Updated Oct 2012.
Version reviewed: Final Patch v 1.11.2
Text by Fred 'Heinkill' Williams
Screenshots from SimHQ IL2 Cliffs of Dover forum
If you are a WWII sim fan and can buy Cliffs of Dover for a bargain price it is worth doing so.
Early performance problems have been mostly resolved in the final v1.11.2 patch and though it is still unstable for some players and lacks a lot of the gameplay features we have come to expect from modern sim products (competent combat AI, immersive single missions, online coop combat and dynamic campaigns) there are many hours of enjoyment to be had for a few small dollars flying and fighting in the many flyable aircraft available.
There are also some high quality 3rd party add-ons available (see Desastersoft) which add some of the gameplay which the original game was lacking.
But be aware: the Russian developers 1C have now walked away from this sim and will not be updating it anymore. They have promised a sequel, but their track record is, frankly, not good and the alleged sequel has not even entered alpha phase yet, so would not be appearing until 2014 earliest.
So if the sim doesn't work on your PC, or you would love to see them fix problem X, Y or Z with the game, don't bother posting your wishlist on their forums. It is what it is.
And what is it? Well, a reasonable WWII prop flight sim faithfully modelling dozens of the aircraft of the Battle of Britain theatre, with a few remaining flaws, and some enjoyable but limited gameplay inside.
A short history of Cliffs of Dover
We will start at the end. Just before releasing the final patch in October 2012, the development team lead, Ilya Shevchenko, 1C wrote on their website. "The situation sucks. I see no reason to sugarcoat it with bull. I don't want to go make empty promises or try to prove that black is white. We released a faulty game. We did more than even seemed possible to fix its faults and add improvements, but in the end it was not enough. There has to come a point where we begin to focus on the future, and Cliffs of Dover just becomes something we can all learn from"
So saying, the company pushed out one final patch, and called it quits for Cliffs of Dover.
It all started in a blaze of promise, in early 2011. Anticipation was high. This was after all the follow up to the famous IL2 franchise which had been a global success for more than 10 years.
Then the game was finally released, it became apparent the game was virtually unplayable due to serious bugs, and IL2 founder Oleg Maddox left the company. So started 18 months of community acrimony, all too slow patching, and the gradual dissipation of player support for the title.
But it is worth examining those original promises again in the light of experience and what has been delivered after 18 months and multiple patches. Let's give each promise a score out of ten:
New aircraft: incredibly detailed true-to-life modeling of aircraft systems based on thousands of hours of dedicated research. Every single aircraft component can be damaged for realistic and immensely satisfying results.
On this, the team delivered. I give this a 8/10, for a promise fulfilled. Why only 8? The devs had to dial back the damage decals in order to help boost FPS in the final patch.
- Flyable aircraft – Over a dozen famous and highly detailed English, German and Italian aircraft available, with all crew positions open to players. All flyable aircraft have been painstakingly researched, resulting in incredibly accurate cockpit interiors.
Plus points for accuracy of cockpits, and crewable bomber and gunner positions. Some arguments over how accurate some of the pits are bring this down to a 9/10. As to paintstakingly researched, yes, it seems they have been, but there is huge controversy about how well implemented this research has been. LW aircraft perform horribly at altitude, and can't even reach historical altitudes. RAF aircraft were given a tuning in the final patch and now outperform their historical counterparts at some altitudes, and have a higher ceiling than the LW fighters. Their Merlins stall in cloud. For FM implementation we have to give a 7/10 and many will argue that is on the high side.
- Non-flyable aircraft –13 additional AI-controlled aircraft are also available, created with the same attention to historical accuracy, for an even more varied and immersive combat environment.
The PR people should have added 'AI controlled, individually animated vehicles and artillery' to his list. Mission builders can play with a huge sandbox of aircraft, tanks, trucks, trains and guns. 10/10.
- Exciting Single-Player Campaign – The campaign thrusts the player into the middle of the battle. The player will join the British Air Force to fight the German forces and renegade pilots on his own side.
Simply not true. The campaigns for Cliffs of Dover were clearly created as an afterthought, were poorly written, with ridiculous plots and faulty missions obviously designed in haste and inadequately tested. The Cliffs of Dover mission building engine has fantastic capabilities which were not even used by its own developers for these missions. 0/10.
- Massive multiplayer –Customizable modes range from simple deathmatch-style free-for-alls to epic, ongoing 128 player battles that can last hours, days, weeks, or even longer.
