For the last twenty years Eagle Dynamics have been turning complicated contemporary warbirds into complicated contemporary warbird sims. In their latest DCS World add-on, flight is optional and cold start cold sweat highly unlikely. Half real-time wargame, half barebones tank sim, Combined Arms is a game that anyone however dense, work-shy, or prone to airsickness can enjoy. Need proof? Here's a battle tale from a dense, work-shy, airsickness sufferer.
The mission briefing for the lyrically titled “SP-US Company Day Advance Kislovodsk” doesn't explain why eight M1A2 tanks and four Bradley IFVs with A-10 and artillery support and a DCS: Combined Arms novice for a leader (This is my first proper mission. Previously, I've just messed around with the ArmA-style editor) are about to roll southwards towards the North Caucasus city of Kislovodsk. I hope there's a good reason for the attack (Putin has threatened to replace the Solzhenitsyn Museum with a 200m-tall Stalin statue? Scientists have realised that the city's famous spa water cures athlete's foot and tastes slightly of toffee?) because I've got a feeling many brave digital warriors will have tramped off to digital Valhalla by the time this day is done.
If all goes according to plan most of those casualties will wind up in Valhalla's Little Moscow quarter. In an effort to minimise risk to my forces I'm only going to send in my trundlers once my Warthogs and Paladins have done their worst/best. The scenario designer has thoughtfully provided me with an eagle-eyed JTAC, and kindly placed his Humvee on a hill overlooking the city. Without lifting a finger I can see most (all?) of the Russian defensive positions. A Shilka SPAAG and two ZU-23-2 AA guns near the bridge will need to be neutralised before my A-10s can safely tackle the ominous line of T-80 tanks dug in next to the river that moats Kislovodsk's northern edge.
After selecting initial arty victims (It will be a couple of minutes before the Paladins commence wrath dispensing) I set paths for my two M1A2 platoons. One will follow the road south, stopping short of a village called Podkumok. The other will avoid asphalt and head west to an unobserved shake-out point behind JTAC hill. Because two Hind gunships are on the prowl in that direction, I add a Linebacker SAM vehicle to the tail-end of this combat caravan.
It will be interesting to see how the press officers explain that one. Wayward arty has just demolished a sizeable structure close to the Shilka. Barracks? Supermarket? Guide dog training centre? Solzhenitsyn Museum? If this was Combat Mission: Shock Force, I might have just forfeited the battle. The Shilka's luck seems to be holding. Maybe I should attempt to snipe it with a hilltop Abrams. After establishing the range with my JTAC's LRF, I set a new destination for my off-road armour platoon. The tanks are still en-route when a Paladin's thunderbolt finally connects. What next? Those AA batteries behind the radio mast I think...
WTF! I'm watching fiery fists pummel the Russian AA positions, when suddenly there's the sound of twin turbofans overhead. It seems some of my Warthogs have run out of patience. The disobedient sky swines are on the war path. Before I can switch to the map screen and call off the attack, Mavericks have been unleashed, twin-barrelled ZU-23-2 hastily aligned. Ribbons of green tracer reach up and pluck one of the A-10s out of the sky.
Between them the Paladins and the gun-jumping hogs appear to have eliminated all of the Russian AA assets. The coast is now clear for some serious CAS. Wings are levelled and targets locked. Wing pylons relinquish Mavericks and CBU-97 cluster bombs. Parachute-suspended submunitions float down like bird-disturbed apple blossom. Hell comes to Kislovodsk.
The handful of vehicles that escape the monsoon of missiles and bomblets have barely a minute's respite before the now-unemcumbered Hogs return with dipped noses and and roaring GAU-8 Gatling guns.
Blimey, it's carnage down there. By the time this is over is there going to be anything left for my M1A2s to mutilate?
Their Gatling belts exhausted I redirect the A-10s towards the pair of Hinds still circling coyly over a village a few klicks to the west. Amongst the blackened hulks on the edge of Kislovodsk, a few unscathed T-80s remain. I picture these survivors attempting unsuccessfully to engage a line of M1A2s approaching at speed from the direction of Podkumok. A quick trip to the map screen and the advance is set in motion.
Okay, enough sub-contracted slaughter. This is the moment I demonstrate to my subordinates that I wield a 120mm gun as expertly as I wield a telescopic pointer. Leaping into the turret of one of the speeding M1A2s I mentally prepare for the coming duel. Once we crest that featureless and rather angular rise up ahead (don't expect Arma-standard scenery from DCS:CA's repurposed flight sim terrain) I should be able to slew my reticle onto something squat, steely and puncturable. Combined Arms doesn't model the M1A2's advanced ballistic computer, but a key press will - after a nailbiting wait of a few seconds - give me a target's range, allowing me to lift or lower my sight appropriately before firing.
Here we go!
Crikey, that didn't go quite according to plan. While a flat-out thunder run towards the bridge was certainly thrilling, on reflection it wasn't particularly wise. On clearing the rise, three T-80s did indeed present themselves for execution. Unfortunately, the targets were partially screened by trees and rather a long way off. Thanks to the sim's rudimentary tank sights and most aggravating flaw (currently, AI units can see through vegetation) a situation that would, in RL, have posed few problems for a well-trained US tank platoon, turned pear-shaped rather quickly. I think we nailed one of them before the first of a flurry of 9M119M Refleks missiles struck Chobham armour.
