The Flare Path: Lochs And Unlocks

Today’s column bestrides Europe like an unusually colossal colossus. Quite why an unusually colossal colossus would be standing with one foot on Fort William, Scotland and the other on Volgograd, Russia is, frankly, anybody’s guess. He could be doing his pre-breakfast callisthenics. He could be admiring the Northern Lights. He might have got a sudden urge to urinate on Finland or Algeria. There’s just no way of knowing for sure.

Whatever his purpose, with his massive bonce well above the exosphere, it’s unlikely he’s aware of the hubbub in the IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad community at the moment.

Last Friday, early accessers got their first taste of IL2BOS’s campaign component. Though 777 and 1C Game Studios had made no secret of the fact that – initially at least – the ‘career’ side of the sim would be fairly rudimentary, many users still seemed taken aback by the lack of ambition, atmosphere and realism flexibility on show.

The devs have chosen to split the titular battle into five chronological chapters, and allow unlimited pilot and plane hopping. To move from one chapter to the next, six randomly generated sorties must be completed successfully. Sortie type and steed is left up to us (Though if you’ve purchased the Standard edition, you’ll need to start in fighters before moving on to bombers). We can even switch sides when we please, and abandon missions and buy the collective farm without being penalised.

In effect we’re every(air)men… ghostly EXP gatherers rather than the specific pilots attached to specific squadrons we are in many other sim campaigns.

In its favour, the approach is refreshingly uncomplicated. Because paintjobs and loadouts must be unlocked with EXP (Slaying secondary targets, flying with ‘expert’ realism settings, and choosing to start/finish sorties on the ground generates heftier rewards) there’s encouragement to fly realistically and hunt energetically. The mission generator ensures ground targets are always present, aerial ones prompt to arrive, so there’s no scanning barren snowscapes and horizons for hours at a time.

What’s causing the consternation is primarily the coldness and the constraints. With death de-stinged, pilots undefined, and information so baldy presented, there’s little sense of context or consequence right now. The decision to snapshot the fight for Stalingrad at five key moments rather than present it dynamically wasn’t necessarily a bad one, but when the snapshots provided are so empty and devoid of colour (Fly outside the immovable waypoint rhomboid and – going by my early campaign forays – the world seems almost totally deserted.) it’s hard not to find yourself questioning it.

The campaign mode feels a tad dictatorial too. Not only is it not possible to customize realism beyond ‘normal’ and ‘expert’ (If you want to fly with the high-yield ‘expert’ settings for instance, you’re forced to live without exterior cams) the loadout and skin unlocks also apply to multiplayer meaning online aces have no option but to furball bots for a spell. Inexplicably, the latest update further restricted play freedom by removing some autopilot options and capping time acceleration at x2.

Without added atmosphere and elasticity, IL2BOS’s campaign engine will always be vulnerable to ‘It’s just a camouflaged Quick Mission Builder’ jibes. Finger-crossed, 777 and 1C take the recent flak flurry on the chin turret, and respond with eagerness rather than evasive manoeuvres.

 

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From the Land of the Red Star to the Land of the Red Deer. Having spent much of this week skirting lochs, cleaving snowdrifts, and listening to Monarchs of the Glen bark and bellow, I’m now in a position to confirm that the recently released West Highland Line Extension is one of TS2015’s very best routes.

While this £25 add-on will leave speed merchants spitting ptarmigan feathers (the limit for much of the single line 50-mile route is 30mph) more leisurely simmers will adore its unusually evocative highland spaces and sonorous motive power.

Combining a generous selection of bespoke structures, flora, and sounds, with some rather accomplished ben sculpting and glen gouging, Alan Thomson and Keith Ross have succeeded in creating the most Scottish space I think I’ve ever visited in a video-game. Whether you’re trundling along in the shadow of Ben Nevis with a load of fresh pine pulp, hauling a tourist train past a sun-kissed Loch Eilt, or just shunting oil tanks in the yard at Fort William, the sense of place is superb.

The route’s unusual layout (two separate lines extend in different directions from the Fort William terminus) numerous inclines and speed limit changes, plus its range of traffic (in addition to passenger services, there are freight trains serving a local timber processing plant, oil depot, and aluminium smelter) and novel signalling, ensure the ten bundled scenarios are as interesting and varied as they are elaborate and challenging.

The blue box in the top-right corner of the above pic is a RETB device. As well as paying attention to the mix of semaphore, colour-light, and ground signals on the West Highland line, drivers must also periodically request and return radio ‘tokens’ from a control centre in Bannavie. The system, a modernised form of the old physical token procedure introduced in the Nineteenth Century to prevent collisions on single track lines, is pretty straightforward. Only four of the buttons on the apparatus actually do anything important, and helpful tips messages appear when a token change or radio frequency change is required. The richly accented context-sensitive audio that accompanies radio exchanges is typical of the Thomson attention to detail. In this add-on even the information displayed on station notice boards is appropriate to the location.

