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15

The Flare Path: Stalinglad Tidings

Simulation & wargame news

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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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