Review: IL-2 Desert Wings-TOBRUK by Team Fusion Simulations
Updated: Sep 22
After a very long time in development, Team Fusion Simulations has finally released a new expansion for IL-2 Cliffs of Dover-BLITZ on August 6th, 2020. This comes in the form of IL-2 Desert Wings-TOBRUK, a very huge expansion that will mainly take you to the skies of Africa to participate on historical battles for, or against the Afrika Korps.
As usual, with my reviews I will separate this into several categories so that you, the reader, can formulate your own judgement as to whether this expansion is for you:
Scenery and Aircraft variety
External and internal 3D models
Visual and sound effects
Flight and damage modelling
Single player content
Bugs, issues and the promising future
Is this expansion for you?
DISCLAIMER: I was given a review copy of this expansion by Team Fusion Simulations themselves, which was very kind of them. Even then, they gave us complete creative freedom over this review and the opinions that will be written are my own.
If any game deserves to have its development story told, it's this one. It is a story of a game that was launched in a sorry state to later be fixed by a dedicated community of modders, who eventually became the sole keepers of its code and kept the project alive. The official developers moved on, allocating their full resources to their newest game, IL-2 Great Battles.
Launching in a broken state in 2011, Cliffs of Dover was naturally met with mediocre reviews. The sim was absolutely riddled with bugs, many of which made the experience quite the hassle for customers. That's where Team Fusion comes into the scene. As a group of modders, they dedicated themselves to keeping CLoD alive while also maintaining a community of fans of the game entertained with fixes and patches. This all changed when 1C Game Studios announced that Team Fusion, now known as Team Fusion Simulations, would take over development of CLoD while 1C focused themselves on the development and maintenance of the IL-2 Great Battles series.
This left two active series on the IL-2 franchise: IL-2 CLoD and IL-2 Great Battles, both are independent from each other and add-ons are not compatible between them as they both use different engines, CLoD's being the older one of the two. Please keep this in mind as it will be important later on. It is truly inspiring to see how a group of passionate individuals, against all expectations, became something much larger and I congratulate them for it. They now have managed to release Desert Wings after its development started in late 2016 with an initial release date of 2017 that got delayed little by little until it finally released a couple of weeks ago to very good reception.
SCENERY AND AIRCRAFT VARIETY
Set in the desert of North Africa, this expansion brings to life a somewhat overlooked side of WW2. From Tomahawks and Messerschmitts duking it out in the skies over Egypt to Heinkels
intercepting allied convoys on the Mediterranean Sea, it truly lets you experience this side of the war in an unprecedented way. The map is pretty decently sized with 385 kilometers square of play area for you to fly over, which is divided somewhat 60/40 between ground and sea with most of the ground areas being filled with endless desert. Coastal regions are pretty attractive with cliffs and beaches and the few cities that there are have enough detail to make them pop when you see them. Although, that being said, do not expect this to have the graphical quality of its younger brother: IL-2 Great Battles. The color pallet seems to be a bit weird which makes the sand sometimes look a bit too bright but that is not the norm. It is noticeable that the devs are pushing this game engine to its limits, at least when it comes to graphical fidelity. But if there is one thing that this expansion does better than its successor is that it provides an impressive amount of aircraft to fly with several new flyable aircraft and a lot of new variants to the already available aircraft from CLoD. There are three of these that caught my attention:
This little bird won my heart the moment I set my eyes on her. From the way that it looks to the way she flies, this has got to be one of the most impressive ones included in Desert Wings. It is available in both standard configuration, and its tropical variant. While it does not boast the heaviest firepower around, it can still defend itself quite well while fighting early BF-109 variants. Additionally, just like the aircraft that I will highlight next, this is the only modern game to include this beautiful machine in a flyable state.
GRUMMAN MARTLET MK.III
Powerful, chunky and with a lot of charm. That's the best way to describe this version of the Wildcat under RAF colors. While it isn't the best dogfighter in the allied roster, it does have very good survivability when compared to some of the Nazi aircraft. Also, as far as I am aware of, this is the only modern simulator to include this bird in a flyable form which could not make me happier.
If you want to go big, you have this. Amazing to fly and easy to operate, this heavy bomber will either be a pleasure to use or a pleasure to die on. Available in both conventional and torpedo capable versions, it brings a completely different type of aircraft to the game.
