Last week while I was busy snubbing Stock Car Extreme, Condor: The Competition Soaring Simulator, Deer Hunter: The 2005 Season, and countless other quality simulations, Australian developers N3V were busy outshopping Trainz: A New Era. According to their cock-a-hoop copywriter it's 'the best Train Simulation experience ever'! Unfortunately, the laptop that I'm toting round the West Country at present, begs to differ/dither. Flare Path's TANE verdict will have to wait until I'm reunited with a more muscular rig. The best I can do right now is mull over what others are saying about this aspiring TS2015 toppler and recommend for a second time rapidly maturing roguelike Armoured Commander.
Share a compartment with a group of talkative Trainz: A New Era passengers at the moment and it probably won't be long before you overhear complaints and concerns. As the name suggests, the latest instalment of the fourteen-year-old rail simulator franchise, introduces new engine technology. Improved shadowing and particle effects, beefed-up physics, greater realism... the Kickstarted-to-the-tune-of-$192k TANE was meant to draw a bold line under the incremental iteration advances of the past decade. Community chatter suggests that the performance costs of the Great Leap Forward are, currently, far too high for far too many. There are also users sorely disappointed that 'New Era' doesn't mean new content everywhere.
Rather than abandon the hundreds of thousands of add-ons created for earlier Trainz versions, N3V have chosen to maintain a degree of backwards compatibility. Drive the impressive-sounding 400-mile London-Edinburgh line and while you will get to enjoy new attractions like a high detail Deltic cab, you can expect to encounter plenty of old rolling stock and scenery assets too. Coming on top of the uneven framerates, longish load times, and limited core content (two US, one British, and one Australian route) the recycled components apparently do TANE no favours.
The negativity that's swirling around the game at present, obscures franchise strengths such as friendly route building, strong AI, and engaging interactive industries that are sure to have survived the shift to the 'E2' graphics engine. Watching TANE's troubled arrival from a distance (expect hands-ons impressions next week) I find myself wondering yet again why N3V insist on chasing the train sim dragon when Trainz has so much untapped potential as a virtual railway modelling platform.
For every gamer eager to spend an afternoon operating painstakingly recreated locomotives and multiple units, I wager there's one who'd be just as happy to spend that afternoon sculpting hills, bending track, and shooing giant kittens away from beetling expresses. Give me a range of atmospheric interiors (attic, spare room, shed etc) and a bottomless box full of Hornby, Bachmann and Marklin-style goodies and I'll play happily for hours. Give me a sim that tries and fails to outsim TS2015, MSTS, and Open Rails and I'll probably be off before you can say Jack Robinson.
Talking of free modernised Microsoft Train Simulator remake Open Rails, the project really has come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks. The latest build – 1.00 – introduces, amongst other things, mouseable cab controls, a choose-a-service timetable mode, and support for steam loco subtleties like superheaters.
Lately the sim has also taken a step closer to total independence from MSTS. Download an officially supported demo route like the short but high quality Edinburgh Waverley – Linlithgow (Class 27 included) and you won't need an existing MSTS installation to play. If the devs can somehow code real-time Chris Jakeman narration into all OR sessions, then Dovetail will really have to start upping their game.
Another title that's been evolving energetically of late is tanky roguelike Armoured Commander. Since Flare Path last probed its Patton's Best-esque charms (All hail Bruce Shelley) this turn-based M4 sim has shifted position more times than a nervous SdKfz 234.
For your zero GBP/USD you now get weather effects, bogging, a simple campaign layer, and crewmen that accumulate experience points and skills. During engagements shell sprites nip to and fro, smoke blankets, gun reports echo, and enemy infantry squads take potshots with Panzerfausts. With AT guns now keen to sit tight in pits and hedgerows, and damage maths and encounter intensities thoughtfully tweaked, combat is now as convincing as it is entertaining. It's been decades since a wargame dev managed to pack so much redolence and drama into such a tiny (8MB!) space.
The Flare Path Foxer
Last week's kipper-dodging divemasters were AFKAMC, iainl, Matchstick, Shiloh, phlebas, Stugle, Artiforg.
(Theme: Jacques Cousteau)
a Stamp depicting a 'redcap' (reference to Cousteau's trademark headgear)
b Image from Brian Jacques novel, The Bellmaker
c Palme d'or (Cousteau won one in 1956)
d SOE agent Andrée Borrel (Her codename was Denise)
e Poster detail from movie Juggernaut – alternative title Terror on the Britannic (Cousteau rediscovered the Britannic in 1976)
f Godzuki from Godzilla animated series (Godzilla featured a Calyspo-style research vessel)
g Fiat CR.42 'Falco' fighter (reference to Cousteau's long-serving companion Albert Falco)
h Le Prieur rockets (Cousteau improved Yves le Prieur's diving apparatus)
i Catalina (Cousteau's son Phillipe died in a PBY accident)
Roman’s word ladders don’t work like standard word ladders. You clamber from bottom to top, placing appropriate five-letter words on each rung. Usually a word inherits three letters from the word below it (the positions of those three letters are inherited too) .The exceptions are the words derived from [A] clues - these are anagrams of the words below them – and those derived from  clues – where only two letters are inherited. Clues should make the climb easier, but be aware that the unspeakably fiendish Roman has shuffled the ten clues on the upper half of the ladder (clues 11 to 20). For example ‘[A] Belgian aircraft company’ probably doesn’t belong next to rung 16.
20. —– Primitive torpedo toter outperformed by the Cuckoo
19. —– Aircraft or aircraft container
18. —– Hungarian AFV
17. —– SLBM and small boat
16. —– [A] Belgian aircraft company
15. —– Stolid WW2 liaison plane
14. —–  Operation Crossroads target
13. —– Makers of the above aircraft
12. —– RN hero killed in mysterious circumstances
11. —– Worn short by ACVs
10. —– Word that can be bolted to 'tiger', 'führer', and 'gruppen'
9. —–  Terrorised Allied ships during Operation Dynamo
8. —– Kept US servicemen warm during Cold War
7. —– City served by 19th Century airmail service
6. —– Tight-lipped Confederate scout
5. —– Exploited by the IJA during the Battle of Saipan
4. —– Largest shipwreck in the Med
3. —– Pacific theatre bomber
2. —– Kamov chopper