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The Flare Path: And The Judgement Of Solomon

Simulation & wargame blather

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Are you ‘feature complete’ yet? Have you written that novel, made that parachute jump, found that special someone? By my calculations my own personal beta test still has about 250 years left to run. Circa 2264 the handful of people that backed my 1970 Kickstarter campaign will get an email thanking them for their patience. The email will include the following changelog.

New in Version 1.0

  • Focus
  • Patience
  • Charm
  • Gravitas
  • Wisdom…

 

  • Contentment
  • Financial security
  • Fluent French and German
  • Trombone virtuosity
  • Private airstrip, pilot’s licence and Spitfire Mk I

Thank goodness video-games evolve faster than people. Assetto Corsa for instance, was declared ‘feature complete’ mid-week having spent just three years in the developmental nursery.

Ensuring v1.0 stood out from the usual Early Access updates, Kunos Simulazioni packed the milestone build with lashings of new content and improvements. On Wednesday the sim acquired a career mode, elaborate damage modelling, a spiffier sound engine, and some rather handsome shader effects, not to mention a generous dollop of extra tracks and rides. I’ve yet to try added steeds like the Ferrari LaFerrari and new venues like Spa Francorchamps but the forum buzz and the rash of vids appearing suggest Stefano Casillo & Co. may have saved the best for last.

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Pike & Shot also scurried across the Finish Line this week. The Sixteenth/Seventeenth Century battlefield TBS cursorily Flare Pathed in early September is already available at Matrix Games and Slitherine, and will be arriving on Steam later today.

I’m in the process of finding out whether the $30 ($40 after Oct 23) price tag is justified. While there’s little evidence of the GUI and graphical enhancements I wishlisted in the preview, the game does come with the ten English Civil War and the ten Italian Wars battle originally flagged as expansion packs, so is plumper than expected. A few battles into my playtest, my enthusiasm for the automatic pursuit mechanism is waning somewhat (I’d like to see victorious units occasionally maintain their position after engineering a rout) but the enemy AI still feels dangerous, the shape and rhythm of engagements pleasingly distinctive.

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As the above developer-organised poll vividly illustrates, many IL2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad fliers are disappointed with the current state of the campaign engine. Sadly, some chose to vent that disappointment by cluster-bombing the sim’s Metacritic page with misleading and malicious ‘0 out of 10’ user reviews.

On Tuesday, the situation prompted a rather desperate forum appeal from the studio’s Lead Community Manager, Zak

“Pilots.

There’s quite a picturesque scene on our page at metacritic.com. Most of the comments left by players (there’s no proof that they actually played the game thou) are blankly negative. These people have a direct, vivid and purposeful intention to finish the very existence of IL-2 brand. They want this remarkable and world-renown flight sim franchise to die. I’ve discussed the situation with Loft earlier today. So, if the user opinion shown by metacritic is what the community believes in, then we, as he says, will need to close the project this December. If their attitude prevails, if haters win and dominate over those who love IL-2 Sturmovik then the game is over – it’s out of the shelves, out of hard drives, out of memory.

If you want to shut down the series then just leave the situation as it is now, and let a bunch of trolls and haters finish it.

You want the game to live, to develop and to turn into the best WWII combat flight sim over time? You love it? Then speak it out. Tell you virtual and real friends, tell the new younger pilots, tell it to the group of 30 men who is not on the forum and whose days and nights are devoted to creating IL-2 for you.”

The appeal was swiftly replaced by something a little less apocalyptic/threatening but seemed to do the trick. Almost immediately the 0/10 reviews found themselves competing for screen space with a rash of equally helpful 10/10 reviews. The farce ended on Wednesday when Metacritic, possibly after an approach by 1C/777, took down the IL2BOS page. Maybe everyone can now get back to the serious business of improving a sim that’s still a few courageous design decisions away from fulfilling its huge potential.

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Go to the window and take a peek at the street. See that KHTV van parked under the chestnut tree on the corner? That’s no TV van.

On Monday, Door Kickers, KillHouse’s top-notch top-down tango topping tactics game, will push open the squeaky screen door separating Early Access from Full Release. I’m planning to share my Wot I Thoughts ASAP. In the meantime, here, for the uninitiated, is a taste of the kind of delicate combat situations regularly served up by this firm Flare Path favourite.

