This edition of Flare Path is dedicated to Gerda Hampson, the SOE agent known as 'Hawk Moth' who on June 22nd 1942, charmed her way into The Berghof posing as a Swiss entomologist, and surreptitiously changed Hitler's personal difficulty setting from 'easy' to 'ironman'. The sly switch wasn't discovered for two and a half years by which time, of course, there was no way back for the red-faced Führer.
I fancy Gerda would have enjoyed both the new releases I've been toying with this week. Her connection with big-picture WW2 TBS Strategic War in Europe is obvious, but unless you happen to have read her 800-page autobiography 'A Moth and a Mother', you probably won't be aware Hawk Moth also had a thing for big rigs.
I wasn't expecting much from Scania Truck Driving Simulator. A mid-priced Euro Truck Simulator 2 hors d'oeuvre that looked from a distance like classic tide-us-over-ware (ETS2 has been in the pipeline for a long time by SCS's standards) now that I've got my hands on it I'm pleased to be able to report it's actually surprisingly substantial and self-confident offering.
Imagine Tricky Truck had traded its editor and damage models, for authentic cabs and DiRTy visuals, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this arduous artic assault course. For your 20 EUR you get an impressive selection of 38 challenges that range from 'simple' parking and manoeuvre tests (10), to arena events drawn directly from the European Truck Driver of the Year competition (13), and perilous A-to-B runs in lovingly wrought real-world environments (15).
Whether you're edging along a section of Bolivia's Road of Death, or trying to reverse your rig into a narrow U of traffic cones at Scania's Södertälje test-centre, chances are you'll be concentrating with an intensity you usually reserve for flight-sim carrier landings and A2A refuelling. STDS isn't out to flatter or flimflam, but because scraped paintwork and toppled cones erode stopwatch-determined points tallies rather than end runs, the rigour rarely frustrates.
And if the fiendish tests - each with their own online leaderboard - do ever send you figuratively or literally over the edge, you can always seek refuge in Free Roam, a simplified version of Euro Truck Sim's career mode in which you beetle around a chunk of industrialised city-edge collecting and delivering randomly generated trailers. No cash changes hands and there's no chance to upgrade your rig (you use the same Scania machine throughout the game). It's a poor man's Euro Truck Simulator/18 Wheels of Steel but a welcome change of pace after an hour or two of torturous dockyard container mazes and winding rockfall-sprinkled mountain roads.
Physics and sound are two areas where I would like to see SCS try a little harder. Despite jamming microphones up various sooty lorrifices, truck audio still feels a little thin and synthetic. The rich interplay of engine, axles, transmission, and brake noise present in a sim like OMSI just isn't there in STDS. Handling too is adequate rather than uncanny. Driving on unmetalled surfaces and roadside verges feel much the same as motoring on tarmac. Jam on the anchors or turn violently at speed and the results aren't nearly as coffee-slopping/tyre-shredding as they probably should be.
Time of Tetchiness
After [kettledrum-roll] TIME OF WRATH and [kettledrum-roll] TIME OF FURY comes [kazoo fanfare]... Strategic War In Europe! Hmm, Wastelands Interactive might have lost their way a bit when it comes to nomenclature, but their latest project shows they have an increasingly clear idea of what most of us part-time Pattons want and expect from a WW2 grand-strategy game.
SWIE is a trimmer, faster, cheaper, version of Time of Fury. With fewer hexes on its map, and an interface honed over three years, it's the kind of game that barely needs tutorials or a manual. A Hearts of Iron 3 for the time-poor and easily befuddled, Poland can be pole-axed in half an hour, the Low Countries laid low in 15 minutes, Russia rushed in... actually, all my attempts at Barbarossa-ing the Soviets have so-far ended in panzer-pwned ignominy so you'll have to work that out for yourself.
There's a lot to like about this £13 offering. The AI seems to have its head screwed on nice and tight. Convoys, naval warfare, production, research, and diplomacy are all cleverly streamlined. The opportunity to play as minors or individual Axis/Allied nations provides singleplayer flexibility that you won't find in likeable rivals like Commander: Europe At War. My few, minor reservations revolve around balance and freshness.
Stomping around in Stalin's boots, I was a little surprised at the feebleness of the Finns (My Winter War was more of a Christmas Cakewalk) Attempting to ape Adolf, the number and sophistication of the armoured units rapidly raised by the communists came as something of a surprise. I could probably up the historicism by adjusting the difficulty settings of individual nations in the pre-game options screen, but had rather hoped a 'Normal' game would produce more redolent results.
Wastlands could also use a a dash of 2x2 Games' vision and verve. SWIE exudes competence, but also smells slightly of mildew. If you've been wargaming for a decade or two, it could seem a trifle tired.
The Flare Path Foxer
FP spent much of his holiday staring out to sea. Because the sea in question was one of the busiest shipping lanes in the World, the staring never became wearing. Glittering ocean liners, hulking container ships, reeking guano barques... What were their names? To which exotic ports were they bound?... FP's mind wheeled like the gulls overhead.
Of course, if he'd had his laptop with him, he could have figured out the answers to these questions in much the same way as a canny lad or lass might figure out the names and the current destinations/locations of the nine ships ciphered below.
The ill-conceived Iron Front collages from a couple of weeks back elicited so many superb naming suggestions that it seems a shame to pick just one per vehicle. Gold runner-up FP Flair Points go to... Nikelspank, nimzy, Chris D, Simas Nick, Skabooga, Caleb367, & Dances to Podcasts
Fairly arbitrary Iron Fronted ones to ...
A) JB/Alex Bakke/Conor/Letum (Kubelflakken/Kubelflacken/Kubelflaken) and Elmar Bijlsma (Kubelkanonenwagen auf selbstfart lafette Skfzwtfomg typ 82 ausführung D)
B) Gaytard Fondue (StuG³) and Fumarole (Tristugatops)
C) Electricfox (Pestka) and Pepper (PEZ Dispenser)
D) Rugged Malone/Gaytard Fondue (Flamin' Willys)
E) Pheasant Plucker ("Meh. That’s just a Tiger II with the usual 88mm K43 L71 gun (88 minutes means Klucks 43 Lays 71)"), Man Raised by Puffins ("The famous ‘Henschel’s Hen Rack’ modification for the King Tiger (tanks thus modified were designated Sd.Kfz. 182-H “Huhntiger”). Crack units of five ‘Krieghuhn’ were trained to lay on command from the specialist Hen Commander, located in a new sponson/seed hopper on the left side of the turret (not pictured), providing the tank with an unparalleled level of protection against enemy infantry looking to off-load a cheeky sticky bomb at very close ranges.") and Commander_Zeus ("well this is the famous Luftwaffe FallschirmHühner team. A favourite of Göring, they would parachute above the arena, landing in height order along the gun barrel of the latest Panzer (Tiger II in this case), to wild applause and honorary Knight’s Crosses.")