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2010: Year Of The Tiger Tank

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In wilderness survival situations a dearth of hope can kill as quickly as a dearth of drinking water or plump companions. Remembering this, I survived a recent family gathering by mentally compiling a list of the sims and wargames I was most looking forward to in 2010.

While Auntie Judith was telling me about her hysterectomy, I was picturing Wildebeest Games’ mountaineering sim Vertigo.

 

Details are scarce at present, but the preview videos suggests very classy clambering. Gawp as the ragdoll Hillary stretches for hand and footholds! Nail-bite as the weary-o-meters on each of his wiry limbs fill! Gasp as he falls from the face and dangles over the abyss (even if the abyss isn’t particularly abyss-like at present). If Leeds-based Mr Wildebeest can conjure a random rock face generator and do justice to his title with some truly knee-jellying drops, I’ll be all over this like edelweiss.

While Uncle Terry was extolling the virtues of National Socialism, I was dreaming of Combat Mission: Normandy.

It’s been a long patch-cobbled road but Shock Force is finally worthy of bearing the CM name. Yep, there are still issues – areas where it is weaker than its three wonderful predecessors, areas where the differing levels of abstraction clash distractingly – but if you’re after intricate, gripping combat simulation, you owe it to yourself to at least try the latest demo.

At some point in the coming year CMSF will be trading its Abrams for Shermans, its M4 carbines for M1s. The Normandy game will be cramped by CMx1 standards, simulating just a few months of conflict and a few hundred square miles of terrain. There’ll be no British or Commonwealth forces either (they’ll arrive in a later module). The good news is BF appear to be working hard to win back remaining dissidents. In addition to a revised Quick Battle system that permits cherry-picked forces, we should be getting bridges, hidden trenches, threat misidentification, and sophisticated hedgerow modelling. Shawn of Borg spotting, and spiced with buddy aid, hedgecutter tanks, and real-time play, battles in the Bocage should be absorbing affairs.

While cousin Simon attempted to give me the Good News, I contemplated Command Ops: Battles From The Bulge.

Like its predecessors, this WW2 operational wargame wears bog-standard battledress. The mappy, counter-strewn screenshots suggest stodge, turn-based slowness, and inaccessibility, when in fact the reality (if the past is any guide) will be a game that is as fluid and pacey, as it is clever and convincing. Panther’s secret? Turnless play, resourceful adversaries, and AI-controlled subordinates smart enough to interpret player orders rather than slavishly follow them. You don’t rubber-band hordes of units in a Airborne Assault/Command Ops wargame and send them swanning towards the enemy. You select an HQ, give it a nuanced order and let it choose its own routes, allocate its own reserves, and arrange its own artillery support. Forces can be marshalled at any level. Micromanagement is an option rather than an obligation.

Tantalising engine improvements such as automated bridge building, changing ground conditions, and new ‘bypass’ and ‘ignore stragglers’ commands, won’t mean a lot to the uninitiated but you can read about them here and here if you like. I’d grumble about the absence of 3D R.U.S.E./WW2 General Commander-style maps if I hadn’t already done it countless times before.

While Uncle Percy was downing the last of the perry, I was debating whether to add HistWar: Les Grognards to my mental manifest.

It’ll take more than a shambolic demo littered with dodgy French-English translation to put me off Jean-Michel Mathé’s Napoleonic opus. Actually, the demo isn’t quite the disaster area it first appears. Following the suggestions in this thread, I’ve managed to wring some moderately entertaining scraps out of the thing. Still, it’s good to hear that a second more polished taster is on the way.

For those who’ve glanced at HistWar and seen only a rather ugly Total War aspirant, be aware that the game offers much that TW doesn’t. For starters, armies are modelled as tiered entities rather than amorphous blobs. Orders once issued must percolate down, a slow, fraught process that involves aides-de-camp galloping hither and thither. You’ve also got friendly fog of war. Your picture of the battle is determined by what your commander-in-chief avatar can actually see, and the reports – some old, some inaccurate – that arrive from far-flung corners of the battlefield.

While Auntie Ruth launched into her “Still not married!” routine, I submerged myself in thoughts of Silent Hunter 5.

The Royal Navy and WWI have got shafted again, but it’s hard to stay mad at Ubisoft Romania  when they’re dangling delights like fully modelled U-boat interiors in front of us. While early glimpses suggest the modelling won’t be a patch on Tomi 099’s work, the thought of dashing the length of a busy boat in response to an excited ‘Smoke on the horizon!’ call, or watching in horror as brine foams through a breached bulkhead, tempts. The talk of AI subs, milch cows and – fingers-crossed – wolfpacks is also heartening. After hours of lonely freelancing, what could be finer than rendezvousing with a few fellow sea-lupines for a spot of communal convoy slaughter.

