Where are you going to be this time next year? Where am I going to be? Because the future is slipperier than a Teflonized electronic eel, I've decided to bring forward by 12 months The Flare Path 2013 Sim Awards. The decision is not one I take lightly (some cynical Simons may argue that assessments of the unassessable are not always completely reliable) but leave your scientific scruples in the elephant's foot umbrella stand by the door, and down this pint of absinthe before clicking 'Read the rest of this entry' and the experiment may just succeed.
The 2013 Steering Wheel of Sequel Sublimity goes to.... OMSI 2!
What a year it's been for surprises. First there was that incredible moment in February when all the leading figures in the Syrian government decided to shoot themselves in the head on live TV. Then there was that jawdropping incident at the Conservative Party conference in September when David “We're all in this together” Cameron told the UK's elderly, disabled and mentally ill to “start pulling your weight”. For me though, the biggest surprise of 2013 was waking up on December 24th and seeing OMSI 2 on top of both the British and US game charts.
Realising that the general gaming public had finally woken up to OMSI 2's omnipresent/omnipotent omnibus charms was as disorientating as it was gratifying. MR Software's hard work extending the Spandau map with the 12km U-Bahnhof Ruhleben to Nervenklinik Route 5, and expanding the fleet with an adorable MAN NG272 bendy-bus had paid off big-time. The months of effort that had gone into improving traffic AI, hastening framerates, simulating system malfunctions... it had all been recognised. Marvellous!
Of course, there were still a few doubters. Over Christmas, on several occasions I found myself trying to convince mince-pie munching virtual airmen that, yes, a bus sim could, through exquisite physics, sumptuous sound, and impressive realism, outshine almost everything produced by top flight sim artisans during the past twelve months. Those interlocutors that failed to see reason, naturally I battered into submission with turkey legs and Ferrero Rocher-stuffed socks.
The 2013 Interrupter Gear of Infinite Pleasure goes to... Wings Over Flanders Fields!
It was a close-run thing, but CFS3 hyper-mod Wings Over Flanders Field ended the year my WWI flight sim of choice. Being a solitary soul, its rich singleplayer campaigns blessed with dynamic frontlines and swarms of tempting ground targets, penetrated my shell of but-it's-based-on-ten-year-old-technology! cynicism faster than a plummeting aerial flechette penetrates a Pickelhaube.
The fact that Lothar has continued to work on symbiotic social sim OFFbase just magnified WOFF's appeal. Navigating the complex ever-changing pecking order of a frontline Great War squadron between fraught tussles in the clouds, takes immersion to a whole new level.
The 2013 Ejector Seat of Excellent Excellence goes to... DCS: MiG-21Bis Fishbed!
2013 will go down as the year a great sim wrong was righted. In the early summer ersatz fighter pilots the world over finally got their hot hands on the hot HOTAS of a stone-cold Cold War classic. A stalwart of countless Soviet-supplied airforces, the MiG-21Bis Fishbed had been studiously ignored by the fabricators of combat flight sims until Hungarian MiG-fiend Beczl came along.
Far less intimidating than most DCS warbirds thanks to its relatively antiquated avionics and weaponry, the newcomer's multi-role versatility surprised many. Here was an extremely handsome Communist cloud-cleaver almost as at home clobbering ground targets as ripping Capitalist bombers out of the sky. The surprise release of a free Suez Canal map and War of Attrition campaign sequence a few weeks ago should ensure that blistering Bis' deserved popularity continues well into 2014.
The 2013 Drive Sprocket of Dazzling Superiority goes to... Steel Beasts Pro PE!
Looking at the rows of ravishing AFV studies in my Steel Beasts Pro PE screenshots folder today, it's easy to forget that this time last year, eSim's military-grade tank sim was regarded as a bit of a dowdy duckling. A new rendering engine built by Miro 'Falcon 4 BMS' Torelli, together with a set of improved animations created by ex-Assassin's Creed animator Mikael Persson have changed all that.
eSim's significantly enlarged staff have also made their mark in the form of the new non-combatant modelling and raft of pathfinding improvements that were such an impressive part of June's payware update. Battlefields previously eerily quiet except for the wary manoeuvring of warriors and war machines, now bustle with civilian traffic and perturbed pedestrians. No longer can you safely spit high-velocity hate at every half-glimpsed hint of movement or smudge of heat in your scope.
The 2013 Reflector Gunsight of Rare Refinement goes to... Battle of Britain II: Wings of Victory!
Touching down a week too late to be considered for the 2012 awards, the Battle of Britain Design Group's bountiful 2.12 update ensured BoB's twelve-year-old profile stayed cirrocumulus-high during 2013.
Flight models and AI routines were painstakingly tweaked, Blighty's southern coastal towns, airfields, and industrial sites lovingly embellished, and, in something of a first for BDG patches, BoB's fabulous campaign engine purged of most of its remaining bad habits. Because Luftwaffe chaperones are now more likely to link up with their bomb-laden charges, and aspiring Goerings have much more information at their pudgy fingertips when plotting raids, vanquishing the RAF should be a far more practical proposition than it was previously.
The 2013 Vision Block of Visionary Verve goes to.... Outerra!
Or more specifically the tiny team of moddders, that, during the course of 2013, turned this remarkable Earth impersonator into an outrageously pretty WW2 tank sim. PanzerTerra doesn't have campaigns or particularly sophisticated AI as yet but, if you're after some long range shell duels in lovely surroundings, it's an essential download.
When the grumbling of Spandau bus users begins to grate, it's not unknown for me to fire it up simply to enjoy a relaxing Kubelwagen ramble along dusk-purpled mountain roads.
- Apparently SCS Software spent the first three weeks of 2013 hugging each other and visiting sports car showrooms. Once the life-changing success of the rather brilliant Euro Truck Simulator 2 had finally sunk in they settled down to craft a string of well-received add-ons and spin-offs, the most interesting of which were - according to the FP jury - Euro Coach Simulator (a long-distance bus driving sim based on the ETS2 engine) ETS2: Italy (Amalfi Coast highways!), ETS2: People Trafficker, and ETS2: GPS voice (GLaDOS).
- The 777-person studio that is 777 Studios continued to add tempting high-quality payware flyables and maps to Rise of Flight during the course of 2013. Careers involving the attractive Channel Map (released late 2012) became possible, as did - in an unexpected December development - anti Zeppelin sorties and doomed flings with carbolic-scented French nurses.
- That promising sim or sim add-on due in 2013 that you have sky-high hopes for, but I've chosen to ignore for reasons of laziness, absent mindedness, or pure spite.
The Flare Path Foxer
Here in Austerity Britain a man can be arrested for throwing away a perfectly good unsolved lossword. Just because last week's lexiconundrum was studiously ignored by all and sundry doesn't mean that all and sundry have seen the last of it. Back by unpopular demand is a puzzle that's eminently defoxable once you realise that...
a) The puzzle is actually five separate puzzles with a shared theme.
b) There's a consistent relationship between the vertical and horizontal words.