Another lie. It took 18 months and the final patch to get online play to the point where 'deathmatch style' combat featuring 50 to 70 aircraft can be hosted without major issues of lag, ghost aircraft, technical glitches and crippled FPS. But even with these issues improved, the available gameplay modes are limited to not much more than variations on an Axis vs Allies deathmatch theme. 5/10.
- Interactive training – Comprehensive interactive training for new players – fly a real WWII trainer plane with a computer controlled instructor through a series of training missions.
Nice attempt with a Tiger Moth trainer, but again poor mission design and a flight instructor prone to abuse and ridicule rather than praise, discourages people from putting themselves through the training. 5/10.
• Brand new setting – The battle will take place on a large area spanning London and southern England in the north, to Northern France and Belgium in the south. The huge map will contain thousands of historical cities, towns, roads, airfields, radar stations, ports, and industrial areas – all located exactly where they were in 1940.
Brand new? Not really, not even for the IL2 franchise. In fact Channel Maps and campaigns have been available from modders for IL2 1946 for some years. And historical accuracy is not at all a strong point in the airfield or geographic design. The devs made little attempt to accurately place the buildings at key airfields, they made zero attempt to place buildings and wharves at key locations like Dover and Folkestone or Calais, some key airfields like RAF Detling and Middle Wallop are missing and they even put airfields where airfields weren't, like at Ramsgate. A solid fail. 3/10.
• New 3D engine – Latest-gen graphics engine with DX10 and DX11 API support.
Latest gen? Nope. The game in its final state does not support native anti-aliasing, a basic game requirment in the new millenium. SLI cards also require herculean effort to get up and running and add no discernable benefit to the FPS rate. Further, the devs admit their decision to use SpeedTree to generate forests on the maps was a major design error, slowing framerates considerably. Even after the final patch, FPS takes a huge hit when the player is in clouds, or smoke. There is no comparison for example with other prop sims such as Rise of Flight, or sim-lite products such as War Thunder. 3/10 for graphics engine.
• Advanced physics – wind, lift, turbulences, rain, fog… Feel the air rush on your wings as you push your aircraft to the limits in epic dogfights.
Uh, not really. Weather and rain were not implemented. Clouds were only poorly implemented in the final patch, and the game runs best with them turned off. 0/10 on the reality scale.
• Customizable difficulty – dozens of realism options allow newcomers to the franchise to reduce the difficulty and focus on the fun while learning the ropes of being a pilot.
Yes, we finish with a truth. Whether you simply want to fly with most engine controls on auto, and just shoot at stuff, or you want to master the intricate details of manually starting a Spit IIa compared to a Bf 109E4, this sim will deliver for you. 9/10 there.
You should be seeing a pattern here: for graphical implementation of aircraft, ground models, and damage, the sim scores highly. For historical accuracy of flight models, airfields, landmarks and geography, the game gets average points. And for gameplay, whether online or offline, the scores are low.
The base review version was a DVD bought via the Ubisoft.eu website. The game is automatically updated to the latest version.
The DVD arrived within a few days of ordering, in a standard DVD case with what looked like a nice, thick, printed manual. As a simmer of the old school, I do love a printed manual…but my joy was short lived. I had been sent a dual language version - English and...Greek! So half of the manual was just hieroglyphics to me. The manual contains the essentials for getting the sim up and running but I suspect there is a large learning curve if you are not already familiar with the IL2 world of sims and the fact that the manual only covers a tenth of the options and information that are available within the sim. For example, fully a third of the manual is devoted to the 'Options' section of the sim, and even that doesn't cover the full range of customisations available to the user. The section on the flyable aircraft is minimalistic by contrast, just 30 pages, so if you are hoping for a full flight manual for each of the aircraft in the game you will be disappointed and a full flight manual is indeed needed by any sim pilot who intends to fly the machines in Cliffs of Dover using 'Complex Engine Management' with nearly every toggle, switch, knob and lever in the cockpits of this sim fully functional.
There are many many functions in the game which still lack any sort of documentation from the developers, including ammunition loadouts, radio commands, complex engine management, and not least, the full mission builder. You will need to turn to simming forums for help on these elements.
The actual installation was a breeze. Putting the DVD into the PC resulted in an automated install process which linked to 'Steam' (an internet connection is needed), and downloaded the latest version of the game in about ten minutes on my 10mbit DSL connection. I had no installation issues and within about 15 minutes was at the opening screen of the sim configuring my audio and video options - more on that later.