An excellent recreation of a Class 37 – a type synonymous with the route during the late 80s scenario timeframe – complete a package that only needs a driveable Class 156 DMU, a few spookable stags, and some quieter level crossings for total perfection.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Gentlemen! Ladies! Please don’t crowd the foxer! I realise it’s not every day a week-old unsolved collage appears in your midst, but beasts like this can be unpredictable when hemmed. Buy a threepenny ticket from Melancholy Melanie, my lavishly illustrated assistant here, and tonight in the Old Quarry you’ll be able to marvel, scrutinize, and caress all you like!

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Today’s foxer has the head of a lion and the body of a Pharaoh. Roman sphinx it will be solved circa 13.42. I’ve got a shiny copper-nickel heptagon riding on a 13.58 defoxing.

All foxer answers in one thread, please.

41 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    Central picture I’m guessing is David of David and Goliath fame.

    • Stugle says:

      The upside-down tank in the top right: an M-36 Jackson? The tracks on this one seem wider than the examples I’ve seen, though…

    • Kasper_Finknottle says:

      The object next to Dave appears to be a Sun/Solar Compass as used by the LRDG I believe :0|

    • ztorm says:

      Not David: it’s Thierry la Fronde, from the character played by actor Jean-Claude Drouot in the french TV series.

      And novels, apparently.
      The action takes place during the 14th century, though… so no Sun King.

      • Premium User Badge

        M. Caillou says:

        Actually, as this image clearly shows, the Fronde was crushed by Louis XIV in 1653.

        • ztorm says:

          Heh, of course. Didn’t realize you’d call it Fronde in English, too. Pity though, “Louis the XIV would crush The Sling and become the Sun King” has a pretty badass, esoteric ring to it…

    • mrpier says:

      For last weeks foxer; I was thinking about a paper theme, but I couldn’t quite convince myself since the connections were so generic (Page, Newspaper, A4, Paper Tiger, office, map).

    • mrpier says:

      All my comments gets deleted when I try to edit them.

      Anyway my suggestion for theme this week was Louis XIV and last week, I suggest paper.

  2. foop says:

    The pen advert says “The Treaty at Versailles was signed with a Waterman’s Ideal Fountain Pen”.

    • Premium User Badge

      Matchstick says:

      Could the ship bottom right be a French Vauban Class Battleship

      • lilD says:

        I think its a Colbert Class Battery Ship, the turret/chimney are in the wrong place for a Vauban I believe.

        • Premium User Badge

          Matchstick says:

          Right if that’s the case, since we only have 5 minutes left to guess the foxer I’m going for the link being The Daily Show :)

        • phlebas says:

          Could it be the Colbert’s predecessor, the Richelieu?

          • Premium User Badge

            Matchstick says:

            Richelieu and Versaille could mean the link is the Three Muskateers

          • lilD says:

            Ah good point, in fact looking at some paintings of them both it being the Richelieu fits with the rather more jauntily angled bowsprit.

            That sounds like a plausible link matchstick, I’ve no idea what anything else is though!

          • phlebas says:

            No strong link to David as far as I know.

          • mrpier says:

            Could Louis XIV the sun king be the link? Versaille, solar compass, Benoist was a sculptor at his court.

            Edit: and the T14 heavy tank.

            Edit: I tried to get last weeks foxer to be about paper, I got some of the way, but I haven’t convinced myself (Page, A4, Newspaper, Office, Paper Tiger, Paper map/Versailles Treaty).

          • Rorschach617 says:

            The Sun King could be the answer, as could “The Man in the Iron Mask”, which links the Three Musketeers with Louis XIV.

    • celticdr says:

      The military surveying device in the centre looks similar to an Alidade, but I’m not 100% convinced…

  3. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    Ugh. If the IL2 devs managed to take what is arguably the most important and most desperate battle of the 20th century and drain it of consequence, atmosphere, and drama, then they have flubbed in a huge way.

    • teddancin says:

      Single-player BoS isn’t so bad – it’s not like those screens after/before each mission in IL2Classic ever did much to properly immerse you. This go-round, instead of one name, it’s like you play a few hundred different pilots. That’s very videogame.

      • Dunbine says:

        I found it deflating. I actually fired up IL2:1946 and started up a campaign after experimenting with the BoS campaign. While not without its flaws, I find the original IL2 much more of an immersive experience. I mean… My squadies and I at least have names, belong to a unit, and the planes have numbers, right?

        Also, the removing autopilot is annoying. Clearly, they are preventing people from turning on the autopilot, setting the time to x16, and walking away while racking up the unlocks. But I don’t (yet) understand why 777 cares about the unlocks.

        As someone who just wants to unwind and get a little single-player fun on, it all seems like very strange design decisions.

  4. Flying Penguin says:

    So… As a committed single player flight simmer*, is there yet any compelling reason to get BoS?

    I’m enjoying patched CloD and the steady trickle of DCS warbirds (already paid for via the Kickstarter) is keeping me quite happy, I just don’t seem to be able to get enthusiastic about BoS, it doesn’t seem to offer (for me) enough to want to blow $90 on something that is barely more structured and no higher fidelity than what I’m already playing, oh and to make it more fun, there’s always-on DRM for the main game modes (which I could probably tolerate if the rest of the package was appealing enough).

