The Flare Path: Stalinglad Tidings

By Tim Stone on December 14th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

We spent the morning prodding it with anti-tank rifle rounds and DP bursts, and the afternoon nudging it with mortar bombs and rifle grenades. Nothing worked. The sun was disappearing into a hole in the museum roof when Persikov turned up with the captured flamethrower. “The trouble with you city boys is you don’t know no zoology! Give me covering fire and I’ll show you how it’s done”. So he scampers out to Tram Crater and starts hosing the statue with liquid flame. Almost instantly there’s a sound like ice cracking, and that stout stone tail starts lashing. Cheers echo round the square as The Beast, still dripping fire, waddles out of the ring and heads towards Krautland. Fifteen minutes later the screaming begins.

 

A Volga Display of Enthusiasm

Since Adam shouted news of an IL-2 Sturmovik sequel sequel from Castle Shotgun’s Grain Elevator roof, 777 Studios headman Jason Williams has begun the onerous task of answering the inevitable barrage of fan questions. Will there be a dynamic campaign? Will cockpits be clickable? Will we get to ride into battle astride Night Witch broomsticks? Will the Barmaley Fountain crocodile feature bump-mapped crocodile tears?

All the answers provided thus far, when considered alongside the achievements of Rise of Flight, leave this simmer certain the project is in very safe, very talented hands. Aiming to restore sparkle to a franchise reputation besmirched by the long-delayed and deeply flawed Cliffs of Dover, the new torchbearers are plainly acutely aware of the dangers of unchecked ambition and poor project management.

“Feature creep and trying to do too much has killed many a flight-sim… We do our best to be ambitious, yet achieve our goals. There is a relatively short window to create and launch BOS [ETA Q1 2014]. As 777 Studios learned from developing ROF, it is better to start with digestible chunks of features and content that works and add more over time. We do not want to keep the community waiting for years while we make a large product that may not work as advertised. We prefer to take it one step at a time”

In addition to inheriting Rise of Flight’s tried-and-tested Digital Nature engine with all the physical subtleties that brings, it looks like IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad will be inheriting its parent’s approach to multiplayer, single player careers, modability, and systems realism too.

It’s unlikely we’ll get dentable dynamic frontlines or vast 100+ dogfights over rubble-clogged streets teeming with infantry and tanks. What we should get, though, is a decent stab at complex engine management, and a career mode in which every day brings new randomly generated challenges, medal awards, and mess absences. The relative brevity of the battle (5 months) should, on the face of it, make survival a more attainable goal than it is in RoF. Live long enough as a Luftflotte 4 pilot and who knows, you might get transferred to the balmy Med before The Kessel boils dry.

So RoF in a snow-dusted WW2 Ost Front flying jacket then?

Not quite. Jason has made it clear that though a demo is planned, a pared-down F2P version of BoS is not on the agenda. Reflecting the standardisation within WW2 air forces and the difficulty of hitting a hurtling La-5 with a bobbing Luger, RoF’s Aladdin’s hangar of purchasable plane upgrades and personal sidearms is unlikely to be mirrored in the new sim.

What the announcement of BoS means for dogged CloDhoppers is not entirely clear. With the remains of the 1C: Maddox team absorbed into the new studio, it’s surely highly unlikely we’ll see further patches. Unless a generous publisher or an ingenious hacker makes continued remedial work possible, CloD’s reputation as a beautiful but temperamental white elephant better suited for multiplay than solo campaigning may be set in stone. Flare Path remembers when Rise of Flight was Knights of the Sky and Knights of the Sky was to be based on the original IL-2 engine. There’s a pleasing symmetry to this week’s news but also something rather depressing about the apparent Stalingrad-esque abandonment of one band of loyal and long-suffering fans.

 

Red Return

While one of this week’s Flare Path subjects hurries towards Stalingrad, the other rolls away from it in a cloud of dust and diesel smoke. Red Turn is an £8 add-on for hexagonal heartthrob Unity of Command. If, like Kieron, Jim, and myself, you adored UoC’s intensely flavoursome and commendably manageable brand of Eastern Front op orchestrating, there’s a very good chance you’ll adore this 17-scenario adjunct.

To be fair, thus far (I’m five battles into the new campaign) travelling the road to Berlin doesn’t feel massively different from travelling the road to Stalingrad. Aside from the new scraps, maps and specialist steps (ISU-122! Tiger II!!) the biggest changes are easily overlooked mechanical tweaks. I noticed the cap on off-map theatre assets, but can’t say I spotted that artillery support is now better at dislodging fortified defenders, or that disastrous attacks may be abandoned mid-slaughter.

Fortunately, the lack of unit and theatre novelty is rendered irrelevant by Jagdtiger-solid scenario design and what is still some of the canniest AI in the business. Early outings in Red Turn are a little more forgiving than their equivalents in the original game, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be left looking extremely foolish now and again. Yesterday evening I suffered the kind of unexpected defeat that only UoC can deliver.

I was meant to be pushing westward from Kursk to seize three victory locations on the western bank of the Dnieper. The first four or five turns of the eleven-turn time allotment went like clockwork. All along the line the outnumbered Fascists fell back or were pocketed and eliminated. I was congratulating myself on a textbook advance, when I noticed a rash of little red exclamation marks over my forward units. The two-pronged attack was outstripping the capabilities of the two supply sources!

With a growing sense of doom, I realised I’d made a fatal miscalculation. By choosing to attack in the north and south, I’d all-but guaranteed both attacks would run out of bread and bullets a few hexes short of their objectives. What a clot! Was victory still possible?

