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The Flare Path: High Calibre Cat Pictures

Simulation & wargame blather

Meet Unimog, the Flare Path mouser. He owes his name to his love of clambering and off-piste adventure. Why, this very morning I spotted the little scamp nosing around inside the turret of a Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition story, sharpening his claws on a free chunk of Combat Mission Fortress Italy: Gustav Line, and enjoying a nap atop the warm fuselage of an obscure chopper sim demo.

The lack of bee shadows in dear but dear contemporary armour sim Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition has never really bothered me. The lack of Leopard shadows on the other hand, is something I grumble about regularly. SBPPE's fastidiously modelled AFVs have never darkened daisies or caused bookish grasshoppers to turn on Anglepoise lamps. It seems like a minor omission, but in a game where survival often hinges on realising that the third bush to the left of the bent tree on the right of the burning block of flats isn't actually a bush before the third bush to the left of the bent tree on the right of the burning block of flats realises that the small thicket on the brow of the hill next to the road isn't in exactly the same position it was in three minutes ago, accurate umbra representation is far from frivolous.

So if SBPPE doesn't do shadows what are those dark angular stains next to the cruelly caged M113s in the above screenshots? Proof that things are about to change. The '3.0' payware update due in July is set to transform the sim's expansive battlefields with significantly enhanced lighting, weather, and smoke effects. Improvements should be especially noticeable when Sunray 1 (previously nowhere to be seen) crests the horizon in the morning or goes hull-down at dusk.

Just as enticing as the graphical gains are the new and refurbished rides, the extra weapon systems, and the AI changes. In 3.0, there will be times when you're sharing roads, villages and towns with unpredictable civilians, or hostiles disguised as unpredictable civilians. One rash MG burst, one hotheaded HEAT round could cut short a mission, maybe an entire career.

The M1A1 Abrams has been a crewable cornerstone of the sim for some time, but its tougher, more sophisticated successor, the M1A2 SEP, has, up until now, been AI only. Selecting the SEP in 3.0 will mean taking the field surrounded by third-generation depleted uranium armour; TCs will get their own thermal viewers and fancy integrated electronic map displays. The days when American Steel Beasters could blame dated steeds for mediocre MP performances, are numbered.

Strengthening the sim's Cold War credentials, debuting AFVs with locked hatches will include the Gauloises-smoking AMX-13, and the boat impersonating PT-76 and BTR-50. Unfamiliar Leopard variants and engineering versions of the Bradley and Boxer are also on the way, as are shapelier buildings, new helo insertions, and savegame changes that allow MP scraps to be completed in SP. With all this on offer, the chances that Unimog and I will spend a significant portion of the summer sealed in a simulated turret peering intently at suspiciously proportioned shrubs, are high.


Free Combat Mission Combat Mission

Several largely innocent Humber Reconnaissance Cars died during the making of last week's Combat Mission Fortress Italy: Gustav Line AAR. If you found yourself muttering “Amateur!”, “Jammy git!" and/or “Pillock!” while reading it, I strongly suggest you walk a mile in my CABs by trying 'Elephants and Tigers' for yourself. Diligent demo-ists Battlefront have thoughtfully included it in the latest CMFI trial.

I suspect the scenario comes with multiple AI plans and a randomized reinforcement schedule, so don't be surprised if the Fallschirmjäger you face, show a little more mettle/metal than the ones I faced.


Seeking Sea Kings?

With the brilliant DCS World Huey  already warming up for air ambulance duties, the much cruder Helicopter Simulator: Search & Rescue risks being rapidly rotor-washed into obscurity.

That would be a shame. The generous 3-mission, multi-chopper demo reminds me a lot of a solid PS2 game called Air Ranger. The rudiments of helo flight physics are there; there's a decent choice of rides; the scenery is dense; the radio chatter atmospheric; the tasks challenging. The fact that you can ignore sortie goals and ramble around the fictional island setting, landing on any rooftop, road, or hill that takes your fancy, only broadens the appeal.

If the Polish devs get round to sharpening FMs, adding joystick support and better cockpits, then Helo Sim would be well positioned to winch up the sim Search & Rescue torch dropped ten years ago by InterActive Vision.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Last week's Foxer smelt of wet dog and casual racism. Zabzonk realised that the six lossword elements name-checked famous WW2 warriors/leaders and their mutts. With a little help from FurryLippedSquid and deejayem he identified...

  • Churchill's poodle, Rufus.
  • Hitler's German Shepherd, Blondi.
  • Guy Gibson's labrador, Nigger.
  • Monty's spaniel, Rommel.
  • Rommel's sausage-dog, Elbo.
  • Patton's bull terrier, Tank.

His prize?  A rare signed copy of 'Acthung - Panzerhund!' (the memoirs of Zorki, an Eastern Front anti-tank dog).

Today’s puzzle contains seven birds and each of those birds is also a ship* currently afloat somewhere in the world. If you fancy padding around town in a pair of exceptionally comfy Flare Path plimsole lines you’ll need to combine ornithological knowledge with data to find the present location of all seven vessels.

*Strictly speaking, five are ships, one is a barge and one is a launch.

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