    Don’t get me wrong, I want to like it, I’ve had most of the major flight sims on my PC since starting on Corncob 3D (Google it), including pretty much every variant of Il-2 ever. Maybe in a year or two when it’s on sale, but I just can’t get excited about it right now….

    *No interest in play air-quake and not enough time to join a formal squadron.

    • Synesthesia says:

      I have an honest question.

      I’ve recently got into flight sims, and i absolutely LOVE them, but why oh why are there no decent single player sims? Do you have any you recommend? Currently i’m quite enjoying the dcs huey campaign, but i’m sill too bad to do the su-25 one, or the fc 3 for that matter.

      RoF has been mostly hit and miss, mainly because i suck terribly at dogfighting. Il-2 was looking tasty, but these news just kicked it off my buy list.

      So, that. What are some good single player flightsims?

      • jimbobjunior says:

        The DSC Mi-8 campaign is decent if you don’t mind the focus on utility/support missions. Also, the English language manual still hasn’t been released (though apparently not far off), so you might want to hold off if you’re big into the “study” element of study sims. The heli itself if pretty much done, and fun to fly.

      • Flying Penguin says:

        Honestly, if you are after a SP experience (and the sandbox of DCS isn’t doing it for you), I’d recomment Il2: Cliffs of Dover with the latest Team Fusion patch (link to teamfusion.theairtacticalassaultgroup.com).

        It’s $10 on Steam, needs nothing more than the latest Team Fusion patch and it’s a perfectly enjoyable flightsim. DCS is better fidelity, but if you want something less sandboxy that isn’t RoF, you can’t really go wrong for the price!

        • Synesthesia says:

          Yeah, i own that one. I think i might have botched the team fusion install. I’ll get back on it.

        • Eggman says:

          For Cliffs of Dover, the vanilla campaigns are not that bad, but there are some third party campaigns that are much better. Start with heinkill’s Redux campaigns link to airwarfare.com which are free. If you get hooked, you can then check out Desastersoft’s paid campaigns.

      • inferno493 says:

        Falcon 4.0 with the BMS mod and Battle of Britain II both have awesome single player campaigns. They are a bit long in the tooth now, but they have received extensive updates over the past few years and BoB in particular has incredible AI pilots.

    • guidom says:

      Bear in mind it is still deep in the Beta, and that the devs are testing different things out. I have been playing the early access since the very beginning and can confirm that this is the real deal, they have absolutely nailed the feeling of sitting in a thinly armoured box a few thousand metres in the air, and getting shot at. i can absolutely recommend to everyone to bear with this sim and wait for the release version. DCS, RoF, Il2:1946, EAW, hell even SWOTL, this could be the one to beat ya…

      • Flying Penguin says:

        They are in beta, but they are estimating release within a month (last I checked), this is not “deep beta” where I might give them some leeway on the promise of things to come.

        Either there is a solid reason to buy it or the whole thing’s so much chopped liver.

        • guidom says:

          you’re right “deep beta” should be the name for the next Dead Space installment, bad choice of words.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Bold words.

        For a certain segment, me somewhat included, I doubt it’ll beat the joy of a study sim with a clickable pit.

  5. edwardoka says:

    Having spent quite a bit of time on the West Highland Line in my time, judging by the screenshots and videos I’ve seen of this it looks like they’ve absolutely nailed the key areas. £25 is pretty steep though.

    • Klatu says:

      You could check it out with this video link to youtu.be of the Glasgow – Fort William – Mallaig cab ride. I have ‘watched’ the whole thing once, it makes very nice aural wallpaper.

      I agree about the rather steep pricing of these add ons.

  6. P.Funk says:

    So if I understand this article correctly they’ve decided to take all those realism switches we had in old IL-2 and turn them into 2 simple difficulty levels?

    WTF is wrong with these people? Simmers are obsessive modders who want to play their version of realism which often contains very selective compromizes. I fly wit some very serious hardcore people in DCS A-10C. We never use external views when actaully “in the pit” on mission, but when someone is on the homeplate or when we’re outbound in safe territory we will use external view to snap some snazzy screenshots. In training or practice or competition we snap shots of people doing their very technically graded attack runs. If DCS were operated by these guys we’d either have no realism or we’d have no screenshots.

    Umm… huh.

    • WiggumEsquilax says:

      If I was given to cynical judgment (and I am), I’d say that the unlocks, the five tiered campaign, and the hard cutoff between difficulties are all designed to entice the War Thunder crowd. Not worrying too much about a single player campaign for the sim crowd at first, as they’ll just mod it in anyhow.

      A decision I could entirely accept, as I don’t want to see 1C-777 go under any more than the next guy. As long as the devs were honest about it, and as long as they promised to fix it themselves in the future. I have seen little honesty, and few such promises thus far.

  7. Xitax says:

    Screw 777. If you had any familiarity with Rise of Flight then you should have been able to predict how this game would turn out. It’ll be pretty planes in a soulless world (IMHO the thing I can’t forgive). With shitty DRM. And lots of expensive planes for sale one at a time.

    In every area except graphics it’s going to be a giant step backwards. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is going to have any sort of design continuity with the original IL-2.