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The Flare Path: Island Hops

Simulation & wargame blather

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No man is a Britten-Norman Islander entire of itself;
Every Manston is a piece of the continent, a part of the main plane;
If a CLOD be washed away by the Sea Fury,
Eurofighter is the less,
as Wellington as if a promontory were,
as Wellington as any manor of thy little friends or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes Me 262,
because I am involved in Grummankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the Bell JetRanger VTOLs;
it VTOLs for thee.

(John Do 17, 1624/C/3)

 

 

It’s also Panzer General.

Again.

Out next Thursday, Order of Battle: Pacific pinches its play principles from the dozing Panzer Corps just as Panzer Corps pinched its play principles from the dozing Panzer General. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a bit of canny battlefield scavenging, especially when you’re scavenging from a warrior as well-equipped and likeable as PG. The problem is you risk boring the socks off middle-aged wargame correspondents that have been playing PG in its myriad forms for nigh-on twenty years.

Hang on. What’s this? I’ve been in the company of OOBP for five hours now and my feet are still firmly sheathed by grubby foot mittens! What gives?

I wasn’t expecting much from this palm-fringed pop wargame, but having just completed the fourth and final mission of the substantial starter campaign, I have to say I’m rather impressed. Yes, it’s PG posted to the South Seas, but a sprinkle of new play elements, a plethora of unfamiliar units, and some beautifully crafted visuals and sounds, make nearly everything seem fresh and charming.

The most significant of the innovations is a natty Unity of Command-style supply system. Because land units unable to trace friendly hex-chains back to towns and supply ships, scamper and scrap with reduced efficiency, it now pays to pocket and guard flanks during advances. The Artistocrats’ AI doesn’t seem quite as quick to spot and exploit encirclement opportunities as 2×2’s, but there have been times during the introductory exercises (you don’t encounter the Japanese until the main campaign) when I’ve found myself desperately battling to reach marooned units.

And isolation isn’t the only supply-related SNAFU you must watch out for. It’s also possible to overload particular supply sources. A rash of yellow, orange, or red supply indicators below your units means it’s probably time to dab the space bar, and assess the overall logistics picture. Simple rules and bold, informative numerals, means it seldom takes more than a few seconds to find the root of the problem.

Even with special manually-triggered unit abilities like sonar searches and torpedo attacks, I can’t see OOBP’s naval battles being a game highlight. Separated from landlubberly terrain considerations, the hitpoint whittling at the heart of PG/PC/OOBP combat can feel crude. What I can see myself enjoying, are the amphibious landing scenarios of which there are sure to be many in the pair of main campaigns. Watching core units steadily evolve, exploring a 20-branch  ‘specialisation’ tech tree, and invading Australia (a what-if scenario at the end of the Japanese campaign) will, I suspect, also prove diverting.

Order of Battle: Pacific bustles from its bullet-pecked Buffalo on April 30. Steam will be stocking it.

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That parting line in Island Flight Simulator’s Steam blurb is technically correct. The fun does indeed “never stop”. For the fun to stop it would first need to start.

The tragedy is there’s a great concept lurking deep beneath the polygons of this painfully feeble plane game. Bolting an economic layer to a GA flight sim is something that should happen more. European Truck Simulator with Cessnas instead of Scanias, DC-3’s instead of DAFs… close your eyes for a moment and picture it.

Yes, I know we’ve got AirHauler, and the prospect of an elaborate sequel complete with commodity crafting and Virtual Airline support, but I hanker for something self-contained, something with spirit as well as spreadsheets.

Caiprinha Games piddle on my daydreams by delivering aircraft with Fisher-Price FMs and cardboard cockpit panels. They invite ridicule by neglecting to model weather or code controller support. Even the economic dimension feels thin and unappetising. Flying cargoes around the map’s twelve islands, there’s no competition to worry about or any real sense that you’re participating in a coherent trade network.

Occasionally, just occasionally, when you’re brushing scrub at the end of one of the shorter strips, braking hard in an attempt to avoid a hangar prang, or contemplating whether to undertake a contraband run, there’s a glimpse of the exciting, challenging and colourful game Island Flight Simulator should have been. Will someone please make that game before I’m too decrepit or doolally to enjoy it.

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The last island in this week’s Flare Path only existed for a couple of months. From late November 1942 to early February 1943, Stalingrad was ringed by Soviet steel. For the German castaways marooned in the rubbled city the only way in or out was aboard planes, planes like the Ju 52.

Leaving the Luftwaffe’s corrugated carthorse out of IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad always seemed like an odd design decision. The devs finally addressed the omission on Wednesday. Thanks to an update that also added a new venue (Velikie Luki) and tweaked a host of FMs and DMs, AI-controlled Ju 52s now bumble about in campaign and quick missions.

Though 1CGS/777 are clearly busy on their Battle of Moscow project (the images above show BoM’s two premium planes, the P-40 and MC.202) work on the original title shows no sign of abating. In the last two months IL2BOS has been pummelled and enriched by three substantial patches. Significant recent additions include dedicated server software, a full mission editor, oxygen system simulation, and far more informative debrief maps. Less significant changes include the almost Strange Log worthy…

…Soviet and German skin tones were tweaked to look less washed out

…It is now possible to shoot off wheels from the landing gears of Pe-2 and He 111

…The bug that caused trains to explode when starting movement and crossing Y-junctions was fixed

…The trees that blocked takeoff for heavily loaded planes on the Pichuga airfield were removed

…Ground crews are now running away correctly from exploding vehicles

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The Flare Path Foxer

Last week’s Flare Path Flair Points were made from pieces of Michael Foot’s donkey jacket and went to Rorschach617, AFKAMC, Matchstick, phlebas, Llewyn, Shiloh, mrpier, and Zogg.

(theme: donkeys)

a. Devonia (beached off Bray Dunes during Operation Dynamo)

b. John Simpson Kirkpatrick statue at the Australian War Memorial

c. Curtiss Jenny

d. Page from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

e. Mitsubuishi J2M Raiden ‘Jack’

f. Sancho Panza from Picasso’s Don Quixote sketch

g. Alan Clark

h. DONKEY.BAS sprite

i. Richard Hammond’s ‘Donkey’

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Roman’s talents don’t stop at collage creation. Before he joined the good ship Flare Path my Chief Foxer Setter made a living writing self-help books. Think Yourself Fit, Think Yourself Calm, Think Yourself Moderately Well-Off, Think Yourself Belgian, Think Yourself Impulsive… all Roman’s work. I’ve read most of his tomes and if I had to pick a favourite – a volume that has influenced me more than any other – then, all things considered, at the end of the day it would probably have to be – no, it would definitely have to be – his life-changing 2003 pocket masterpiece Think Yourself Concise (ISBN 978-085177801308517786000851778068)

All answers in one thread, please.

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Tim Stone

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