After missing with my first two rounds, I chose to halt. Dumb move. My vehicle was the first to die. Kicked from a first-person view by leaping flames and detonating ammo, I watched guiltily as another M1A2 was stopped in its tracks by a laser-riding death dart. Only two tanks made it to the safety of the dead ground by the bridge. Their arrival triggered an “Objective Alpha Taken!” message (there are two objectives on the map - the bridge and the still-heavily-picketed village of Mirnyy to the west) but it's hard to shake the feeling that I've blotted my copy book.
Oh well, at least the news is better on the aerial front. My re-tasked Warthogs have expended the last of their stores - Sidewinder missiles - on the risk-averse pair of Russian Hinds. The first gunship disintegrated spectacularly in mid air, the second limped away trailing smoke. A few minutes later I spotted it abandoned in a nearby field.
Hmm. Did those nine T-72 tanks just spawn unsportingly right in the centre of Kislovodsk? I swear they weren't there a second ago. I'll give DCS:CA the benefit of the doubt and pretend that, sensing the coast was clear, they chose this moment to rumble from cunningly sited warehouses and archways. However they arrived, it looks like I'm going to have to deal with them.
And in the flight of armed-to-the-teeth A-10s currently relieving my ammo-less air support, it looks like I've got the perfect tool to do just that. Let the munition lobbing begin.
Outrageous profligacy! During their first attack the newly arrived Hogs loose four Mavericks at the same hapless tank. I'm so exasperated I fail to notice that three T-72s have broken away from their comrades and are now motoring westwards towards Objective Beta. En-route this sly splinter group spot my pair of thunder run survivors down by the bridge through an impenetrable tangle of pine and spruce (sigh) and Refleks them into oblivion before I have a chance to react.
Eagle Dynamics, can nothing be done to LoS-proof forests? The ability to toggle trees would help level the playing field, until a proper fix arrived.
X-ray vision can't save the T-72s in the city centre. Rocked by bombs and raked by Avenger shells, the knot of tanks straddling Kislovodsk's main street are soon reduced to sooty, smoke generators.
Stung by the high cost of my massed armour advance earlier, I decide to go lone wolf for my next probe. Snatching one M1A2 from the the as-yet-unexposed platoon behind the hill I go haring down the hill and across the bridge. The Russians have an unprotected artillery battery at the far end of the city which I'm making for at breakneck speed when another steed is shot from under me. Another forest-threading Refleks kill. This is starting to get annoying.
Grabbing another M1A2 from the grassy forecourt of Hurtz Tank Hire, I once again career down the side of the hill. No messing around this time. I'm going to go straight for Objective Beta, the village of Mirnyy. I edge towards a ridge beyond which I know (thanks to the JTAC's omniscience) two waiting T-72s lurk. A civilian lorry appearing unexpectedly over the brow almost gets a shell in the radiator.
Digits poised over the LMB, and the accelerate and reverse gear keys? (Slightly unnecessarily considering the simplicity elsewhere, DCS:AC features manual gears) Right, let's shoot-and-scoot!
My gun bellows twice. Two T-80s kick buckets filled with flaming petroleum. That was fun. Onto the next ridge!
By the time the last suspiciously stationary T-80 is slain (With careful scripting and trigger placement far more dynamic scenarios are possible in DCS) the light is fading and this veteran tank simmer is really starting to enjoy the game's uncomplicated yet evocative representation of armoured warfare. Once forests do what forests are supposed to do and a few armour, detection, and weapon stats have been tweaked to better reflect real-world tank capabilities, DCS: Combined Arms will be very agreeable company. Eagle Dynamics are keen to stress the multiplayer potential (Thanks to full integration with other DCS modules, it's possible to fly sorties while controlling the ground war, or act as a JTAC for other player pilots or tankers). However, if you like the idea of high-fidelity military entertainment but sometimes struggle to find the time and the patience to penetrate study sims, the module's value as a solo diversion shouldn't be underestimated.
The Flare Path Foxer
Last week's spick and span span spotters were the marvellous MacBeth, TurquoiseDays and Cawyn. They correctly identified Brooklyn Bridge, Old Bridge (Mostar), Kaldwin's Bridge (Dunwall), Tay Bridge, Pegasus Bridge, Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Charles Bridge, Millau Viaduct, and a Churchill Bridge Layer. Those that didn't fancy the Unnamed Prize got Flare Path flair points (The strike by Chilean flair point polishers is now over!) made from rivets dropped during the building of the Forth Bridge*.
As a kid FP was stitious; as a teenager superstitious; now he's positively supersuperstitious. His refusal to fly on airlines with the colour red in their logo means that, in the past, he's refused to board aircraft belonging to many carriers including the eleven pictured above.
*Over 40,00000,00,0000,0,00 rivets were dropped during the building of the Forth Bridge. The water level in the Firth of Forth is said to be 2cm higher as a result.