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The Flare Path: Tracks, Tracks, & Turnpikes

Simulation & wargame news

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A hopeless nostalgic, The Flare Path always finds year ends troubling. On one hand, The Past is about to get a little fatter; on the other, the extra girth means 1692 – FP’s favourite year – is even more likely to get overlooked by historians. What’s so special about 1692? That was the year Thomas J. Halthrope invented the Alliterating Alice, a donkey-powered ‘worde gin’ capable of producing bespoke sim & wargame news preambles at the touch of a lever. This very intro was produced on a 1692 Halthrope that works as well today as it ev///<$> Assetto Corsa <$$> Scourge of War: Antietam. <$$$> Steel Beasts Pro <> hereendethpreface///

A careless letterer has forgotten to fill in one of the speech balloons in this frame. A Brooklands-shaped FP point to the commenter that guesses the missing words.

 

Cars Wot Go Fastidiously

Other PC gaming publications get ex-racing drivers to write about race sims for them. This one relies partially on a man that once attempted to reverse a beige ivory Ford Escort with a wide-open passenger door, into an extremely narrow garage.

A mediocre motorist I may be, but I’ve enough race sims on my shelves, and sufficient spies secreted in test-track shrubberies, to realise that the coming year is going to be a bloody marvellous one for lovers of burbling V8s and blistered Bridgestones. As if the tantalising prospect of Project CARS (pictured above) rFactor2 (pictured below) and GTR3 (not pictured anywhere at the moment) wasn’t enough, we now have Assetto Corsa to pre-swoon over.

Tired of showing the world just how difficult it is to keep a speeding Ferrari F10 car pointed in roughly the right direction, Kunos Simulazioni are working on a sim that should – in the physics department at least – give all those bigger, better-funded titles a damn good run for their money.

Anyone that has grappled with netKar Pro or its two-wheeled and Academy offshoots will know that Stefano Cassillo knows his Newton. Whether he also has the skill and will to implement plausible AI drivers and interesting single-player modes remains to be seen.

 

Maryland, My Maryland

While the bloodiest day in Korean military history (approximately 300,000 casualties) is still patiently awaiting its first PC wargame, the bloodiest day in America’s (3650 dead) is onto its fourth or fifth treatment. NorbSoftDev are the latest outfit to have a bash at Antietam.

The $20 Scourge of War: Gettysburg expansion released a couple of days ago might not be able to match the breezy bonhomie of Sid Meier’s Antietam, or the impressive bulk of HPS’s Campaign Antietam, but it (probably) makes up for that with the fidelity of its 3D battlefield, the plausible flexibility of its multi-tiered AI, and the peerless magnificence of its courier-utilising co-op multiplayer.

Seasoned practitioners of SoW: Gettysburg’s multiplay, the members of our own Rock, Paper, Secession Steam group, are no doubt already jostling for control of the West Woods and scattering corpses along the length of the Hagerstown Turnpike. Hopefully, one or two of them aren’t too busy battling to stop by the comments section and share some impressions.

Just how well Scourge of War: Gettysburg captures the dilemmas and challenge of battlefield co-operation, may be judged by the fact that the United States Army staff college at Fort Leavenworth, Texas, have just incorporated the game in their curriculum. According to NorbSoftDev, students will use…

“Scourge of War: Gettysburg to simulate key action on the first day of the three day Gettysburg battle, including a multi-user Rapid Decision and Synchronization Process. They will use a scenario that puts the student in the command position of Union General John Buford or Confederate General Henry Heth, thus imposing the unforgiving real time pressure of battlefield command.”

If defence cuts ever force the US Army to replace satellite and radio links with galloping horsemen, its officer class will be well prepared.

 

Steel Beastliness

Not many mil sims are strong enough to muscle their way into an army training facility. Almost none can match Steel Beasts Pro’s academic achievements by gaining official approval in several countries. Over Christmas I’ve been spending time with the latest expansion for this tanky treasure trove. More specifically, I’ve been getting acquainted with the add-on’s most exotic and unexpected inclusion, the crewable T-72.

Those wondering what an eSim-made WW2 tank sim would feel like, could do a lot worse than befriend the sim’s first Warsaw Pact steed. Compared to series stalwarts like the Leo and M1A1, the débutante feels like it’s rumbled out of a Dickens novel. No crystal-clear thermal sights means low-light combat involves a lot of nervy peering. No fancy ballistic computer means hitting moving targets requires the dusting-off of gunnery skills honed (hopefully) in the likes of Panzer Elite and Steel Fury.

Other potentially fatal quirks include an automatic shell loading carousel that actually turns out to be more labour-intensive than a human loader, a gun stabilization system easily flustered by clumsy turret swings, and a reverse speed so painfully slow, you’ll swear it’s an anti-retreat measure slyly added to blueprints by Kremlin hardliners.

Happily the newcomer isn’t a total clutz. Its low-slung silhouette makes finding life-saving hull-down positions that bit easier, and a powerful smoke generator means breaking contact when out-gunned (which is, potentially, most of the time) a tad simpler. As is so often the case in combat sims, the weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of a ‘crap’ vehicle actually become endearing after a while. They force you to alter your tactics – to fight smart.

That’s what I look for in all my sim and wargame adjuncts – play elements that force me to rethink – to clamber out of comfortable ruts. New venues, unit types, and scenarios are all very well but if they offer essentially the same experiences offered by the parent title, then the supplement is always going to seem superfluous.

The T-72 might be 2.64’s most characterful inclusion, but there’s plenty of other stuff to tinker with too. A slew of vehicles including the BTR-80, Challenger 2, and M901 have been jemmied open to allow player crewing. Old friends like M1A1 and Leopard have new 3D turret interiors. And, at long last, spritely infantry have filled-out into fully fledge polygonal personages. Hopefully the next upgrade will bring with it scenic improvements such as an overhauled lighting engine and prettier particle effects. Steel Beasts Pro PE is the finest contemporary armour sim around. What a pity it still looks more like Operation Flashpoint than Arma 2 most of the time.

 

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Tim Stone

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