The Flare Path: Hull-Down In Heaven

With Sergei on bow MG, and myself on coax and main gun, the Cherubim and Seraphim didn’t stand a chance. We cut down maybe 300 of them before Tomas, getting nervous, decided it was time to leave the sunken lane. Wise old Tomas! As ‘Hellhound’ wiggled her way back through the gap in the farmyard wall, the shellcase-strewn position we’d just abandoned was scarified by a salvo of ground-heaving trumpet blasts. “Gabriel’s about! Stay sharp, lads!” The lieutenant’s warning had barely escaped his lips when a second salvo demolished the barn we were scraping past. I must have clouted my head on the breech because the next thing I remember is waking up in a medical Ju-52 somewhere over Náströnd.

The doc says I’m likely to be off my feet for three weeks. Three weeks! Oh well, at least I’ve got Combat Mission: Fortress Italy and a mod-bolstered install of Steel Fury for company.


Mediterranean Meditations

Battlefront’s latest box of battle – the standalone Combat Mission: Fortress Italy – began appearing on frontlines yesterday. I’ve fitted in three scraps thus far and, according to the leather-sheathed funometer on my belt, had a “grand old time” in the process.

While the action is unmistakeably CMx2 (see my Commonwealth Forces Wot I Think for an assessment of what that means) the shift in setting and the addition of engine features last seen in the first batch of CMs, gives Fortress Italy a refreshing citrus zing I really wasn’t expecting.

In most wargames Italian forces might as well be unusually nervous/inept Germans for all the difference it makes. CMFI’s representations actually explain why Mussolini’s men often struggled to hold their own against Allied troops. It’s not just the dinky AFVs and questionable levels of commitment, it’s the baffling lack of automatic weapons and radios, and the large unwieldy infantry squads. Playing as the Regio Esercito, there are times when it’s bally easy to picture a Spanish Civil War or even a Great War CM.

The long-overdue return of armour arcs (an order type that means tank-hunters are less likely to be distracted by infantry) and moveable waypoints is an unqualified blessing. Less inspiring are the improvements to the icon system. Despite some new types and applications (unidentified units are now represented with vague translucent ‘best-guess’ icons) the series’ hovering unit indicators still feel under-utilized and unhelpful.

Also a little underwhelming are the new renderers and bump-mapping enhancements. It’s possible I haven’t tweaked graphics settings appropriately, but to my eye CMFI’s units and venues aren’t noticeably prettier than Commonwealth Forces’.

The mission quantity and map quality do warrant an approving nod or two. In addition to a pair of brief training campaigns there’s the opportunity to undertake branching battle sequences as either the Germans (“Lead Kampfgruppe Rechts from the Herman Göring Panzer Division in their counterattacks against the Gela beachhead. 10-11 July, 1943” ), the Americans (“Lead the Big Red One and the 9th Infantry Division in their assault against the determined German defenders of Troina.”), or the Italians (“A battlegroup from the Livorno division attaks the beachhead at Gela.).

Fancy something less long-term? The single battle folder contains 17 engagements and there are 81 hand-made Sicilian lansdcapes waiting for bespoke unit mixes in the skirmish generator. We might only be getting a portion of Operation Husky (British and Canadian forces will arrive in a later module) but that portion is energetically explored.


Steel Fury Now Clinically Apoplectic

I’ve got a soft spot the size of the Biebrza Marshes for Graviteam’s 2008 debut project. Not only was Steel Fury one of the very first games I wrote about here at Rock, Panzer, Shotgun, it’s also the only WW2 tank sim I know of that can dig-in next to the mighty Panzer Elite without looking deeply inadequate.

Gritty, noisy, and as Russian as Tolstoy’s beard, the sim should have been IL-2 huge. Unfortunately, publisher shenanigans (I think I’m right in saying Lighthouse Interactive went bankrupt soon after release meaning Graviteam earned no revenue from sales outside Ukraine and the CIS) meant SF never received the attentive after-sales service and bevy of add-ons it deserved.

It was left up to dedicated users to patch and polish, augment and embellish, which is just what a small band of them did/ have been doing for the past four years. If you’ve not lowered yourself through SF’s commander’s hatch in a while, I strongly recommend a revisit.

Those prepared to brave a slightly convoluted enhancement procedure (See forum posts like this one for guidance. The bare minimum you’ll want to dl and then activate via the JSGME Generic Mod Enabler are: 1) Unofficial_Patch_SF_v0.1_eng. 2) Steel_Panzer_Mod_v1.5 Beta. 3) SPM 1.5 ultimate update. and 4) SPM 1.5 ultimate update patch) will end up with a sim as big, dangerous, and pretty as a blossom-sprinkled Jagdtiger.

