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The Flare Path: Wages War In The West

Grigsby, Billings, and Brors are to PC wargaming what Stock, Aitken, and Waterman are to pop music… what Freeman, Hardy, and Willis are to shoe retailing… what Rock, Paper, and Shotgun are to outdated Anglocentric intro references. They started making hexagonal militaria in the days when Tyrannosauri and Triceratopses grappled, and dragonflies the size of Dragonflies dragonflew. Their latest release, War in the West, is their biggest and most elaborate design yet. Suitably intimidated, I spent Monday and Tuesday eyeing the colossus through fieldglasses, and Wednesday and Thursday prodding it with a long stick.

What have I learned so far? Well, apart from the blindingly obvious:

*WITW isn’t cheap. (The download version is £66)

*It inherits many of its genes from War in the East.

*Its scope, depth and ambition are breathtaking, but its 10-strong scenario selection doesn’t stretch to representations of The Desert War, The Battle for France or Fall Weiss.

*Its map sports more hexes than the Giant’s Causeway.

I can confidently report…

Matrix and 2by3 provide a surprisingly large and soft ‘WELCOME’ mat.

Are there enough tooltips? No. Has the dense 310-page manual been embedded Civilopedia-style within the game for added convenience? Of course not. But a series of five, brief yet incisive video tutorials, together with a blather-free 35-page ‘Player’s Handbook‘ do make early forays a lot less bewildering than they might have been.

 

The new expanded air war element is almost a game in itself.

I whiled away most of yesterday happily fiddling with the lyrically titled ‘Introductory Air Campaign’, a four turn (1 month) hors d’oeuvre that tasks the player with decimating Axis heavy industry, fuel production facilities, and population centres. While analysing the results of air activity is far from straightforward (The post-sortie stats seem to provide few clues as to why some raids are spectacular successes, others dismal failures) actually getting aircraft to go where you want, when you want, is a piece of cake.

If you’re so inclined you can leave everything up to the capable AI. Your artificial air staff will select target areas and sortie types, and assign appropriate squadrons to fly those sorties (Typical of WITW’s endearing approach to detail, aircraft come in hundreds of historical varieties, each with their own weaknesses and strengths). The fun, of course, is in meddling. Air planners can be influenced through a simple ‘Air Directives’ priorities screen. With a few dainty clicks you can, for example, encourage your Tedders, Harrises and Doolittles to concentrate on pounding railyards or V-Weapon launch sites, or urge them to focus on air superiority or ground support.

The next rung up on the involvement ladder is modifying AI-generated Air Directives and fabricating your own from scratch. Neither option is particularly complicated. It’s the work of a minute to position or reposition an AD focal point on the map, define an AD’s radius (the AI will pick raid targets within an AD area), and, if you’re so inclined, assign specific squadrons, and modify default routes, heights, and meteorology instructions (Pilots will brave appalling weather conditions, if you insist upon it). Once the patchwork of multi-coloured ADs is in place, another key press executes the Air Phase, raid markers scuttle towards targets, interceptors scramble, casualty counts whirr.

 

It’s going to take weeks, maybe months, to properly assess this almost unique monster.

Once I’ve got my head round how the air war works, there’s a labyrinthine logistics layer to be understood, new amphibious and para drop mechanics to be mastered, and – the Elefant in the shellhole – the backbreaking workload of the bigger scenarios to be manfully shouldered. In WITW all ground units must be moved individually – sadly, there are no labour-saving HOI-style battleplans.

Presently, the game isn’t bug free or perfectly balanced.

Exposed to exotic audio codecs, WITW has a nasty tendency to freeze (Rather than purge my codec collection, I’ve chosen to play without sound for the time-being). Early adopters have winkled out possible problems with flak modelling (AAA is not as effective as it should be) aircrew training attrition (training is more dangerous than combat at present) and amphibious landing difficulty (Winter Line-sidestepping Operation Shingles are enticingly easy). Given the staggering complexity of the game, teething troubles are hardly a surprise, and won’t, I suspect, go unaddressed for long.

Expect further, fleshier, War in the West thoughts in the new year.

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Protracted PDF manual poring tends to strain my peepers and my patience. Several times this week I’ve nipped off to clear my head and stretch my legs on Naval Action’s pitching poop decks.

Do yachts and cutters (the only NA vessels I’ve unlocked thus far) have poop decks? Not sure. After a spell with me at the helm, frankly they’re lucky to have decks.

Naval Action is in closed alpha at the moment (The GUI visible in the accompanying shots and vids is WIP). Sessions revolve around atmospheric PVE and PVP skirmishes. Neither exasperatingly slow nor anachronistically fast, combat features plenty of wind-gauge jockeying and broadside trading. AI controlled vessels are dangerous, gunnery, especially at long range, is exacting. It’s not uncommon to find yourself shortening sail or shifting course in order to lower the cannon muzzles of a heeling craft. Regularly you look on, mortified, as roundshot punctures ocean rather than planking.

I’ve yet to experiment with the four ammo types currently modelled, or completely master the handling technique illustrated in the vid below. In my last engagement, clumsy tacking caused me to grind to a halt right next to a furious French frigate. Thankfully, my crew were far too busy being blown to smithereens too grumble about the shoddy seamanship.

 

Could Naval Action eventually do for fighting sail what War Thunder has done for soaring fighters and World of Tanks has done for fighty crawlers? It’s very early days yet, but stranger things have happened.

 

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The Flare Path Foxer

It takes Roman longer to clamber out of his new Balkenkreuz-emblazoned Messerschmitt KR200, than it took Matchstick and chums (Rorschach617, Shiloh, deejayem, foop and Kaben) to fathom last week’s ‘split’ foxer.

A. Split decision
B. Split level
C. Stock split
D. Split pin
E. Split S
F. Split atom
G. Cornish split
H. Split pea
I. Banana split
J. Split screen

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During the past month, Roman has been approached by several companies and organisations interested in sponsoring The Foxer. In the light of recent controversies, he thought it would be wise to run these potential partners past the defoxing community before choosing one. Does anyone have a problem with any of the following?

a) Muddy Fox
b) Fox’s Biscuits
c) The Wire Fox Terrier Association
d) Bruce Foxton
e) The Fox River Trolley Museum
f) The Fox & Hounds Inn, Slaughter-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire
g) Fox News

Answers in one thread, please.

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