There's a road running through this week's column, a road clogged with nervy Sherman tanks and alarmed Lada saloons. The Shermans are on edge because every so often one of their number is struck by something swift, cylindrical and quite, quite deadly. The Ladas are alarmed because every so often one of their number is struck by a Bukhanka minibus driven by an idiot. That idiot recommends you look left, right, then left again before attempting to cross the following thoroughly fair thoroughfare of Command Ops: Highway To The Reich and City Car Driving observations.
Out Of Ammo. God Save The King.
The patch of sky above fabulously fluid delegate-em-up Command Ops: Battles From The Bulge is alive with C-47s at the moment. The Dakotas are busy air-dropping Market Garden themed add-on canisters to winter-weary fans.
At the heart of the £17 Highway To The Reich expansion released yesterday, is 'From the Meuse to the Rhine', a mammoth scenario spanning nine infamous days in September 1944, and approximately 1200km² of Heer-held Holland (despite the fact that this one of Panther's biggest maps yet, the 101st's objectives in Eindhoven, Son, and Veghel are still relegated to a separate scenario). I'm currently about halfway through this whopper, and right now things are looking more 'Two Bridges Too Far' than 'A Bridge Too Far'.
You'd think someone who had wargamed Monty's boldest gamble dozens of times would have avoided historical blunders like allowing the Axis time to set-up blocking positions in the western suburbs of Arnhem. You'd think he would have gone hell-for-leather for those crucial river crossings, and not fannied around with probe orders and over-generous DZ defences.
I've not completely given up hope of transforming the shambles pictured above into a slim victory, but it's going to take a lot of skill and luck to turn things around. I suspect the first thing I should do on returning to the fray, is carefully assess my supply situation. While wargaming muddlers could get by on instinct and aggression/discretion in Red Devils Over Arnhem, and Airborne Assault: Highway To The Reich (Panther's earlier interpretations of the Arnhem op) subsequent improvements to the logistics simulation combined with the impressive scope of the new scenario, mean you're now as likely to be defeated by bullet and bully-beef shortages as clever AI counterattacks (though, thanks to the splendidly reactive AI, these are guaranteed too).
If I'm to have any hope of hanging onto my positions in Oosterbeek until the shuffling snake of British armour forces its way through Nijmegen and up Hell's Highway, it's vital I ensure the sunburst of supply lines emanating from 1 Airlanding Bde Base and 4 Para Bde Base remain green. This means maintaining a solid perimeter at Arnhem - something I've spectacularly failed to do so far - and ensuring my depot units aren't driven off the heathland dropzones at Renkum and Reijers Camp.
The fact the positions of those DZs and LZs are determined by history is perhaps a tiny missed opportunity. I can see myself spending weeks with this one scenario alone (If past experience of Panther's AI is any guide, it will play as well from the defender's perspective as from the attackers). If I'd been allowed to pick my own arrival locations and design my own supply schedule, the distraction potential would have been almost limitless.
The planning phase of an an airborne op is potentially just as interesting as its execution. Do you try to land close to an objective on less-than-perfect terrain or much further away on an ideal site? Should you concentrate your DZs or disperse them? Command Ops: Highway To The Reich is the sort of high-calibre add-on Flare Path has no trouble whatsoever recommending, but Market Garden still waits patiently for a truly all-embracing treatment.
Кlunk Кlick Every Trip
Last weekend I had a major OMSI relapse. By the time I realised what was happening, I was so mesmerised by M-R-Software's mellifluous MAN doubledeckers, I couldn't even bring myself to accelerate time in the twenty-minute gaps between 13N Stadtgrenze → U Rathaus runs. I'd just sit there at the terminus, eyes half-closed, ears full of engine purr and the pretty pitter-patter of the rain.
I knew I had to tear myself away, but just couldn't face going cold turkey. What was needed was a transition sim. Something to ease me gently away from the eighty-seater sirens of Spandau. In City Car Driving I reckon I found the perfect easer.
While this Russian teach-yourself-to-drive sim isn't in quite the same league as Marcel und Rüdiger's masterpiece, it does scratch a similar itch. Like OMSI, it's a diversion where dense, dynamic traffic flows, complicated road layouts, and unfamiliar highway codes, mean the simple act of driving from A to B is often far from simple. CCD's seven rides might be nippier and far easier to get round tight bends but maximise the realism settings, and a few of them can be almost as challenging to drive well.
Soviet-era comrade-conveyances like the Lada Riva come with prototypical manual gearboxes and clutches, meaning you can embarrass yourself by...
a) ...lurching into bollards after forgetting you'd left your vehicle in gear.
b) ...stalling at traffic lights after attempting to pull away in third.
c) ...gunning the engine foolishly after failing to lift the throttle during gear changes.
And impress (invisible) passengers by...
a) ...spurning the hand-brake in stop-start hillside traffic jams.
b) ...switching off the engine and free-wheeling down hills in neutral.
Ignore their misleading unwillingness to skid and wheelspin, and the cars handle remarkably plausibly. What they don't do at present, is sound much like their inspirations. If I could persuade Multisoft to work on one area, it would be audio. The current sound sets are too quiet, too generic, and woefully short of the sort of transmission whines and suspension creaks that - thanks to M-R-Software - I now expect from my automotive entertainment.
The Novosibirsk studio have already demonstrated a pleasing willingness to enhance and expand. A December patch opened the sim up to user-made vehicles, added an adorable UAZ-2206 minibus, hastened already decent framerates and sharpened AI. Though CCD's pedestrians are still ill-equipped to deal with pavement trespassing maniacs, they are on the whole brighter and more naturalistic than their stiff-limbed OMSI equivalents. I suspect fellow road users might be a tad smarter too. I've been rear-ended and side-swiped on occasions, but find I'm watching side-roads in the imaginatively monikered 'Virtual City' less nervously than I would in Berlin.
Not large or varied enough to be twinned with a San Andreas or an Empire Bay, Virtual City is at its best when it's flaunting its Russian-ness. The glimpses of golden church domes, trudging babushkas, and war memorial tanks, make me yearn for a winterised CCD 2 incorporating a facsimile of a genuine Russian town.
Will we ever see such a thing? Having questioned Multisoft about their DLC and map editor intentions, I'm not holding my breath. The studio definitely have plans - plans that include the patching-in of some form of taxi mode to add a little structure to the non-mission side of the sim - but the difficulty of converting in-house tools into something amateur town planners could wield with ease, seems to have stymied, for the moment, any SDK releases.
The Flare Path Foxer
In honour of Eagle Dynamics' recent Mustang announcement, this week's Foxer features a herd of wild horses. Name the eight sources to win FP points made from well-rotted rose fertiliser.