Summary: The creators of IL-2: Sturmovik and IL-2: Forgotten Battles are back, this time covering the Pacific War between Japan, the US and Commonwealth forces. Is it as good as the previous games? Better question: how is it different from its predecessors?
Oleg Maddox and his team of developers have moved theaters to the bright, sunny Pacific Ocean, concentrating the new game on the Pacific War between Japan and the United States, while also giving a nod to the Australians and Brits in the theater. So instead of a predominantly Russian-German cast of aircraft, Pacific Fighters features American and Japanese fighters, with some British planes like the Seafire, Spitfire and Beaufighter thrown in.
The terrain has changed completely. In fact, much of the time, there's very little terra firma to be seen. Should you choose the life of a carrier pilot, you'll fly, live and die over water. There are multiple dynamic campaigns available, for the USAAF, Imperial Japanese Army, Imperial Japanese Navy, US Marine Corps, US Navy, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Navy. Some of the campaigns offer the player a choice between the life of a fighter and bomber pilot.
Yet, despite all these changes and additions, there is absolutely no denying that Pacific Fighters is still just IL-2 at heart. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, if much of the flight sim community considers the flight performance of the aircraft to be very true to life (even if the controls are a bit touchy), one can hardly blame the developers for simply continuing the tradition. Change simply for the sake of change isn't bad.
This doesn't disguise the fact that this really is just a theater change, however. The criticisms we had of Forgotten Battles are just as true now as they were before - if not more so. The focus on realism and appeal to the hardcore community is all-pervasive. Even at the easiest difficulty levels, with realism turned down, it takes more skill to fly a plane in Pacific Fighters than it ever did in say... European Air War.
For all the notable achievements of the development team, like re-creating mobile aircraft carriers (and the AI pilots to be able to use them - both tasks sound a lot simpler than they really are), the fact is that 1C: Maddox Games stayed far away from the core issues that afflict their games, but we'll get to that later.
The cockpits, and the aircraft around them, are crafted with the painstaking detail that only a born, bred and trained rivet-counter could make. The aircraft and interiors even show signs of wear, like worn paint in interiors, plus dirt and oil stains on the exteriors. No doubt a good portion of Pacific Fighters' sales go to hobbyist aircraft modelers looking for accurate source material on their favorite World War II planes. All aircraft in the game have an impressive variety of damage models. Each plane has several skins that show increasing levels of damage, often on a specific part like a wing, the forward fuselage, or the tail. Aircraft can lose parts too, like the vertical stabilizer, an aileron, an engine, a wing, or an aileron.
For a game so concerned with aircraft, there was an impressive effort made to model ground vehicles and ships. Tanks, while perhaps not as pretty as in some games, are recognizable, to scale, and have all the basics covered - rotating tracks, turrets and even capabilities (no way a BT-6 tank is going to take on a King Tiger, for example). Ships are even more detailed, with the most effort spent on carriers but battleships and destroyers are also exquisite. 1C has done up several historical classes of ships, like the King George V class of battleships, the Lexington class heavy carrier and of course Japanese counterparts, as well as "generic" battleships and carriers.
As with all 1C games, anti-air artillery is far too accurate and colorful to be believable, but it makes for some extremely impressive ground effects. Ships in particular are capable of dishing out devastating walls of lead up at enemy aircraft, firing a variety of AAA guns in bursts and patterns that quickly decimate formations of planes.
The sound effects are quite excellent though they're the exact same ones used in previous games. For all we know they're the real sounds, though a few too many aircraft use the same engine noises. All 4-engine bombers, for example, sound the same. Many fighters might as well have identical engines and propellers for all the difference in sound that they have. It's not that we expect them to sound different from the outside, but it would be nice to hear that you're inside a Bf-109 with a DB-601 inverted V12 engine, rather than a P-47 with the 18-cylinder double wasp radial Pratt & Whitney R-2800.
No doubt historical aviataion enthusiasts are thrilled at the prospect of flying in formation and being told off when they veer so much as a few dozen feet too high, too low, too far ahead or whatever, but it's just not the kind of thing that's possible to get excited about. Worse, unlike so many previous games in other franchises, there's no "skip ahead" option to the next sequence - the best that Pacific Fighters offers is a fast-forward time clock.
Of course, there are some strange things that the AI does and expects a player to do on his sorties. A favorite tactic of close air support aircraft like IL-2s is to find their objective (a town or an armored column), line up and hit it - all from the same side. Not being a World War II IL-2 pilot myself I can't exactly testify whether or not this is historically accurate, but it doesn't seem like very effective. After all, it permits the enemy the ability to focus their AA fire in only one direction without having to worry about splitting it. Should the player decide to try something independent, he'll quickly receive complaints from his AI flight leader in the radio chatter.
Much of the appeal of the game is in multiplayer for many players. There is no tougher competition than a living human being, especially when he has two years of experience under his belt, a Saitek X-45 or X-52 HOTAS system, rudder pedals, and using TrackIR is second nature to him... while you fly in with your Microsoft Sidewinder and keyboard. On top of that, many of the most popular servers disable padlock - so not only are you without the goodies, you don't even get built-in software assistance.
If that wasn't an intimidating enough barrier to entry, to actually get there you have to go through UbiSoft's matchmaking service which is just as frustrating and intrusive as it ever was. Proof of that? How about never having seen anyone online. Fortunately, there's Hyperlobby. Unfortunately, it takes either previous experience with these games to find it, or digging around on Google or the forums. Oh, and to join most games games, you must have installed IL-2: Forgotten Battles, the Aces Expansion Pack, and then Pacific Fighters on top of that. Following that, you must download and install patches 3.01 followed by 3.01 content pack and then patch 3.02 common. That's not all: once you install 3.02 common, you need to install 3.02bm, because you have FB+AEP+PF. You have to make sure to download the proper patches, install them in the right order, or your game won't work. On the bright side, you can screw up and re-start the patch process again without having to re-install the game. Why can't 1C: Maddox Games figure out unified patching? We don't know; we just know not to ever try patching one of their games again. Unless you really want to become a victim for the guy with $500 of flight sim hardware who denies you any software assistance.
With Ubi.com, we experienced a problem trying to get Pacific Fighters to play in multiplayer when it was installed over Forgotten Battles and the Ace Expansion Pack. This is an optional installation method that makes it possible to use all the aircraft from a single game - but prevented Ubi.com from actually detecting Pacific Fighters. To make things more confusing, there isn't actually a listing in the Ubi application for Pacific Fighters. No, you have to figure out that you're actually playing IL-2 Forgotten Battles.
Few are the days when we wish for GameSpy Arcade, but this is definitely one of them. So pardon me if it sounds like I'm choking the words out, but... I... wish... Ubi... licensed... GameSpy. Better yet, I wish Ubi.com worked like Battle.net or even Steam.
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