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Have You Played... Hellfire?

Gotta Catch 'Em All

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Silly question. Of course you haven’t. Michael Wright’s texty ‘haulage bashing’ sim is so niche you could place an ormolu vase in it. It recreates a rarefied form of trainspotting in which sighting locos isn’t enough. To scratch a particular diesel or electric from your Ian Allan motive power pocketbook you must travel behind it.

Bashers are, or rather were (the demise of loco-hauled passenger trains in the UK together with the inexorable rise of ticket prices has – I assume – killed the hobby), incredibly well-travelled. Like twitchers they criss-crossed Britain in search of the unusual and the elusive. They had their own jargon. Beast. Bailing. Dreadful. Moves. Gen. Hellfire. And, in the early days of the PC, thanks to this man, Alan Baylis, they got their own game.

Rail Rover was the inspiration for Hellfire, a sim that hides remarkable complexity behind unassuming menus and maps. It’s 1981 and you’re a basher with the entire British rail network at your Adidas Samba-shod feet. Travelling on authentically timetabled trains, you roam the rails hunting for the blue and yellow workhorses on your ‘needs’ list. These locos aren’t randomly scattered. They’re plausibly diagrammed. There’s no point stalking Hoovers in the North or Deltics in the South, for example. Peaks, Cromptons, Rats, Whistlers, Duffs… every form of motive power has its natural habitat.

Knowledge of loco haunts is important in Hellfire, but so too is luck and in-the-field intelligence gathering. Breakdowns and miscalculations can lead to missed connections and interminable waits on one-horse backwater stations. The demo includes another peril – ticket inspectors. Unless you’ve paid your 25 GBP, this singular game assumes you’re a fare dodger. Eventually your luck will run out – the old hiding-in-the-WC trick will fail – and your virtual bashing odyssey will be brought to an end by a gruff man with a double arrow on his hat.

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Tim Stone

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