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The Flare Path: Ducks The Issue

Simulatia shook like a flak-jostled Ju 88 on Wednesday afternoon when two long-longed-for sequels turned up within hours of each other. A better organised, less sleep-partial sim correspondent would have dashed-off pithy preliminary assessments of OMSI 2 and Wings Over Flanders Fields in time for his Friday column. Me, I'm still too busy pinching myself, rubbing the Fairey dust from my eyes, and deciding how I feel about two earlier arrivals.

AeroflyRC7 is so preposterously pricey and inexcusably demo-deficient I'm really not sure I should be giving it the helium of publicity. The £128 (£42 if you're upgrading from an earlier version) radio-control aircraft recreation only wangled a spot in this FP because - annoyingly - I have to admit I'm rather smitten.

This week I've spent an inordinate amount of time perched atop a gorgeous Austrian alp, persuading a model glider to wheel and soar like an unusually ecstatic eagle.

The alp is one of 50 flying venues, most of which are rendered using pin-sharp (the accompanying screenshots really don't do them justice) 360-degree landscape photographs. The disadvantages of this trompe-l'œil approach are obvious - fixed shadows and sun positions, static traffic, oceans, people and operator positions... The pay-off is an almost uncanny sense of place at times.

Even without appropriate ambient audio (sadly, from my peak I've yet to hear any distant cowbells, chainsaw growls or ibex collisions) many of the photo sceneries feel real in ways the best computer-generated environments don't. Because the source images are high definition and skilfully integrated with 3D collision meshes (planes will snag on fences, slow in long grass, lose wings in flag pole prangs, and even bounce over individual molehills on some fields) you don't really miss the walkabout function and chase cams available in the handful of conventional 3D environments.

In locations such as the deck of the USS Hornet where aircraft can fly behind scenery elements like dockside cranes, depth perception is sometimes tricky, but all-things-considered it's surprising just how quickly your eyes grow accustomed to the illusion.

Obviously designed and priced as an all-weather training tool for real-world RC enthusiasts, aeroflyRC7's flight physics feel, to this admittedly inexperienced park flyer, spot on. For the total novice the 50-or-so choppers and small jets (there are approximately 200 flyables in all) are going to be palm-moistening debris generators for the first day or two, but getting one of the low power, high-wing monoplanes into the air and safely back down again shouldn't present too many problems. Joysticks, gamepads, RC transmitters, and mice are all practical controllers though users of the latter will have to put up with an ugly and totally unnecessary GUI cross obscuring their chosen aerodyne.

One feature new to the series is dynamic aircraft scaling. If your machine is being tossed around like a boater in a wind tunnel under certain conditions (the sim can mimic anything from a barely perceptible breeze, to a gusty tile-loosening typhoon) a quick rightward nudge of the 'size' slider with consequent knock-on effects to mass, can make a world of difference. No RC sim can recreate the terror of landing a 19ft-wingspan B-17 replica for the first time, but aeroflyRC7 can give you an idea of the physics and hand-eye coordination involved.

Multiplayer air races, landing contests, and balloon popping competitions, quadrocopters and gaudy stunt planes... there's a lot of content included that I doubt I'll ever use, which makes me sad Ikarus (publisher) and IPACS (dev) have never experimented with a Train Simulator or DCS World-style business model. AeroflyRC has the good looks, friendliness, and toy-like tactility necessary for modest mainstream success, but millstoned with That Price it will never generate enough lift to escape its rather obscure, cramped, and competitive niche.


Trip Hazard

Hmm. According to my Trip-To-Chatham-To-Hug-The-Person-Responsible-For-Thinking-Up-The-Holiday-Express is going to cost £40.60. Given the current state of my finances, I think the relevant party is just going to have to make do with warm words.

The Holiday Express is Train Simulator 2014 and Dovetail Games ( up until last Monday!) at their most festive, imaginative and charming. For a paltry £2.99 (standalone or TS2014 addon version) you get a front room festooned with Christmas decs, scattered with toys, and criss-crossed by several hundred pounds' worth of model railway track. The line scales sofas, scurries through mouse-holes, and winds its way through stacks of gifts and play debris. Flickering candles and discarded torches splash the shadows of toy soldiers, clockwork robots, speed limit signs and points levers onto skirting boards and book piles. Outside, a snowman stands sentinel watching all with glittering anthracite eyes.

It's the night before Christmas (natch) and various Really Important, Totally Prototypical things need doing. Teddy needs to be taken on a tour of inspection, biscuits purloined by peckish army men must be recovered from the mantelpiece, a gaggle of alphabet block-laden wagon arranged into a train that spells out 'M,E,R,R,Y,C,H,R,I,S,T,M,A,S' (a message for Santa)... you'd have to be Ebenezer Beeching not to find it all cockle-warmingly delightful.

Aimed squarely at the kiddywinks, the five endearingly earnest scenarios obviously posed no problems for a seasoned simmer like myself. I definitely didn't derail several times while descending the corkscrew of track from the table. I definitely didn't fail the Christmas tree supply mission twice because I halted in the wrong place. To be fair most of these cock-ups (that I definitely avoided) were caused by the somewhat finickety victory conditions and the surprisingly sensitive controls of the F7-style diesel loco (If you own TS2014, other rolling stock can be used on the layout). Bearing in mind the target audience, clearer communication and a little more freedom in how tasks are accomplished might have been sensible.

With a cab view (strangely, you can only operate the toy loco via an external camera or one of the head-out views) more missions (there's loads of unexplored mileage in the 'shunt-alphabet-block-wagons-to-spell-out-words' premise alone) and the odd animated hazard (cat? mice? tumbling embers?.. ) Holiday Express could easily have provided days rather than hours of pleasure. The extra missions already appearing on Steam Workshop hint at the untapped potential and will, hopefully, encourage Dovetail to extend the layout into new rooms in future.



The Flare Path Foxer

Just because I set den foxers doesn't mean I approve of the various traditions that have grown up around them. Watching last week's supereminent solvers (skink74, JustAPigeon, Dozer) being 'D-Dayed' (debagged, pelted with hot gravel, then made to impersonate, in alphabetical order, all of Hobart's Funnies) by 'appreciative' peers left me wondering whether these regular tests of transport/military knowledge should continue.

  • a,o,x - Handley Page H.P.42
  • b,i,p - Blackburn Buccaneer
  • c,j,k - Gloster Gladiator
  • d,r,s,t - Bristol Bulldog
  • e,m,z - Bristol Blenheim
  • f - Hawker Siddeley Trident
  • g,u - Fairey Fulmar
  • h - De Havilland Comet
  • q,v,w - Handley Page Halifax
  • l,n,y - Handley Page Victor

How about letting the solver(s) of today's cryptic collage keep their trousers/dignity?

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