1C Maddox Games finally got their flight sim IL-2 Sturmovik out the door and onto shop shelves a couple of weeks ago. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Oleg Maddox was demoing the game at ECTS in the developers lounge a few years back. The game looked visually impressive even then and looks even more impressive now. So how did it shape up now we have our hands on it?Il-2 Sturmovik is set in the more unusual and certainly less well known theatre of war, the battle between the German and Russians during World War II. This is one plus point for Il-2, it’s taking many gamers into an unknown historical scenario for the first time. We’ve all battled it out over the Pacific and Western Europe so this comes as a refreshing change.First of all let’s stress one thing about IL-2, this game is a real challenge. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I have booted up a flight sim, gone straight into a campaign and unsuccessfully managed to takeoff from the runway. You may think this is a negative point but trust me it isn’t. As soon as you attempt to fly an aircraft in IL-2 you are in for a real surprise, this is one well thought out and designed sim bringing a real sense of authenticity to the genre.Not to be put off by my inability to take off, it was time to check out the game’s training mode. The training missions included show you step by step procedures to flying the game’s aircraft. The training is non- interactive so you can sit back relax and watch the pros in action. This was a nice way to present the training but it would have been easier to be talked through it with you in control. You can take control at any point by flicking back to the menu but it makes the training a little confusing.IL-2 features a whole stack of aircraft for you to master, 31 types in total some different variants of each aircraft type, including Russian and German planes. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough the game also features 40 other aircraft to fly against and put your skills to the ultimate test. Before taking to the skies, after the training you’ll need to find a good balance between your flying ability and realism. IL-2 is one h** of a realistic feeling flight sim. Just as an example on how the game physics work, in one mission the IL-2 I was flying came a little to close to an enemy aircraft mid-air and the turbulence of the other aircraft passing actually sent me into a spin, now that was a real surprise and certainly made me sit up and pay attention. Fortunately the game has a vast array of realism settings so it may take some tweaking to get things just how you like it.Il-2 features a vast array of aircraft controls that you will need to master. There’s no messing around here, if you are not familiar with your aircraft you’ll be in a whole lot of trouble. Knowing simple things like where your flaps and what setting they should be on or how to control you throttle are absolutely essential. One small mistake and the aircraft could come to a rather timely end. You may think IL-2 is sounding a bit heavy going but this is the first flight sim I have played where you need to show the aircraft some real respect. Treat and control the aircraft well and it will do it’s job, be sloppy and you’ll come unstuck very quickly.IL-2 features single player stand-alone missions for those that just want to get into the air and into the action. There is also a fully featured campaign mode which offers up a variety of mission types that will keep you hard at it for quite some time. Another thing you will notice about IL-2 during missions is that the game world is very alive, not only will you be kept busy in the air but the war is also raging on the ground and you can actually see things unfolding below you and responding to your presence in the air. The AI is also impressive and will really test your piloting skills, it can be unpredictable which makes missions a real challenge.To get the most from your flying time there are a vast array of views. The standard c**pit view will probably send you into a blind panic with all the gauges and levers, not to mention the reduced visibility. This option will certainly give you that authentic feeling but for the less ambitious flight sim gamers there are numerous outside views and 3rd person views which can be rotated. There is also a view which removes the c**pit and shows a HUD with basic gauges, this is probably the easiest way to fly and one that was certainly used a lot when playing here. You can also play the part of a rear gunner depending on which aircraft you’re flying, a nice touch that adds variety to the gameplay.No doubt about it IL-2 is a stunning looking game. Trees look like real 3D living trees from the air and the objects on the ground look very real making feel like you are part of this war time scenario. The graphics are a real triumph and definitely the best in any flight sim around at the moment, each aircraft is stunningly detailed and the paint work and textures are spot-on. Flak , rockets, smoke, clouds, terrain, it’s all here and it all looks fantastic. If you fancy being a little creative you can also create your own skins for the aircraft and submit them to the IL-2 site for others to see..The game performed well on the machine here which was a 1.4 Ghz Athlon with a gig of ram. Ok so it should run well on that but we did try it on a PIII 650 with 128 Meg of RAM and it performed adequately. If there was one thing that needed a bit of work it was the actual menu interfaces, they seem a little rough round the edges but don’t let that put you off, it’s the action that counts. There is one word of warning with IL-2 and that’s your OS. IL-2 would not run under windows XP at all, it just sent the whole game into jerko-vision. With so many PC’s shipping with Windows XP now this is a real drawback and something Maddox will hopefully sort out soon.The game’s sound I have to say was superb. All the aircraft sound unique and the gunfire/missiles effects are excellent, but the real star of the show has to be the radio chatter. With Maddox being a Russian developer it’s great to hear real authentic Russian accents coming from the other aircraft, this certainly added to the whole feel of the campaigns and the German voices are brilliantly done. If you’re Russian or German isn’t up to scratch , don’t worry all the radio chatter is subtitled.Il-2 features multiplayer via Ubi.com or LAN where you can pit your dogfighting skills against the masses or play in co-op missions, it’s great fun and there’s plenty of opportunity for action as there’s always a bucket load of pilots online. There are also a mass of fan sites offering skins, missions, new aircraft and Maddox are also releasing new features periodically so you won’t get bored, there’s lots here to keep you involved.IL-2 from Maddox has lived up to all the hype. Flight sim buffs and novices alike will get a lot from this game, this is how flight sims should be put together. The game looks great, sounds great and plays great. If you like your action in the air, IL-2 Sturmovik is one game you can’t afford to be without.