One hopes that the lads and lasses from Bucharest are familiar with SH3 mega-mod GWX and not too proud to borrow freely from it. Promisingly they do appear to have abandoned one of the sillier aspects of SH4’s U-Boat Missions expansion. Run into a  spot of bother in the Denmark Strait and you won’t be able to call up the Bismark or Graf Spee for assistance.

While a kneeling Uncle Bob did his Jimmy Krankie impersonation, I heard Jet Thunder echoing round the hills at San Carlos Water.

I’m including this Falklands War flight sim here more out of hope than expectation. The work of a small, self-financed team of Anglo-Argentinian amateurs, it’s been lurking on the edges of radar screen for years now. The theme still feels as fresh and enticing as ever (the Falklands Conflict is one of those very rare military campaigns where the actions of one or or two pilots might have changed history) but with each passing month without progress reports or a demo, the chances we’ll ever see it, appear to recede.

While Auntie Margaret inserted the third of her holiday snaps DVDs into the player, I remembered Scourge of War.

Its superb predecessor is going for a mere £4 on Steam at the moment. For that kind of money you might not expect to get one of the most entertaining AIs in wargaming, ludicrous replayability, and the sort of subtle soft factor modelling that has you screaming at the recklessness/reticence of CPU-controlled colleagues at regular intervals. As in HistWar and BftB, Scourge Of War represents armies as many-tentacled beasts. While one tentacle might be probing in one spot, another might be recoiling somewhere else, manoeuvring for an attack, or tightening its grip on a gain. The co-ordination within friendly and enemy ranks is rarely perfect, meaning plenty of authentic chaos.

Since Take Command: Second Manassas, the two-man outfit that was MadMinute Games have parted ways. This, the first project from ex-MMGer Norb Timpko is based on a new engine that appears to have much in common with the old one. Apart from added multiplayer – admittedly a major advance – little seems to have changed. That suits me just fine, though it would have been nice to see the Shogun-style soldier sprites replaced by something a little chunkier.

While waiting in the gateaux queue, a chance conjunction of cutlery and cocktail sausages reminded me of Digital Combat Simulator: A-10C.

The same part of me that can’t look at a SAM Simulator screenshot without wishing to flick switches and twiddle knobs, can’t wait to be let loose in the cockpit of Eagle Dynamics upcoming A-10C. I’m not entirely sure this recreation of the modernised A-10 II will be available in standalone form, but one thing’s certain, like Black Shark, it’s going to be modelled to within a inch micron of its life. According to a recent forum post: “Fly the DCS:A-10C and you will be able to fly the real thing. But the learning curve will be steep. In real life it takes 3 months to convert from A-10A to A-10C and operate correctly all the systems – avionics, weapons etc”.

Gulp

ED’s SU-25T – the star of the soon to be buffed-up Flamings Cliffs – remains my favourite ground-attack steed of all time. If the Warthog is as fastidiously fashioned and as characterful as I suspect it will be, then that could change.

When conversation turned to the quality of signage on the M27, my thoughts turned to Front Roads: Kharkov 1943.

Already released and demo-ed in Russia, this snow-draped company-level wargame with its strong Close Combat/Combat Mission echoes and intriguing strat layer, comes from a studio with a proven track-record for plausible, atmospheric armour sims. (If you’re a combat simmer and don’t already own Steel Fury and the ridiculously cheap Iron Warriors purchase them post-haste). Assuming the AI is fit for purpose and that chess-like op engine is as a promising as it appears, specialist Western publishers like Matrix and Battlefront should be beating a path to Graviteam’s door.

And when the time came for parting pleasantries and cuddles, I hid in the cupboard under the stairs and mused on Storm of War: Battle of Britain

I wrote my first SoW preview over three years ago and rereading it today I realise I knew about as much then about the sequel to IL-2 as I do now. Givens: the game will simulate those few months in 1940 when the fate of Britain was in the hands of exhausted young men in Hurricanes and Spitfires. It will feature flyable versions of all the obvious steeds plus a bevy of bizarre strangers like the Fiat BR.20 and the Bristol Bolingbroke. We’ll train as RAF trainees trained, in Tiger Moths. The standard of cockpit craftsmanship will make even the most demanding simmer shed tiny blister-canopy-shaped tears of joy. Aircraft wear will be rendered and tracked. Clouds will be super-fluffy. Flak guns will be crewable. Bf 109s will be criminally underpowered according to several furious forum posters.

The really crucial stuff: is Oleg doing a Broussard on us (the latest ETA is October)? Will SoW’s dynamic campaign be as rich and riveting as Battle of Britain II’s? Will its town and cityscapes be as jawdropping as those in the recently stealth-launched Wings of Prey… that stuff remains veiled in Channel fog.

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