The Solomon Islands Embassy is one of DK’s oldest levels, but at some point during the summer, it was given a nasty new twist. Originally a straight ‘exterminate the bad guys, extricate the hostages’ challenge, the level now features a hostile who’s run out of patience. Forty seconds after the mission commences, said embassy occupier will cull one of his captives with a bullet to the head.

What he doesn’t realise is that his murderous plans are about to be derailed by a 4-man SWAT element of unrivalled experience and skill. Between them, Paul ‘Pinko’ Hibbs, Rob ‘Rat Trap’ Witter, Patrick ‘Scarecrow’ Burden, and Jason ‘Game Boy’ Jenkins, have slain over 1000 tangos during their careers; they’re a big part of the reason all 72 levels on my mission selection screen now sport completion stars. With their battle-boosted stats and my knowledge of the level, I’m fairly confident the combat commentary below will have a happy rather than a harrowing ending.

There are two possible deployment zones on the map. Because the western one (labelled ‘D1’) is a considerable distance from the room containing the eager executioner (‘X’), I’ll be deploying all my troops in the southern zone (‘D2’). In normal circumstances I’d probably use breaching charges to gain entry to the building (the blast from charges can temporarily stun nearby foes) but today, time is so tight that I’ve got little option but to fling open the front doors and attempt a swift, direct and, fingers-crossed, overwhelming mass entry.

Pinko and Rat Trap, armed with suppressed UMP45s for this outing, will push open the doors from positions of cover, allowing the M4 carbine-equipped Scarecrow and Game Boy clear shots at any targets in the centre of the entrance hall. Actions prepped I hold my breath and dab the space bar to unpause the action.

0003. The heavy doors swing open revealing a Nameless Thug gripping a MAC-10. Milliseconds before trigger squeezes from Scarecrow and Game Boy have felled this gatekeeper, a burst from the tango’s stunted SMG wings the fractionally-too-slow-to-get-clear-of-the-doorway Pinko. Not a brilliant start, but there’s no going back now.

0006. Peeling left and right as they enter, Pinko and Rat Trap simultaneously dispatch two more doormen before either have fired a shot. That’s more like it. Time to press pause and have a bit of a ponder. Where should I drag my team’s destination dots next?

0010. A plan of sorts. Rat Trap and Scarecrow are going after the executioner, while Game Boy remains by the front door, and Pinko takes up a position in a corridor on the left of the entrance hall.

0011. Pinko’s ‘assault shooting’ rating is almost maxed-out now which is very bad news for the badman that, hearing the commotion in the entrance hall, decides to investigate via the western corridor. Four hostiles down, around ten remaining.

0013. Make that eight remaining. Scarecrow and Rat Trap are currently stepping over two twitching corpses at the southern end of the right-hand corridor. It all happened in a flash but I believe both fell to silenced shots.

0016. The sound of UMPs hiccoughing and surprised thugs slumping onto parquet doesn’t seem to have disturbed the nearby patroller pacing the short side-corridor Rat Trap has just turned into. Team members usually fire automatically but because Rob is stealth class for this mission (operatives can switch class freely) and the target is walking away from him, I’m given the option of manually ordering a shot or letting nature take its course.

0021. There’s only one way into the execution chamber and that’s through an outer office with a door opening onto the eastern corridor. As Rat Trap hurries to join him (Only eighteen seconds now, before the hostage is topped!) Scarecrow de-pins a flashbang, and hurls it through the half-open door.

0022. The grenade is still in flight when the over-eager Scarecrow bursts in and slots the room’s sole occupant. Distinctly amateurish. If there’d been multiple targets inside, his haste may have been punished.

0026. Unsettled by the muffled clap of the flashbang, a tango exits the conference room (where the majority of the the hostages are cowering) and is immediately cut down by rounds from Game Boy’s carbine.

(Considering this incident post-operation, I realise I was rather lucky; Game Boy’s position was potentially disastrous. If there’d been another tango on the far side of the table when the conference room door was opened then hostages could easily have been caught in the crossfire.)

