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The Flare Path: Like A Fish Out Of Water

Let the carping commence

Traditionally, autumn is the time for virtual hunting in the Stone household. This year, for a change, I've decided to leave my high-velocity deer dispatcher in the gun cabinet and rely on eight feet of simulated carbon fibre for my indoors outdoors fun. Fishing Planet and Euro Fishing have six hours each in which to (A) hook me, (B) reel me in, and (C) exhaust my meagre supply of hackneyed angling metaphors. At the end of these brief but intense auditions one of the games will be granted indefinite leave to remain, the other will be tossed back into the seething Steam stew pond.

Euro Fishing, the title previously known as Dovetail Games Fishing, is first to be Flare Pathed. Immediately disadvantaged by its £13 price tag (Fishing Planet is free) it spends most of its first hour teaching me basics like casting, baiting and stalking via a series of well-executed interactive tutorials. The standard of instruction is far more impressive than the open-air schoolroom. From the washed-out lighting and the fuzzy foliage, you wouldn't guess EF utilizes the latest version of the Unreal Engine.

My second hour begins on the banks of St Johns Lake, Oxfordshire, one of the sim's five venues. In theory, free fishing for bream, tench, roach, carp and catfish (in practice my minimal tackle - more bait types, hooks etc are purchased with catch-generated Tackle Points - means I've little hope of catching several of these species) I soon realise that casting is as difficult as it first appeared. Executed with fluid mouse pushes and timely RMB releases, in FP mode there are no visual cues to help you judge rod position. While I enjoy the physicality of the action, struggling to get consistent results I start wondering if EF wouldn't benefit from an optional golf sim-style swing meter.

Fortunately, the titchy tench and roach that call St Johns home don't seem to care much whether my casts go long or short. Within a minute or two of my 'white bread flakes' (I need additional TP to unlock mind-boggling exotica like 'white bread crusts' and 'white bread toast') touching the water, there's usually a duped tiddler zigzagging half-heartedly at the end of the line. There's a moment of semi-drama when I lose one of these to a broken line, but this rare setback is a result of clumsy reel tensioning rather that any real fight or cunning on the fish's part.

Cards on table, one of the main reasons I return time and time again to hunting sims like The Hunter and Deer Hunter: The 2005 Season is for the ambience of their rural spaces. I was hoping to find similarly evocative environments in EF. The early signs aren't encouraging. While the sound of birdsong, passing traffic, and the occasional overflying airliner do help set the scene at St Johns, murky, unappealing visuals consistently undermine the audio's good work, discouraging reverie every bit as effectively as the constantly bleeping bite alarms (which, unlike bread crusts, are free).

The lake itself feels dead, its water stagnant... opaque... uncommunicative. Strolling from peg to peg, I'm struck by the genericism of the flora and fauna, and the blandness of much of the texturing. I look around for alders and goat willows but spot only ugly confused SpeedTrees. Where are the dragonflies and the ducks, the pond-skaters and whirligigs? Where are the glimpses of distant rooftops, church steeples, and electricity pylons?

During hour three I use some of my easily earned TPs to purchase new tackle before heading down to the West Country. At Digger Lakes, Devon, the surroundings and the sport are a little more pleasing, with gusts of wind ruffling the reedmace around the pegs, and the sole occupants of the lake - plump carp - showing a tad more bravura when hooked. But I'm still far from convinced that EF offers enough challenge or atmosphere to compete with the best ungulate-hunting sims.

Nothing I see during hours four to six significantly alters this opinion. I upgrade my tackle regularly (the tackle shop is really a disguised tech tree, steadily allowing access to bigger and bigger quarries) and the catches keep coming regular as clockwork every few minutes. In theory you can have three rods in play at one time. In practice I find two more than enough work. Often I'm reeling in one hapless flapper, while another tickles the bite alarm on my other rod. WASD-controlled netting feels awkward... half-finished.

By the end of the audition, Euro Fishing's profile page tells me that Rod, my avatar, is a Level Six 'Junior Course Angler' who has, thus far, won one single-player tournament (Not really my bag. I fish sim to unwind not to compete) totally ignored the fairground-style casting challenges (Again, not what I come to an angling sim for) and caught 79 fish, the largest of which was a 20Ib carp. What it doesn't mention is Rod's disappointment. He'd expected more prettiness and polish, more content and character.