There are a lot more aircraft than these three, including a couple that I wasn't expecting such as the Fiat CR.42 and the Gladiator, overlooked biplanes that served for the Italians and British respectively during this conflict. Recon/training aircraft, dedicated fighters, fighter bombers, medium and heavy bombers, this expansion has them all; making it of the most attractive parts of the product. I am sure you too will have a very enjoyable time flying them over both the deserts of Africa and the skies of Britain and France.
EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS
Out of all the areas that I have evaluated for this review, I was the most impressed by this one. The developers have one quite a good job with the modeling and texturing of their assets, mainly with aircraft. Some of these do look a bit too glossy some times, but that is something that is not as bad as it sounds.
External models are brimming with details, rivets and panels are discernible when the sun hits them, glass looks like glass although it might be a bit too reflective. Markings are modular giving you the chance to represent a large amount of squadrons regardless of allegiance and time period. In the customization menu you are able to do something that no other game can do, this being the capability to add or reduce texture weathering effects which has been a feature since CLoD released. In my honest opinion, the cockpits are significantly higher quality than the external models. They have very high quality textures, detailed models and semi-clickable functionality. Are they study-level? No, but that was never the point to begin with. They look realistic enough to immerse you into the game and that's what matters. Here are some of my favorites, but keep in mind that these screenshots do not do these cockpits justice as too much detail is lost on the larger zoom settings as it is natural:
The way the light shines on the gauges and the way it is reflected from the different types of materials inside of the cockpit is truly wonderful, even more when you consider that this expansion is built on a 2011 game engine. I applaud the developers for their work on this department.
VISUAL AND SOUND EFFECTS
This area is a bit of a hit and miss. While the visual effects can be pretty good at times, even when considering the age of the game engine, the sound effects can be a little off. Don't get me wrong, it is not that the sounds are terrible, it is that there are times which sounds were the factor that took me out of the immersion of flying in this simulator.
Engine sounds are better inside of the cockpit, mainly regarding the engine. The aircraft's engine will still communicate critical information to you constantly with its sound and it does it quite well. This is more notorious when you have already received damage either through combat or incorrect operation of the engine. Metal cracking sounds from high stress scenarios will communicate to you the limits of the airframe you are on.
Gun sounds and external sounds are the part that suffers from most problems but it is also the one with more exceptions. While some external engine sounds are wonderful, such as when they are taking off, some of them are not. The one I would consider to be the most problematic would be the "fly-by" sound as it sounds like a time accelerated engine sound instead of a dynamic one. I sincerely hope that this could be addressed on a future patch as it would improve the experience significantly.
Visual effects are of better quality than I was expecting, but one has to remember this is an expansion to a relatively old game. Even when taking that into consideration, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the things I saw. From oil leaks on the canopy once the engine had received some damage or the flames coming out of a downed bomber with pieces of fuselage coming out as it tumbled down into the coldness of the Mediterranean Sea. I do have one small gripe with the flight control surface animations. If you move them slowly there's no problem but if you move them rapidly they seem to act in a weird way, skipping some positions and moving in a janky manner. I had noticed this way back when I bought CLoD BLITZ but I hoped that this release would have addressed it. It is not a game-breaking issue but I do hope that it is addressed in the future if possible.
FLIGHT AND DAMAGE MODELING
More important than both sound and visual effects, this is the category that both makes and breaks a game. It can be difficult to get a flight model to feel right as there are so many factors that can interact with it. Fortunately, flight models of both CLoD and Desert Wings received some attention and has been noticeably improved!
Torque effects seem to be more natural and trimming now feels smoother. Pulling tight turns is now a pleasure on fighter aircraft, making you feel completely in control with your aircraft. This is also noticeable on the less maneuverable aircraft like the Wellington or the He-111, which feel heavier and at the same time more powerful. They take time to react to your inputs, which is natural for a larger, heavier aircraft.
Damage modeling is also pretty extensive with simulations of oil, water and fuel leaks, overheating, asymmetrical lift due to wing damage, etc. You can lose parts of your engine or even your entire engine or wing if you are that unlucky/unaware.
I was honestly impressed by the flight models, they are fun to fly. I am glad that Team Fusion improved them over what they were on CLoD, and they were not bad there.