(Menu theme music is still a matter of taste. Some compare it to a manic Russian organist. You can manually replace it with your own.)
I also installed on a second machine a short time later. Problems with product key, activation, licenses? None. The Steam account knew who I was, and the second install was simpler than the first.
There are sixty pages devoted to these in the manual, so we won't go through all of them now. But I will highlight some of the more innovative or unusual.
Under 'Realism' you will find 'Anthropomorphic control'. This is a well intentioned attempt at 'hi-fidelity' simulation which is especially relevant if you are flying with complex engine management enabled (ie you want to flick all the switches yourself) This option limits the amount of things you can do at once, since Battle of Britain (BoB) pilots didn't have HOTAS style control sticks - so moving the throttle and holding the stick will mean you don't have a 'hand' free to move a flap lever. It also means for example each engine will need to be started individually in twin engine machines, rather than with a single key press.
Realistic bombing - this option has caused much consternation as it allows the ability for the player to use different 'fuses' with each bomb type, and achieve delayed fuse effects. If you are not aware it is enabled, and you don't choose the right fuse for your mission, you may find your bombs skipping across the ground without exploding (an effect which was reduced in one of the first patches), penetrating targets like ships without exploding, or exploding prematurely before your aircraft has time to clear the blast zone. It isn't fully described in the manual, but there is much discussion and help to be had online on how to set the right fuse with the right ordnance. A benefit of the final patch was that it fixed the German LOTFE bombsights to work correctly.
Complex engine management - if you have ever wondered why Cliffs of Dover took six years to complete, this is one of your answers. Despite once claiming that 'clickable cockpits are not interesting except to about 3% of flight sim players' Cliffs of Dover developers chose to implement fully clickable cockpits in all flyable aircraft. These are enabled through the 'Complex Engine Management' (CEM) option and it is not a misnomer. Flying an aircraft in Cliffs of Dover with CEM is fully akin to the same experience in FSX. You will have to follow slavishly the typical engine startup routines of the day, manage radiator and cowling settings, mixture, prop pitch and boost, monitor water and oil temperatures…and if you don't you could find yourself sitting on the edge of the airfield with an engine in ruins before you have even started to taxi!
But even without CEM enabled you can still enjoy the ability to play with other toggles and switches in the cockpit with a click of the mouse. Trim wheels, gear levers, canopy hatches, bomb bay doors etc etc can all be manually clicked by mouse if you haven't assigned them to a key press, which is a godsend if you enjoy swapping between aircraft types without having to reload a new joystick configuration each time.
Aircraft or position switching - uniquely, Cliffs of Dover enables the player to jump both from machine to machine on his own side during any dogfight, but also from machine to machine on the enemy side. This ability can be toggled on and off in the options. In machines with more than one crew position, like the Bf110 or bombers, you can switch between crewable positions, and thus play as bombadier, or gunner.This works seamlessly, enabling you to jump into any aircraft in the game. Fantastic feature.
Video options are very scaleable - most players these days can find a range of video options for Cliffs of Dover that will enable the game to run smoothly on their PC as virtually every video effect in the game can be customised, from turning off or minimising the number of objects such as houses, trees, roads, grass and damage decals to reducing the quality of textures, turning off clouds, shadows, and adjusting vSync. You can enable an anti epilepsy filter too if desired, at the cost of a considerable hit to your framerate.
This review version was tested on two machines:
A gaming laptop - ASUS G73J, GeForce GTX490 1.5GB, Core i5, 4GB RAM, W7 Home and;
A 2 year old home built gamer PC - ATI 9600GT 1440 x 900 512MB, Intel Core Duo 3GHz, 2GB RAM, Vista Home.
Personally I turn off what I consider to be superfluous eye candy even on the newer laptop (read 'just about all ground related graphics'), to get the smoothest flight experience and because I just find the computer drawn trees, model houses, cars and AA guns to be a little immersion destroying. That's just me. On the 'Eagle Day' quick mission in the game, which puts a reasonable number of aircraft in the air on both sides, the ASUS laptop can run at around 30 fps in native resolution with settings at medium. Setting 'trees' to high or textures to 'high' drops the FPS and causes micro stuttering on this machine.
The final patch gave me about 5 FPS extra, at the cost of some lower damage detail.
Overall the impression of detail is very nice, though a little cartoony and far from the near photorealism of something like Rise of Flight.