0028. A single door is now all that separates Rat Trap and Scarecrow from the executioner and any out-of-LOS comrades. With a mere eleven seconds left before the dastardly deed is done, I decide to forego a sneaky spy-cam examination of the execution chamber, and rely on speed, sniping and a well-aimed flashbang instead. A stun grenade hurled into the centre of the small room should temporarily incapacitate everyone inside. The second the grenade goes off I’ll order my sniper (represented as an off-map asset in DK) to ‘take the shot’ and slay the one tango visible through the north-facing window. Then Scarecrow and Rat Trap will bundle in and – touch wood – finish the job.

0029. A tossed metal cylinder the size of a deodorant can plinks onto a polished wood floor. In unison three desperate men spot it, understand, and begin to…

0030. The metal cylinder bursts with a tympanum rending crack. Condensed starlight expands, bleaching colours and bathing retinas.

0031. The sharpshooter’s bullet arrives at its intended destination at precisely the right moment and – thanks to DK’s simplistic ballistics – helpfully refuses to go any further. Rat Trap is inside the room now, his UMP45 pivoting crisply between the two dazed tangos standing on opposite sides of the room. PUTTT-PUTTT. PUTTT-PUTTT. There’ll be no executions today.

0033. Well, not planned ones anyway. There’s still the five hostages huddled in the conference room to be freed. I drag Scarecrow and Rat Trap’s destination dots towards the conference room’s eastern door, and send the impatient Pinko to explore two rooms on the western side of the building.

0043. The rooms are empty, but as Pinko exits the second he glimpses, and is glimpsed by, a foe standing, half-hidden by a doorjamb, at the end of the corridor. Six or seven metres apart, it’s the man in brown toting the discreet German SMG that reacts quickest.

0044. Awkward! Rat Trap’s swivelling spy camera has revealed that there are three hostiles in the conference room. Their semi-randomized positions (DK arranges its adversaries slightly differently every time you play) – one in the NW corner, one by the eastern door, and one close to the hostages and now-open southern door – mean a single-point assault could very easily end in calamity.

0046. I think my best option is to storm all three entry points simultaneously. In readiness for this tricky tridental coup de grace, I send Pinko through the as-yet-unexplored kitchen to the western door, and mouse-draw a broken white line from Game Boy to the southern portal.

0051. As Game Boy advances across the emblem emblazoned on the entrance hall floor, he probably isn’t thinking “An eagle, a shark, a crocodile, turtles, frigate birds… the Solomon Islands coat-of-arms is a veritable bestiary!”. (People easily distracted by eye-catching décor seldom make it through SWAT selection.)

0054. As Pinko navigates the deserted kitchen, he probably isn’t thinking “That pear frangipane tart looks amazing. I wonder if they’d mind if I had a slice” (People easily distracted by mouth-watering desserts seldom make it through SWAT selection.)

0060. Everyone is now in position; route lines have been unspooled, order dots placed. When I press the ‘A’ go-code button, three flashbangs will be tossed through three doorways. When I dab the ‘B’ go-code button, four men with the reflexes of preying mantises will burst into the conference room and totally fail to admire a rather beautiful Persian rug.

0061. ‘A’

0063. ‘B’

0064. Job done. Shame about the rug.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Roman’s lack of self control meant last week’s Louis XIV collage lacked Bourbon creams. That didn’t stop the Grade 1 Listed mrpier sunspotting the Sun King link.

a. Louis Blériot
b. Benoist flying boat (mrpier)
c. T14 heavy tank (Rorscach617)
d. Colbert-class ironclad (lilD)
e. Thierry la Fronde (ztorm, M. Caillou)
f. Bagnold sun compass (Kasper_Finknottle)
g. Watermans pen advert (foop)

(October 03’s puzzle continues to fox)

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Preparations for ‘Foxed’, the TV quiz show version of The Flare Path Foxer, are now at a fairly advanced stage. The format has been finalised, the set (inspired by the Battle of Britain ops room at RAF Uxbridge) constructed. Really, all that’s left to do is decide on a host. Currently the shortlist looks like this…

* James May
* Victoria Coren
* Richard Osman
* Alan Partridge
* Richard Osman
* Basil Brush
* Richard Osman
* Richard Osman

The collage below may well appear in the pilot.

All foxer guesses in one thread, please.

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