SINGLE PLAYER CONTENT
This expansion oozes with content of all shapes and forms. From quick missions, pre-arranged dogfighting scenarios, short missions and expansive campaigns across both Africa and the Channel. The highlight of this gigantic content pool comes in the form of the previously mentioned campaigns, which are, in no particular order:
Gravity is my friend (Ju-87 Desert Campaign)
Blue Wellingtons (Wellington Daylight Desert Bombing Campaign)
Rising from the Ashes (Beaufighter Interceptor Channel Campaign)
Desert Hawks (Tomahawk Desert Campaign)
Eagles over Tobruk (BF-109 Desert Campaign)
On ne passe pas! (Dewoitine Channel Campaign)
Operta Aperta (Gladiator Desert Campaign)
Tempesta sull'Africa (CR.42 Desert Campaign)
Rats over Tobruk (Hurricane Desert Campaign)
Nine different campaigns that cover several different aircraft and timeframes. That's quite a lot considering that some of these campaigns were made with realism in mind, following routines and combat mission records from the war to allow the player to experience something akin to what the real pilots went through. I, for one, quite enjoyed the addition of these campaigns as they allowed me to immerse myself in some of these combat missions. But realism comes at a cost and that is time. Some of these missions can be quite lengthy at times and, as it was routine back then and now, you will have little to do on the way to the area of operations.
Whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to each person, but I personally don't dislike it. Time acceleration can help with these long stretches, minimizing the downtime and making more efficient use of your time.
Additionally, you do have access to a full mission editor that allows you to create the missions that suit your taste. Do you want to fight a cloud of He-111 with a Gladiator while escorting a British armada? It is possible with the mission editor. It is a powerful but somewhat unintuitive tool so it is recommended that you read or watch some tutorials on how to properly utilize it.
BUGS, ISSUES AND THE PROMISING FUTURE
I have spent 20 hours in-game since I received the expansion and in that time I have encountered some bugs, but surprisingly, none of them were major or game-breaking. I have mentioned some of them throughout the review but there is one still that is noteworthy: Under certain scenarios, like engine damage, the propeller effect can be seen duplicated/out of sync which makes it seem like there are two counter-rotating propellers. This is not that bad but it does happen from time to time.
The only other issue that I have with the game is not related to the expansion but to the game itself, and that's the UI. There are multiple issues with the UI that could be improved with a bit of design work and coding, but since I am not a coder I can't tell how easy it would be to reprogram this. The part where this is more apparent is the Quick Mission Builder, as here the amount of icons and text on screen can be a little confusing to the eye. It becomes usable once you start to work with it but that does not make it less cluttered or unintuitive. This is the biggest flaw that this game has had since it launched way back in 2011 but I hope that Team Fusion will allocate some effort into redesigning it.
What brings me a bit of hope is the fact that Team Fusion has stated that they are now dedicated to continue bug fixing and to start feature development for the game. These improvements include but are not limited to VR support, new weather system, a dynamic campaign generator and improved ground rendering. All of these improvements will be released for both owners of CLoD and Desert Wings in the form of incremental updates free to all users. More information on this on their forum announcement.
IS THIS EXPANSION FOR YOU?
At a price of USD$69.99 this expansion can be a hard buy for many people. It is on the same price bracket as the expansions for its younger brother, IL-2 Great Battles. But comparing one to the other wouldn't be fair as they run on different engines and are developed by different development teams. But with the amount of content that it provides it is hard not to somewhat justify the pricing a bit as it includes nine different campaigns and single missions, over 40 aircraft including 8 rare warbirds all which sport very detailed and well made 3D models, an expansive map, new ground and sea assets with the possibility of controlling them in the future with an upcoming update.
If what you want is:
An immersive desert warfare experience.
the possibility to fly some very rare warbirds.
Experience an overlooked side of WW2.
If you don't mind:
Some of the bugs
The current UI design.
The somewhat dated sound design.
The somewhat high price
If some of all of the above is what you want, then IL-2 Desert Wings-TOBRUK is for you. Once again, we would like to thank Team Fusion Simulations for providing us a review copy of their expansion when we got in contact with them, so thanks to both Mike and Pete for trusting us. It is a gesture we appreciate a lot.
About the writer:
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034
Thanks to Aidan, Prov and Hueman for their proofreading of this article.