Perhaps surprisingly, the 2 year old dual core Nvidia GT9600 PC can also run Cliffs of Dover (see Stuka shot below) - so if you have an older machine don't despair! This machine averages 20-30 FPS with all settings at low, except for aircraft related graphics which are set high so that the aircraft still look good. Trees are set to Vlow, roads off, textures low, shadows off.
Which obviously will not be satisfying if you fly sims for the eye candy, but at 2,000 metres in a furball between fighters and bombers, it won't worry you that you can't see individual trees below. It isn't a trouble free ride though and I only did it for comparison purposes, because the game very quickly soaks up available memory and doesn't release it between missions, meaning that after one or two missions the game starts to slow and stutter, and a clean boot is needed to flush the memory and get max FPS again.
User experience indicates that video card RAM is the FPS bottleneck in Cliffs of Dover. Quite simply, the more VRAM, the better.
How does it compare graphically to other sims? That is entirely a matter of taste, but here is a video shot on the same PC comparing the three major Battle of Britain era sims - Wings of Prey, BoBII and Cliffs of Dover. You be the judge!
Aircraft options: The intention is that the pilot, the visual weathering of the aircraft, paintscheme, kill markings, type and loadout and a dozen other variables can all be customised so that if you load a quick mission using eg a Bf109e3, it will use your preferred Bf109e3 settings each time.
Loadout: Under aircraft options the player has unprecedented control over the ordnance loadout on their machines, from fuel load, ammunition type for guns, to bomb type and fuse type.
SINGLE PLAYER GAME
There are three options for players who enjoy off-line gaming. A 'Quick Mission' builder, pre-made or user-made 'Single Missions', and two scripted 'Campaigns', one for RAF and one for Luftwaffe.
Training: A lot of love has been lavished on this element of the game, and putting you in the trainee seat of Tiger Moth with an ascerbic instructor telling you what to do. There is a general introduction to flight, takeoff and landing training and some more advanced learning opportunities such as stall and spin recovery. I didn't spend too much time on these missions myself, and in various forums players have reported problems with mission design (mission 'failure' and a ticking off from an instructor even though all waypoints and goals were met.) I can't speak to this, though I can report that recovery from a spin in a Tiggie in training does NOT prepare you for recovery from a spin in a Bf109 in the middle of a dogfight!
Quick mission builder (QMB): Once again, not all players feel the devs got this right. But it could be worse. I say that after the painful experience of seeing a terrible implementation of the concept in Wings of Prey, where it is only possible for the player to set up quick missions for their own (single) aircraft against up to 16 enemies, with no ability to add wingmen on their own side. You can select time of day, weather and altitude. The Cliffs of Dover quick mission generator has an intuitive interface which enables the player to set up a group of planes on each side, choose the aircraft types, and fly for either side. There are no meaningless restrictions, so if you want to fly RAF Hurricanes against RAF Spitfires, you can.
But the QMB uses mission templates, meaning some things are given in advance, like location, ground vs airstart etc and you can't change these. The player does not therefore have full control over the quick mission they are building, which can be irksome.
And, these templates are buggy. The 'quick raid on Hawkinge' actually has Ford airbase as its target. And if you only choose one opponent (instead of many) in some missions, they may completely ignore you due to a bug in the AI which often fails to react to single enemy aircraft.
Another parameter which is unfortunately missing, and strangely so, is the ability to pick the skill level of the AI enemy. As it is not user selectable, it must be randomly assigned, which means you can face the bugged ACE AI which rolls and flips like a demented flapjack. It was possible to choose skill levels in the earlier IL2 sims, and is pretty much the norm in all other sims. It is possible in the full mission builder that ships with Cliffs of Dover, so why not in the QMB? Another mystery which will go unsolved.
Single missions: The game ships with a small selection of canned, scripted 'single missions'. Various parameters can be adjusted in a QMB style interface. These missions are more complex, and often involve dynamic or random elements and scripted events. For example the 'Liberation' mission has three phases (a mini campaign in one mission). Each phase impacts on the next through the players results and decision making. The introduction sets out the background and strategy and the necessity for the player to work closely with ground units in order to complete the first objective. As with IL2, it will be the user community that builds out this section of the game in future, if Cliffs of Dover succeeds in generating a following.
Much better are the user created single missions (such as those featured on this site!). With the full mission builder it is possible to create mission files that actually contain several mini missions, all with player flyable aircraft and separate briefings and mission objectives. The user can customise these to individual taste, choosing what aircraft to fly, how many aircraft in each flight, weather, time of day, aircraft loadout... Much more depth is possible in each of these single missions, than in a scripted campaign mission where the player POV is locked to one aircraft, one target, one sortie.
