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11

The Flare Path: Fish Tanks

A rivet runs through it

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Since getting struck on the side of the head by a speeding cricket ball at the age of eleven, my neighbour, Keith Kincaid, has been interested in only two things – fire engines and the music of Nana Mouskouri. If that fateful leather-sheathed sphere had clouted his coronal suture a smidgen higher, Keith would, according to my well-thumbed copy of Dr Melvin Pewsey’s Brain Atlas, be obsessed by electricity pylons and alpaca husbandry today. A smidgen lower and he’d be exactly the kind of tank-partial trout enthusiast this Flare Path is aimed at. 

I’ll be employing only one of my two stock criticisms of fishing sims in the following appraisal of the demo-equipped River Legends. Dantat Studios’ delightfully curve- and polygon-free angling diversion is absolutely heaving with incidental fauna so can’t be deprecated in that department. Where it does uphold a questionable genre tradition is in the frequency of its bites. Within two hours of flinging my first fly in RL I was hauling in my 100th fish.

I love the atmosphere, art, and accessibility of Brian Chau’s £11 “fly fishing adventure”, but I wish River Legends wasn’t in such a hurry to bend rods and unveil secrets. By the time I’d landed that 100th piscine, I’d unlocked all seven venues…

…and purchased everything the tackle store had to offer.

If it wasn’t for the elusive/combative goliaths alluded to in the title and the simple yet pleasing angling mechanics, RL would have the longevity of an unusually sickly Ephemeropteran. Because every time I’ve managed to hook one of the game’s biggest sprites so far, I’ve failed to land it, I won’t be uninstalling just yet.

Casting is a simple but evocative process. You pick a promising spot on the bank, choose a direction, then project your mock mayfly into the moving current with a rhythmic mouse movement, the duration of which determines cast length. A tap of the spacebar executes a strike, and then, assuming you’ve hooked a titan rather than a tiddler, the sweaty fun begins.

Rod angle is selected and reeling-in controlled by LMB tapping in three distinct regions of the screen. The object is to keep the hook indicator in a green goldilocks zone. With lesser fish this is generally a piece of cake. However, the heavyweights possess more stamina and spirit. You need to change rod angle and reeling-in rate regularly and smartly to cope with their frantic freedom bids – something I’ve not yet fully mastered, although I’m often within a barbel’s whisker of netting my prize when the line snaps.

If there’s an RL2 in development, hopefully it will offer a little more depth and several difficulty terraces rather than just one. A few more fly types (there’s three at present, two of which maximise your chances of a bite in certain weather conditions) combined with a simple “match the hatch” mini-game and a more subtle attraction algorithm, would add challenge and boost the game’s sim credentials. The exploration dimension is also ripe for elaboration. Using stepping-stones, fallen trees, and beaver dams to reach promising pegs is satisfying, but, ignore the whimsical cave networks that grace some maps, and most venues only support a minute or two of rambling.

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Scandalously, almost a year has passed since I last took my copy of Early Access Tank Crew – Clash at Prokhorovka for a spin. Returning to it this week I discovered four very impressive angry abodes and a sizeable slab* of Kursk scenery I’d not encountered before, but flip-all in the way of new missions.

* 106km x 106km with a high-detail area 19km x 23km

One of three projects underway at 1CGS at the moment, Tank Crew aims to give solo AFV simmers a taste of one of the largest tank rumpuses in history, and those of a more sociable bent the opportunity to brave Eastern Front battlefields buzzed by sentient Stukas and Sturmoviks (the sim can interface with 1CGS flight sims like Battle of Stalingrad and Battle of Moscow for multiplayer).

Right now, somewhat surprisingly considering that the first EA build arrived more than 12 months ago, the only official alternatives* to the rather basic skirmish generator are the two scripted missions that came with the first public build. Two is set to become four later this month, but early adopters have reason to feel deprived. The dev’s regular steed and realism injections really should have been accompanied by awards of new scenarios, even if those scenarios were stop-gaps not intended for campaign inclusion.

* A few amateur scenario-smiths have attempted to alleviate the drought.

Since my first taste of TC, 1CGS have disclosed details of the dual scripted campaigns. Composed of ten missions each and with a total estimated playtime of around ten hours, the sequences will take place between July 6th and 17th, 1943, and utilize five of the sim’s ten driveables. “Reunion”and “Into the breach”, the missions provided so far, prove that the sim can do atmosphere and excitement, but leave questions about replayability unanswered. As the 1CGS flight sims support randomly triggered events, it seems probable TC will too. Let’s hope the campaign crafters use these potent surprise strewers adroitly and often.

Mission-wise TC may have changed little this past twelve months, but in tank terms its metamorphosis has been dramatic. The line-up now includes a Tiger, KV-1, Panzer IV, Sherman, plus two variants of both the T-34/76 and Panzer III (still to come are a Panther, Ferdinand, SU-122 and SU-152). More significantly, major upgrades to physics, damage models, and interiors mean these heavyweights are almost as deeply simmed as they are drop-dead gorgeous.

A spring update inserted visible crewmen. An early summer one breathed life into dials and transformed the way penetrating hits wreak havoc. Uninvited AP and APHE rounds can now kibosh electrical and cooling systems, turret motors, transmission and suspension components. They can cause fuel and oil leaks, and start blazes that may spread to ammo racks with spectacular results if AI crews fail to control them with their extinguishers.

The panel that displays, at a glance, the state of your steel coffin, incorporates six currently unused icons that suggest campaign excursions aren’t going to be composed entirely of combat. Judging by the ‘rearming’, refuelling’, ‘crew replacement’ and trio of ‘servicing’ pictograms greyed-out in the above image, there will be welcome lulls in the mayhem – restorative interludes spent in the company of dusty support trucks and halftracks. Very promising!

1CGS tell me that sister projects Battle of Bodenplatte and Flying Circus are on schedule for Christmas releases, but TC, having “proven to be a harder build than we first anticipated” will spend longer in Early Access. While their partner, DigitalForms of St. Petersburg, painstakingly engineer the remaining driveables, the Muscovites are busy “finishing up the support mechanisms for the tanks like AI, command functions and campaign missions”.

It will be interesting to see how the sim handles wingmen controls and the thorny subject of extinction. I’m hoping at the very least we’ll get some basic formation options and the ability to send subordinate tanks to specific locations with mouse clicks à la Panzer Elite. When it comes to elegant platoon control, PE’s ‘mouse-tank’ interface device (visible in the top left corner of this image) still sets the standard in my opinion.

How should TC deal with death? An option to switch to a wingman tank on the event of losing your starting steed/avatar would, I’m sure, be popular in some quarters.

And how will the sim represent infantry? Early statements from 1CGS suggest that TC TCs will never find themselves mowing down grunts or advancing alongside them, but fingers-crossed, as individual HMGs already figure in some scenarios, perhaps AT teams and snipers will appear in some form in the final product.

A better Quick Mission Builder… an improved driving model with selectable gears and separate lever keys… more credible collisions (I grabbed the above image after an unsuccessful attempt to flatten the parked Bf 109)… smoke shells and smoke dischargers… although I’m reassured by what I’ve seen over the past couple of days, my personal wishlist still has some far-from-trivial entries. I’m convinced I’m going to enjoy Tank Crew – Clash at Prokhorovka. Whether I come to cherish it the way I cherish Panzer Elite and Steel Fury depends a lot on features such as AI sophistication and campaign design that the Early Access builds have yet to throw light on.

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This way to the foxer

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Tim Stone

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