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The Flare Path: Is Thunderstruck

Simulation & wargame news

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By 1945, though the U-boat threat had greatly diminished, Britain’s reserves of weather-related aircraft names were dangerously low. Spurred into action by scathing press criticism of the Boulton Paul Breeze, de Havilland Drizzle, and Bristol Beaufort Scale, in early February the Air Ministry took steps to address the issue by organising a summit of leading aircraft designers and meteorologists. Tragically, the meeting never took place as the Airspeed Anemometer carrying 9 of the key participants to the venue was struck by a Republic Thunderbolt while manoeuvring to avoid a Fairey Fogbank.

War Thunder! Yesterday afternoon I finally got around to introducing myself to this work-in-progress WW2-in-the-air MMO. Yesterday night I crawled away to bed grinning like a man that has just violently revoked the airworthiness certificates of 8 heinous Heinkel 51s, 4 furious Furies, 4 peevish Peashooters, 2 fractious Falchi, 2 chase-me Chaikas, and a deeply confused Kingfisher, and strafed dozens of AAA positions, armoured cars, and tanks.

Coincidentally, I had just violently revoked the airworthiness certificates of 8 heinous Heinkel 51s, 4 furious Furies, 4 peevish Peashooters, 2 fractious Falchi, 2 chase-me Chaikas, and a deeply confused Kingfisher, and strafed dozens of AAA positions, armoured cars, and tanks.

Online dogfighting arenas can be pretty dispiriting places for those attuned to AI bandits. It comes as a rather pleasant surprise to find that not only is War Thunder extremely easy to slip into, it’s also not the ego-eviscerating bearpit it might be. Do as I did and devote your first day to tutorials and the low-realism high-octane team-based arcade modes, and within an hour or two, assuming you’ve got a few years of SP flight sim experience under your Sutton Harness, you should regularly see your name nestling near the top of post-match score tables.

As in World of Tanks, a game War Thunder plainly draws much structural inspiration from, in battle a little canniness goes a pleasingly long way. Official forums are no doubt already crowded with folk complaining that the Martin Monsoon doesn’t turn as nimbly as it should or the Grumman Groundfrost’s cockpit armour is under-modelled, but ignore all this and use a few simple common-senses tactics, and, even at the controls of a basic Tier 1 biplane fighter, you should be able to make a serious nuisance of yourself.

In arcade matches flight models have had all their jagged edges filed off. There’s no spins or stress-related damage. Engine management is ignored, and respawns – the number of which is dependent on how many hangar slots you’ve purchased – are at high altitude and close to the action. Empty ammo boxes are automatically refilled after a nailbiting 15 second wait. Often games involve advancing AFVs that must be protected or punctured, and airfields that can be captured to hasten victory or repaired to for damage repairs.

I’m sure there will come a time when I tire of the breathless pace, and go investigate the slower, more resonant historical arenas (historically consistent aircraft mixes, no respawns or automatic ammo replenishing) but for the moment the quick, picturesque violence of the public servers is satisfying my need for sky savagery very satisfactorily indeed.

It won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that played Gaijin’s last Forties flight effort to hear that War Thunder is bally handsome at times. Maps range from geographically plausible renditions of the Stalingrad and Ruhr areas, to far-fetched-yet-fun depictions of Alpine and African terrain. Peering over pretty canopy-shadowed panels at somersaulting snowcaps and cluttered, smoke-streaked urban skylines, only the gaudy plane icons and lead-calculating crosshairs (features deactivated or toned down in high realism modes) overblown pyrotechnics, and bizarre aircraft mixes betray the illusion.

War Thunder assumes, probably correctly considering wot WoT has achieved, that the way to keep us keen and constant is to lure us up Giant Sequoia-sized tech trees with the promise of regular XP-purchased unlocks. The number of WW2 aircraft types and Korea-era jets theoretically accessible is astounding even if all (?) of the bombers at present must be controlled from HUD or external views. It will be interesting to see whether the associated flight and damage models are as faithful and diverse as the fuselages and wing shapes.

Even at the arcade level there’s evidence that Gaijin are putting considerable effort into ensuring warbird death throes are interesting. I’ve already discovered what it means to limp home with a wounded wing that refuses to do its aerodynamic duty, to glide to the deck with a kaput engine and a canopy liberally sprayed with oil. Having collided with the odd plummeting wing and tail fragment, I suspect damage from debris impacts is also represented. Apparently, at the highest realism settings, a single well-placed or extremely lucky MG or cannon round can disable a system or kindle a fire.

Plane painting, crew training, engine management, jets, monoplanes… there’s acres of WT content I’ve yet to manhandle, and if the roadmap is to be trusted some potentially fantastic features on the way. Waiting patiently on the main menu are tabs for accessing playable AFVs and naval vessels. The thought of nosing a Ju 87G towards sentient tank skirmishes, or parking a Flakpanzer in a quiet courtyard and waiting for customers, is pretty damn exciting. Whatever Wargaming.net have planned (hopefully I’ll be be sharing some World of Warplanes impressions soon) it’s hard to imagine War Thunder not surviving and prospering.

Those prepared to put up with a few unfurnished nooks and the odd freeze now and again, should start downloading the 7GB beta ASAP. The sooner you get started the sooner you’ll have amassed the 8,000,000,000 XP necessary to unlock a Blohm & Voss BV 238 or the 670,000,999,775,209,81,4,2995 required to unlock the Heinkel Hellsquall XI spotted by Spits in the following vid.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Last Friday between the hours of 13.00 GMT and 14.00 GMT two lexicommandos by the name of deejayem and skink74 bluffed their way into Flare Path HQ and ruthlessly neutralised one of Reichsmarschall Stone’s favourite Foxers. For their courage and resourcefulness, the pair have been awarded posthumorous Flare Path flair points made from Gammon bomb caps.

Defoxing of a similarly high standard will be required if this week’s cartographic cartouche is to be deciphered. Correctly identify the linked locations shown in the brine-blurred maps below to claim flair points carved from genuine Bühlmann table legs.

 

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Tim Stone

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