Campaign: There are two 'stock' Battle of Britain campaigns included, one from the RAF viewpoint and one from the Luftwaffe. Both comprise a series of scripted missions with pass/fail mission objectives. Luckily the player can choose to progress to the next mission even if the mission objective is deemed 'not met'. Which is important because both campaigns smell of rushed production, with hidden or incorrect mission parameters, missing targets or objectives, misplaced waypoints and completely unconnected 'end of mission' summaries that bear no relation to the action the player has just experienced.
It is hard to be objective about these campaigns. So I won't. The RAF campaign is a joke. It takes a first person approach attempting to give a little personal immersion to the storyline for the player. It fails in this completely, because an important element of immersion is BELIEVABILITY. If a British officer is speaking in 1940 and says 'You guys', realism is out the door straight away. The grammar, the missions and scenarios in this storyline are quite simply so ridiculous any sense of immersion is completely lost. And the plot turns are just ludicrous - to progress in the campaign, the player must, for example, kill one of his own squadron mates. And when he does, and is caught doing so by his CO, is he executed? Jailed? Even spoken to roughly? No, he is sent on the next mission. It is insultingly absurd.
It is a campaign storyline worthy of a Japanese console game developer, not a historical flight sim.
On top of this, it is quite simply poorly made, and this hits you in nearly every mission. Missing targets, poorly timed rendezvous, wrong weapon loadouts and briefings which bear no relation to the mission to be flown, or result screens that don't match the action you just flew.
Enough said on the RAF campaign. I have created a replacement for it, which you can download here.
The Luftwaffe campaign is slightly better. If you play the RAF campaign and find yourself throwing up into your waste basket, do not make the mistake of thinking the Luftwaffe campaign is more of the same. Instead, it is a series of mini-campaigns, based on historical events, and showcasing each of the main Luftwaffe aircraft types. Although this means that the player gets thrown back and forth in time in a quite disconcerting fashion (when you finish your Bf109 mini campaign in September 1940 the next mission finds you back in July 1940 in a Bf110) it provides quite an engaging variety of missions as long as the player takes the glass-half-full approach to the missions to get the best out of them. If you are a glass-half-empty type, then the frequently missing waypoints, incorrect loadouts and other mission design glitches would frustrate the heck out of you.
Example, in one of the missions you are ordered to conduct a 'Jabo' style hit and run bombing raid on a British airfield in your Bf109, together with a staffel of Bf110s. Unfortunately, there are no bombs loaded on the 109s and no way to correct this in the loadout screen. So you could either just curse the mission designer and give up, or do what I did, and treat it as an escort mission. A lot of the time small mission design issues can be overcome with a bit of flexibility on the player's part. I have to say that when this campaign came to a close, I went and downloaded the Desastersoft Wick vs Dundas campaign add on to get a real campaign experience.
So, if you want a true campaign package for Cliffs of Dover, with medals, promotions and really well put together missions, try Desastersoft Wick vs Dundas. I heartily recommend it.
Or, if you would like hundreds of challenging historically accurate single player missions, then the Cliffs of Dover Missions Megapack is for you. If I do say so myself!
Online play: In the pre release publicity notes, 1C bragged about 'massive 128 player online aerial battles'. Perhaps that was possible over a LAN in a Moscow office. Initially online play was a very frustrating experience, and much effort has been put into recent patches to try to improve it. Poor FPS, ghost aircraft, crashes and terrible stuttering have been reduced in the final patch.
It is worth checking out online play in Cliffs of Dover again since the final patch. If online is your thing, you will find the ATAG and REPKA servers offer a variety of mission types and helpful advice from friendly players.
You won't find 128 player battles, but anywhere from 50-70 seems possible now.
Full mission builder (FMB): If you used this for IL2, you will be able to pick up immediately with the FMB in Cliffs of Dover as the mechanics are almost identical. Although it almost completely lacks documentation to help new mission builders navigate their way around the interface, there are guides on flight sim forums which can help and I found all I needed by going back to a guide written for IL2 FMB.
Novice mission builders (like yours truly) will find it is relatively easy to create missions with the Quick Mission Builder, and then fine tune and enhance them in the full mission builder.