I withdrew my under-provisioned Ivans into the revitalising arms of my supply net, threw my last few supply upgrades at the southern depot, and waited a turn a two for everyone to recover cohesion. A desperate death-or-glory lunge towards Kiev might just secure me the supply source I needed to strike northwards before the curtain fell.

A turn or two later with my replenished forces surging past smashed Panzer divisions, once again victory seemed within my grasp. Nothing could stop me now!

Nothing except a week of unexpectedly heavy September rain turning roads into boggy supply truck-snaring quagmires. Bah.

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15 Comments »

  1. Rhuhuhuhu says:

    I almost shat myself when I saw those weeping angels… Good to know it’s The Flare Path.

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  2. Scythe says:

    Anyone else mildly PO’d by the absolutely rotten state of CloD? I bought it on a promise that it would improve from its nearly unplayable launch state. It never really improved. I’m ill-inclined to buy another game from that lineage, as much as I enjoy a spot of creaky dogfighting.

    • JustAPigeon says:

      Yeah, it’s a bit insulting really. Well, I’ve not touched it for a few months but it was horrible last time I looked, to the point where I just uninstalled it.

      But I’m a massive fan of RoF, so this is good news to me. In reading that they are aiming for a similar realism to the original Il-2, and the wonderful flight models that 777 are sure to develop, I think this will turn out very nicely. I just hope they can add some character, the Il-2 campaigns were always a bit sterile and lifeless.

    • RogB says:

      still? i was thinking about picking it up in a sale, assuming that the alleged launch mess might have been patched into something decent by now. if thats not the case, i might just stay away…
      is it just performance, or more than that?

    • theleif says:

      It doesn’t help that the game is not even working on Win 8.
      Great!

      • Meusli says:

        Tell the truth please guys, spreading falseness helps no one.

        The recent final patch has made things much better all round, while it’s not perfect it definitely is playable. Some guys have remade the career missions so they now rock plus there are plenty of missions available online from various websites to download. Also for you there is a fix on the forums for Windows 8, if they had not sacked the team they could have fixed that asap.

        The game was abandoned way to soon and quite frankly they choose the wrong engine to make BOS, but I await the next game with hope.

        • Zenicetus says:

          Why would the RoF engine be wrong for BoS? From what I can tell with the late-war fighters in RoF, it should scale up to faster aispeeds and maneuvers, as long as they can include things like high-speed wing stalls. There are flaws here and there with the individual flight models in RoF, but the 777 team seems committed to realism, so I’m not too worried about that.

          The one area where the engine might be lacking is on the ground, in providing enough infantry and mechanized units for ground pounding. That’s seriously lacking in RoF, but I don’t think it’s a problem with the game engine per se. A large amount of ground targets wasn’t a high priority for the early game design, since they didn’t include bombers at first, and computers/GPU’s weren’t as fast back then. It took a lot of computer power just to run the flight models and plane graphics. If the devs assume somewhat faster computers for the new game, they should be able to include more ground targets.

          Another advantage with 777 as the developer is that they’ve already done the work on a Channel Map for RoF, which could set the stage for a later Battle of Britain module after BoS is released.

          • Meusli says:

            The CLOD engine was more advanced being DX10 to ROFs DX9, it is also better at displaying more ground objects than ROF, like you mentioned which is my dream as I like to fly bombers. In my opinion CLOD is a generation ahead, take online battles for instance, over 100 people can play on CLOD servers with AI and ground objects running. That is just not possible on the Digital Nature engine due to them synchronising every object in game..

            I have spent over £100 on ROF’s planes(bought the base game before it was free) and I do love it, so don’t write me off as a fanboi being negative towards 777. They are the only positive to come out of this story which is the death of Maddox Games. I know they can get the job done and not make promises that they can not keep. But that job will be a much narrower vision than Olegs and Luthiers, which can’t help me feel anything but sad.

      • theleif says:

        I know perfectly well there’s a fix on the forum, but it’s not a patch, and it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s great that it exists, and it does seem to work for most people, but unfortunately not for everyone.It’s a pretty dirty hack, and it’s made by someone that doesn’t even own the game, so i don’t have very high hope of improvement of it.

        • Meusli says:

          I agree it is quick and dirty but if 1C had not sacked them all it would have been fixed by the developer as soon as Win8 came out. Unfortunately no one told them while there was time and by all accounts the last patch only just snuck out the door before the axe fell.

  3. mrmalodor says:

    STALINFACE!

  4. Gap Gen says:

    Sometimes sending out-of-supply fast units behind enemy lines is worth it if you can cut off enemy supplies with it. But yes, the sinking feeling when the single enemy infantry unit you neglected in your attack steps onto a road and cuts off the supply for an entire tank battalion is horrible.

  5. corinoco says:

    The title photo and first paragraph are 100% pure nightmare fuel.

  6. ritalingamer says:

    I’ve enjoyed the heck out of Red Turn and I’m glad you agree and have also run afoul of the supply-Kraken.

    One quibble: you bemoan “the lack of unit and theatre novelty.” I’m not sure I understand either point. The new campaign map is Enormous compared to the base game and it includes many new units – Luftwaffe Divisions, Volksgrenadier, SS Panzer Divisions, Falschirmjager . . . the list goes on.

    If you look in the scenario editor (which you should have mentioned, tut tut), you can even find units for factions they didn’t have space for in the DLC – Finns, Slovaks, Yugoslavs, and Bulgarians. So a lack of unit variety is the least of anybody’s concerns with this DLC.