With its 32 prey species and seven fishing locations, the Unity-powered Fishing Planet appears to be much more substantial than its rival. Though the stats aren't fully comparable (where Euro Fishing's venues are roamable and offer multiple pegs, Fishing Planet's are usually represented by a choice of two small stretches of modelled bank) this free, leaving-Early-Access-soon title does feel fleshier and more mature in most important respects.

After a quick but effective tutorial in which the idiot-proof under-arm casting method is demonstrated, and unexpected shortcomings like absent netting and mandatory immobility during fish fights are revealed, I find myself contemplating a North American travel map. In contrast to EF, new venues are unlocked through levelling up, and trips to these venues must be paid for with catch-generated currency.

I'm not sure about this heavy structuring at first. However, as the minutes of float contemplation turn into hours, and my early Crappie-catching sessions make way for lengthier Catfish duels and interesting Largemouth Bass encounters, I come to accept the rigidity. By slowly introducing locales and species, the devs lure me in and encourage me to turn a blind eye to the ego-massaging ease with which I'm plucking piscines from the water.

By hours two and three, it's pretty obvious that Fishing Planet's finned critters are as fond of hooks as Euro Fishing's. Follow the succinct tactical advice that's offered every time a new species is introduced - use this bait, this size hook, and this leader length, and fish here at this time of day - and bites are, seemingly, inevitable. It's all a bit mechanical to be honest, but, thanks to more pleasing locations, livelier H2O, and fightier fish, I realise I'm enjoying myself more than I was back at St Johns and Diggers Lakes.

In EF ugly icons show where my hard-to-discern line spears the surface. In FP a jaunty ripple-generating float marks the spot. In Dovetail's sim the strident beeping of an electronic device announces most bites. In FP, telltale movements of that colourful micro-buoy conveys the good news.

And, in Fishing Planet, when hapless hookees run they do so with real vigour. At times, especially when I get bites near the bank, a fish will dart into reeds or weed leaving me battling to untangle a snagged line.

By the time my second six-hour experiment draws to a close, I'm on the verge of visiting my first unlocked venue (New York) and my Fishing Planet profile page looks remarkably similar to my Euro Fishing one (level progress = 6, fish caught = 90). More importantly, I've decided that Fishing Planet is the more pleasurable and plausible of the two games at present. While I wish its devs understood something that the makers of great hunting and sub sims understand (most players don't need to slay/spot prey every few minutes in order to enjoy themselves) and look forward to the day when European species and scenery appear in the game for the first time, I can see myself whiling away other grimy autumn days watching floats twitch and lines tighten.

Cover image for YouTube video

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The Flare Path Foxer

A French rail strike meant I missed the famous 'Toulon Triple'. When Noah66, Geodetic and CptCorellisMandarin defoxed the same clue at exactly the same moment during the 2005 IFFA Invitational, I was 400 miles away, arguing with a taxi driver outside Paris-Gare de Lyon. Though you never really get over a disappointment like that, watching Shiloh, AFKAMC, and Rorschach617 pull off a triple decrypt of their own during last Friday's Flare Path, definitely dulls the pain.

25 Things You Might Find On An Aircraft Carrier

1. SKJM P (SKI-JUMP) Stugle
2. NCHR (ANCHOR) Stugle
4. WRDRM (WARDROOM) Shiloh, AFKAMC, Rorschach617
8. RBB RDCK (RUBBER DECK) Rorschach617
9. MNBSS (MINIBOSS) unacom
12. DV SBRRR (DAVIS BARRIER) Llewyn, Stugle
13. FRYG NNT (FAIREY GANNET) Shiloh, Llewyn
17. CHR CLS (C-130 HERCULES) Shiloh, slapcup, Arglebarf, Stugle
18. FNTL (FANTAIL) Rorschach617, Zogg
19. FLT TNRFL (FLETTNER FL 282 - HMS Reaper carried two of these German helicopters across the Atlantic at the end of WW2) AFKAMC
*23. PRG (GRAPE) Arglebarf
*24. TSCT TMPL (STEAM CATAPULT) Rorschach617

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For the third year running the 'mystery' destination of the Flare Path works outing was the Tank Museum at Bovington. A great day was had by all (Except Uncle George who spent the whole time grumbling about the fact that the otherwise-well-stocked museum shop didn't sell 'proper' PC armour sims like Steel Fury, Steel Armor, and Steel Beasts). Roman returned to the office with hundreds of photographs, sixteen of which he's transformed into the numerological foxer below.

Identify the pictured AFVs to win Flare Path flair points made from Zimmerit and spall flakes.

All answers in one thread, please.

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Fishing Planet


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Tim Stone