The ability of advanced users to script various events and create templates has been enhanced too. In fact, the scripting potential is almost endless and good mission designers like Desastersoft make full use of it to simulate ground control radio messages, in flight target changes, random events, spawns and triggers.
Don't overlook the ability of the FMB to allow you to integrate land and air war scenarios either. There is a full land war simulator hidden in the FMB, allowing you to craft full scale land battles on the scale of Kursk, if you so desire!
Too many ground vehicle waypoints can bring a mission to its knees though. Put too many vehicles and ships on a map with comlicated waypoints and your aircraft FPS will drop dramatically as the CPU tries to manipulate all the moving parts.
Whether novice or advanced user, if you are unhappy with the missions and campaigns that ship with Cliffs of Dover, or the user content that is being created daily, there is no excuse not to just go and make your own!
Aircraft: the list of flyable aircraft that made it into the game is comprehensive, and more varied than other available study sims like Battle of Britain II. Included are (with a * next to machines not available in, for example, Battle of Britain II):
Bf109e 1* and (added in latest patches) 3/3b* and 4/4b
Spitfire I / II / IIa
Su26 aerobatic aircraft*
Non flyable machines include:
There are those who complain about lack of content and gameplay in this sim, and it is true it lacks a truly dynamic offline campaign or engaging variety of online modes. But as a historical survey sim, for enthusiasts who like exploring the implementation of dozens of flyable aircraft and variants, Cliffs of Dover has hundreds of hours of potential.
Flight models and experience of flight: Having never flown the real thing, I can only compare with the experience of flying the same machines in other hi fidelity sims, like FSX, or Battle of Britain II. I personally believe the gold standard in Spitfire simulation is the A2A simulations Acu-sim Spitfire I/II for FSX which PC Pilot has dubbed, "… the best WWII aircraft ever produced for MS Flight Simulator." Having spent about 20 hours in that machine in FSX I can’t disagree, but I have to say the Cliffs of Dover Spitfire I/IIa is very close. I’m not a clickable cockpit fanatic, and don’t have the patience to go through full startup procedures, waiting for my oil temperature to hit 50 degrees before I taxi out, but I like fiddling with trim, mixture and prop pitch in flight and both the A2A and Cliffs of Dover machines deliver full realism. In flight in the Cliffs of Dover Spitfire you feel like you are behind the reins of a thoroughbred quarterhorse, able to pirouette on a wingtip, while in the Emil you feel like you on a cannon armed warhorse.
The player is certainly required to play to the strengths and weaknesses of each machine type – using the bunt, dive and climbing agility of the 109 or the Hurricane and Spitfire's turning ability. The Bf110 has considerable straight line speed when spooled up and an awesome concentration of firepower, but should never let itself get into a knife fight. The Italian fighters are an eclectic assortment of obsolete or undergunned biplanes and monoplanes which are interesting in their own right, but it is hard to see why the devs spent so much time on these aircraft, for the tiny part they played in the battle.
The flyable bombers are all mediums, not heavies, and thus can manage a degree of turn and bank to evade enemy fighters, but unlike in Wings of Prey, thankfully you won't see them trying to dogfight. Flying the He111 is more difficult than it seems though - purely because the beautifully modelled cockpit with its screwy off center canopy is disorienting. As pilot, you have no natural internal cockpit lines to orient yourself to. Engine management in a damaged bomber is a huge challenge, as it should be.
The Stuka unfortunately is overmodelled in several departments. It can turn with, and in fact, out-turn, an AI flown Spitfire. Clearly, it shouldn’t. I can also hold my own in a 1-1 dogfight between the Stuka and Spitfire in a quick mission, with climb and acceleration that really doesn’t belong to a crate like a Ju87. In one campaign mission, I destroyed 2 Spitfires and damaged a third in my Stuka. If the real Stuka has been such an Uber fighter, the BOB might have turned out differently!
Level bombing in the He111 using the bombsight, either in easy or full mode, is a role that would require hours to master. German bombsights were non workable in v 1.05 but fixed in the final patch. Just as in real life, it involves computing the difference between indicated and ground air speed, adjusting for altitude, velocity and inputting all of these into the bomb sight mechanism. Personally, and I know this will horrify full realism fans, I find dead reckoning (external view downward from tail over the nose of the bomber) low level bombing is easier and just as accurate.
Sounds: This area was the focus of a Sept 2011 patch and sounds were improved greatly. The buzz of the Bf109 was replaced with a more authentic Daimler Benz growl, real Rolls Royce Merlin engines were sampled for the RAF fighters and the effects of machines flying by, in and outside cockpit, and smaller effects like canopies sliding back or flaps deploying are nice to listen to.
