fired up "Cliffs of Dover", the sheer beauty of the graphics overwhelmed me. The planes are lovely as factory fresh units, or worn and patched veterans of use and aerial combat. The ground detail is rich and varied, lovely airstrips with refueling bowsers and tractors buzzing around, hangars, control towers amd field furniture such as runway markers, oil barrels and the rest of the detritus of a working airfield, pastoral scenes of Southern England basking in an Elysian summer, skies and clouds that are a delight to loop and roll in, and an English Channel that sparkles in the sunlight, or broods ominously on a grey day, ready to swallow up a ditching pilot and drown him without trace. Damage modelling and graphics have improved dramatically over IL2's standards, with many more systems capable of taking damage and failing than we have seen before. We are used to losing elevators, parts of tailplane, one or more guns and taking holes in wings, fuel tanks, and fuselages, non-terminal engine damage, and pilot injuries that effect plane performance and manoeuvrability to varying degrees while still permitting us to limp home for a crash-landing in a smoking, leaking, battered "kite". Imagine taking a few minor hits as your Hurricane hacks down a Stuka, feeling no effects, then zooming back to base for a victory-roll and a smooth touchdown prior to a trip down the pub...Just to find, on final approach, that your wheels won't go down because all the hydraulic fluid leaked out of the system due to those "insignigicant" hits! That sort of thing can happen with the new damage modelling.
Flight modelling is rather harder to evaluate with the limited planes yet available. I have often wished I could sit my father in front of my PC with a Spitfire loaded up at "Full Realism" settings and ask him if this was really the way a Spitfire flew and felt in the air. Alas, the number of people who have actually flown these planes at the edges of their envelopes is now temporally reduced, so we can only rely on the numbers and trust that Maddox has gotten it right. Thankfully there are as yet no "Uber" planes in "Cliffs of Dover" such as the I-185 and LA-7 in IL2 which are generally agreed to have been "overmodelled" to such a degree that they are only fit to be flown by new players, and those egregious "scalp-hunters" to whom high scores and bragging rights are more important than balanced game-play.
One of the nice new features in "Cliffs of Dover" is the "clickable cockpit" in which various switches and levers can be mouse-clicked in the proper sequence, to faithfully reproduce correct engine start and warm-up procedures for the hard-core grognards amongst us. This is an option that is selectable in the "Realism panel" where you can set varying levels in the realism/playability balance to suit yourself, either in singleplayer or in hosted online games. This is being explored in a lot of the sessions currently available online since it is so new. Another new feature which you will find in the "Control" panel is the ability to set keys for vehicle and gun controls for ground unit and ship controls. This will eventually allow for players to control ships, anti-aircraft guns and ground vehicle targets, perhaps expanding the engine to run an enhanced version of Battlefront type games and raising the importance of ground attack versus the aerial dogfighting element which we currently enjoy. The potential this offers is enormous. In the future we will see features incorporated into the game like those in various IL2 mods. Zuti's moving dogfight delivered to IL2 mobile AI-controlled ground and aerial targets which have been incorporated into "Cliffs of Dover".The player crafted campaigns in IL2, such as JG26's France 1940, allow the aerial battles and bombing attacks to influence territory gains, and the re-drawing of the front lines. Capture an airfield and leapfrog some fighter and Jabo squadrons forward, and you alter the entire nature of the aerial and ground battle. The potential is enormous. There are provisions for modding, mapmaking, and campaign creation built into the engine, and the work that has gone into "Cliffs of Dover" builds upon the evolution of the IL2 series, and provides for the next ten years of development of the genre. No wonder it has been so long in arriving in a playable form.
But IS it playable? I have waxed lyrical about the beauty of the game, and it's potential, but is it yet a flyable alternative to "IL2 1946"? For the thousands of talented modders, modellers, mapmakers, campaign-creators and pilots to embrace "Cliffs of Dover", for the developers to be able to refine and implement their future plans for the game and include Russian, American and Japanese planes and campaigns, the US launch to the genre's biggest market will have to be a success, both critically and financially. As I and many other players have found, We will need to invest in new computer hardware to enjoy this game properly, the SYSTEM SPECS reflect the increased sophistication of the engine, both in terms of GPU and CPU requirements. This game will spawn a sales boost for rigs, graphics cards and processors, as well as flight accessories such as JOYSTICKS, HOTAS rigs, and TRACKIR's There is alot riding on this game both for Oleg Maddox and 1C, and for the WWII combat flight simulator community. For this to happen the game will have to exhibit gameplay characteristics at least equal to those currently enjoyed in "IL2 1946". And for me the gameplay is not yet there. Gameplay is enhanced by beautiful graphics, but really only marginally, Pacman and Aliens had appalling graphics, but the gameplay kept us pushing quarters into the slot. What I am looking for is adequate FPS to dogfight, sufficient players in server to make the fight interesting, and squads flying together in-game, co-ordinating their fight over comms. systems such as Teamspeak. For "Cliffs of Dover" to succeed will require a US launch that will bring the community off the fence and into the skies over the "Cliffs of Dover"; that will convince them to buy rigs and upgrade hardware to run the game at it's full potential; that will spur community organisations to set up, or divert existing servers to offer the game online. God, I pray for a successful and bug-free US launch, probably as hard as alot of folks in Russia are praying!
Do I sound like I'm fence-sitting? Well, I am. Until a successful US launch, and the appearance of alot more servers and on-line pilots I will still be flying mostly in "IL2-1946". Should you buy this game? If you have a high-end rig, are an IL2 addict, and are prepared to be a beta tester then by all means buy "Cliffs of Dover" now and help support the development team who are working 7 days a week to make it ready to fly by the new U.S. launch date of May 24th. However, if you are new to the combat flight sim genre or want to just get in and fly, then you would be better served buying a copy of "IL2-1946", installing "ULTRAPACK 4.01.1", downloading the HYPERLOBBY application and getting airborne in multiplayer as soon as you have mastered the basic take off and landing manoeuvres. The online community are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful...And need some newbie targets to boost their scores. Get on TEAMSPEAK3, and before you know it they will have you dogfighting like an ace, and exploring the amazing wealth of planes, theatres and campaigns that ten years of development and a talented community have added to this game, and made it the current benchmark of WWII combat flight simulators.