The meat and kasha of the Steel Panzer mod and the Ultimate Update are new rides and the campaigns and missions to go with them. SF in its natural state lets you pilot a Panzer IV, a T-34 and a Lend Lease Matilda. Post-modification you can trundle about in anything from a StuG III to a BA-10 armored car, a King Tiger to an amphibious T-38 tankette. At present very few of the additional machines have interiors, but as you’re likely to spend most of your time unbuttoned or with your eye pressed against a sight cup, that’s not a huge handicap.

The extra entertainment also tends to be exclusively Ost Front. The sim has made it as far as Libya and Tunisia but the leafy mazes of Normandy, and the narrow hill roads of Italy remain totally(?) unexplored. For Western Front tanking you’re still better off with a copy of Panzer Elite SE upgunned via the PE-X or PE3 mods.


The Flare Path Foxer

…refused to emerge from its den this week. Sorry.

Last week’s Grand Masters were pepper, Fishbreath, BryanTrysers, and Electricfox. Between them they recognized two kings, a queen, a rook, a knight, a bishop and two pawns and recreated FP and Claude’s chessboard exactly as it was before Sarafand pounced.

Well done, defoxers. Your Staunton-style FP points are in the post chaise.


  1. BooleanBob says:

    Sterling read as always, Mr. Stone. Especially that intro – what was going on there? Armour vs. Angels? Shin Megami Tanksei? Talk about divine inspiration..

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  2. dandy-pandy says:

    Can someone tell me from which game is that king tiger in the banner of the article ?

    • BooleanBob says:

      I think it’s pretty much a cert that it’s Steel Fury.

  3. SquireBev says:

    Once again your articles are causing a great threat to my wallet. Sorely tempted to pick up Fortress Italy, but I reckon I’ll wait until the Commonwealth forces are added.
    I have, however, just found Barbarossa to Berlin in a charity shop, and it made me squeal a little.

    • Mechanicus_ says:

      I am also vaguely tempted by CMBI, but plan to wait for the engine upgrades to make it into Normandy/Commonwealth and buy those two instead; I have a copy of “Tank!”, as suggested by the FP reading room, waiting to be read when I do finally pick them up.

  4. Mechanicus_ says:

    The fate of both of Graviteam’s tank sims has indeed been quite sad. Judging by communications from the team, the main cause for this seems to be that international software publishing in Russia is weird. Graviteam doesn’t just license a publisher to sell their game outside of Russia, they actually sell the complete rights to the English version of the game to the publisher – from then on the English version is absolutely nothing to do with Graviteam, and the publisher should support it (which never happens). Graviteam even claim they are at risk of legal trouble if they issue patches for their games outside Russia (though they do still manage to sneak them out via various forums anyway – far from ideal).

    Obviously this approach makes sense to them – they are after all a company of three guys, and none of them speak English – but as Tim said in the article every time one of these games comes out then bleeds to death in the post-launch-support no-mans-land it is terribly disappointing, nobody else makes anything like them anymore.

    • johnki says:

      Wow, I had looked at the games before but I wasn’t even aware that had been the state of them. Is it worth trying out Steel Fury now with the community patches and all? Will it ever be worth trying out Steel Armor?

      Oh, and worse comes to worse, there’s still Steel Beasts, which, despite its $125 price tag and $25-$30 updates (every one of them, mind you, which is most of what’s offsetting me despite the $125 price tag not quite offsetting me), has a healthy community of players.

      • Mechanicus_ says:

        I don’t want to give the wrong impression here – both sims are good and worth a go in their own way; Steel Fury for the shear breadth of vehicles available from community addons, and Steel Armor because it deals with an interesting set of tank subjects and has a neat strategic meta game (borrowed from Graviteam’s Achtung Panzer series) that you use to generate tank-biffs.

        The aspect that’s disappointing is the additional potential both games have that can never be exploited – they have the traditional Eastern-European-software rough edges that would easily be ironed out if the devs were free to keep patching and adding content; Steel Armor for example has excellent models for both the Centurion and the Chieftain tanks, and making them playable through DLC would have been a delight.

        If you are interested in them just keep an eye on Gamersgate as they go on sale there semi-regularly; check out the Graviteam sub-forum on simhq for guides on getting the various (un)official patches and mods installed.

  5. wodin says:

    Steel Fury with the mods is the best tank Sim I’ve played, infact one of my favourite games, and I don’t normally like tank Sims. The battle action is thrilling.

  6. Ranger33 says:

    I’m also having quite a good time with CM: Fortress Italy. The radical changes in locale, equipment, and features have brought the game to life. I expected it to be good, but it really does feel fresh and exciting. By the way, to see how much the new shaders help, just try toggling them on and off with Alt-R. It isn’t a night and day difference, but things certainly look better with them on. The details in the textures really *pop* and the lighting is much improved.

  7. WladTapas says:

    “Thanks” for reminding me that CM:FI is out now. A nice day was spent indoors as a result.