Damage modeling: There is no prop sim on the market able to match Cliffs of Dover for damage modeling. Each bullet strike on a machine is faithfully represented, and with hundreds of damage points per aircraft, from structural points to engine parts, the impact on control surfaces and systems feels wonderfully authentic. .303s pepper a wing when they strike, while 20mm MG FF rounds tear gaping holes. If your rudder or ailerons get perforated, you can expect flight control to feel mushy. Engine cowlings can get blown off by collateral blast or cannon fire. A hit to the gear mechanism can cause gear to deploy mid dogfight. A hit to the flaps can cause them to jam. A Bf110 can lose its right rear tailplane, and still be flyable, but struggle to climb or dive and maintain lateral stability. Windscreens and canopies star or shatter when and where struck. Engines leak oil or glycol depending on where they are hit, tanks leak fuel. I have had fires which have consumed my machine in seconds, and others which flared and died without causing catastrophic damage.
There have been occasional complaints on forums about bombers being difficult to damage, more so than in IL2 or other sims. Having flown many He111 missions, I can attest this is not the case. But the sophisticated damage model means that unlike in IL2, where bombers frequently lost wings and plummeted to the earth after a couple of salvos, the precise modelling of damage in CoD means only hits to vital structural or engine parts makes a difference. Bombers are more likely to be badly damaged than blown out of the sky, meaning they can limp away and can, and do, end up ditching in the Channel twenty minutes later with one or more dead engines due to mechanical failure or fuel loss. Players may however feel the bomber 'escaped' because they do not follow it all the way home, and thus conclude the bombers are not being damaged appropriately. The reality is quite opposite. Just fly a few bomber missions and you will soon see!
Abominable combat AI behavior:
The combat AI is, in a word, tragic. Inferior to ALL comparable sims such as BOBII, War Thunder, RoF, or IL2 1946 with Team Daidalos updates.
I am willing to guess that the devs simply took the inferior AI routines of IL2 1946 and ported them over to this sim. The result is atrocious.
In short, single player simmers, or ‘off-liners’ as they are otherwise known, will be disappointed, frustrated or even furious with the AI in the current release. Looking at the current gold standard for AI in a prop combat sim, Battle of Britain II, there is simply no comparison. Where BOBII creates the impression the player is flying against an almost human (and not superhuman) opponent, Cliffs of Dover makes the player feel he is playing against a monkey. Where BOBII has dynamic AI which constantly checks whether it is offensive or defensive and adopts a range of hundreds of maneuver choices based on this, the Cliffs of Dover AI seems to have a very limited range of available maneuvers to choose from, and seems not very competent at choosing them! An AI which has engaged you in a turning fight may suddenly break and fly straight and level. There is some sense that 109s are using their superior straight line speed, and the RAF types their turning ability, but the standard evasive maneuver in a dogfight appears to be an (unrealistically) rapid half roll left and right and left again, followed by a zoom climb, irrespective of the machine.
Worst of all, the AI cannot shoot. Not only can it not deflection shoot, even at ACE settings, but when parked at six o clock behind a bomber flying straight and level, it will hose away, firing all its ammo in long bursts straight over the top of the target, rarely hitting anything.
One of the big disappointments with the AI is how quickly a dogfight is over. AI seems to burn through its ammo in very short time and machines which have run out of ammunition simply turn for home, and when in ‘go home’ mode they no longer take evasive action. I have not seen a fighter vs fighter furball in single player mode in Cliffs of Dover last longer than 2-3 minutes before the AI were all heading home.
Radio commands are virtually unworkable, so more often than not, you will see your wingman following you around in combat like a puppy, taking no part in the fighting, until he is shot down, or you are.
Another most infuriating bug is that whether in quick missions, campaign missions or self designed missions the AI often does not even engage the player, either to attack, or defend itself. They may take a passing shot, but you will rarely, if ever, find yourself in a bare knuckle sweat inducing 'personal' combat with one or more foes. And getting onto the six of your AI opponent is, in any case, all too easy.
Previous developer Oleg Maddox (he left the company at launch, and we now know why) promised that each AI pilot would have their own individual skill level, as they do in BOBII, allowing a staffel or squadron to be made up of a mixture of aces, veterans and novices. Nominally this is the case, with different skill levels selectable in the full mission builder (though not in quick missions). But irrespective of this, In Cliffs of Dover all AI pilots seem to be brain dead novices.
You have to fly very badly indeed to be shot down by the AI in Cliffs of Dover.
The sad thing is the devs have repeatedly stated they believe the combat AI is fine. This is just evidence that they were so busy coding the game (or working on the sequel), they have not spent any time actually PLAYING it. One or two dogfights against Ace AI are enough to highlight all of the idiocy the CoD AI is capable of.
TIP: Set the AI skill level to veteran, never to Ace. Ace aircraft use the stupid 'F16 barrel roll' maneouvre over and over and over. Use these tips in the mission builder for better AI performance, though it will still not be up to par with other sims like BOBII.
I have kept this deliberately to last because there is no doubt there is huge graphic potential in Cliffs of Dover, and the better your PC, the more likely you are to realize that potential. Screenshots clearly demonstrate the beauty of the in cockpit visuals and lighting, which are unparalleled. External aircraft detail, especially the modelling of light and shadows, is on par with Rise of Flight, a generation ahead of IL2 or Wings of Prey and two generations ahead of BOBII.
Ground object detail is a mixed success. Grass is too tall. Vehicles are nicely modeled, with moving wheels and chassis parts. Tank turrets rotate and fire. Trees are more realistically implemented even than in the newer IL2 mod maps, but trees and landscape textures are less well implemented than in Wings of Prey, especially for the FPS hit they cause. The lack of civilians in the landscape, or civilian vehicles, is a glaring omission. Although static, not animated, the civilians (farmers in the fields, cars, tractors, London buses etc) modeled in Battle of Britain II, in their historically accurate clothing or form add a sense of depth and immersion to the landscape which is absent in Cliffs of Dover.
The landscape colours in Cliffs of Dover, as in Wings of Prey, are a matter of taste, and compared to the gold standard in terrain modeling, which is still FSX or Rise of Flight, Cliffs of Dover does not come up to current day standards. The colours were dampened and made less garish in the latest official patch, and atmosphere blurring was increased to attempt to provide a more realistic landscape palette. Colour is very much a matter of taste, but few who have flown over modern day Kent in July/August (which I have) would say the designers have got this right. The landscape lacks the familiar hedgerows and copses of SE England. In this respect I have to say Wings of Prey or even BOBII gets it right, where Cliffs of Dover has missed the mark.
Weather and clouds are not properly implemented. While both are beautifully modeled in Wings of Prey or Rise of Flight, clouds still resemble IL2 style cotton balls in Cliffs of Dover and drag FPS down if you turn them on. Sunsets can be beautiful and night flying on a cloudy night is suitably frightening, but inclement weather and storms are not available options - only clear, light or medium clouds. ‘Far clouds’ have been fixed in the latest patches, but true weather modeling is absent meaning you will get no chance to fight in storms or rain.
It started as a 3/10 and has been patched to 6/10.
Early patches improved performance on ordinary gaming PCs and now, as long as you have a multi core CPU and a graphics card with at least 1.5GB, preferrably 2GB of memory, you should be able to happily run the officially patched version of the game with reasonable graphics and frame rates.
There are hundreds of hours of flying in the game, just exploring the many different flyable aircraft. And there are a couple of very good online servers offering a wide variety of online flying experiences.
The quick mission builder is limited but intuitive and allows you to easily set up different scenarios with different aircraft.
Users and third parties like Desastersoft are adding new content to the game, from single missions to campaigns, online missions, and even dynamic campaign generators which compensate for the lack of same in the stock game.
The full mission builder, if you are so inclined, takes a few hours to master but offers untold flexibility and precision in mission creation, unfortunately though there is nothing you can do about the brain dead AI.
In my original review I wrote "Like a good wine, Cliffs of Dover can be played now, and it should get better with age." It did, but it is far from where enthusiasts hoped it would be, and it won't be getting any better from here.
Rather, I would now say, you will get your money's worth if you buy it on special (which it frequently is) at a bargain price between 5USD or 10USD. See if it works for you, on your PC.
And if it does, you will then have the money to spend on the Desastersoft campaign download, which adds the game which the developers left out.
PS: The final patch gave players a bonus aircraft, the Su26 aerobatics aircraft, with laser and atimatter cannons. All I am going to say about this, is that if the devs should have taken all the time they spent on this ridiculous aircraft and its stupid weapons, and used it on fixing Cliffs of Dover.