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The Flare Path: Tankless Tasks

Sim and wargaming news

With the 100th anniversary of warfare's first armour action less than a week away, I was rather hoping I'd be able to fill today's gaping word trench with a fat fascine of WW1 tank game news. Graviteam are working on a landship sim! Rev Sudasana is to release a Whippety version of Armoured Commander! Noble Empire are going to let us assemble A7Vs! As it's now Friday morning and my OPs have yet to sight a single rhomboid on the horizon, it looks like Plan B will have to be put into operation instead. A few inches below yonder html parapet lurks news of Dovetail's TS replacement, plus talk of the latest Sengoku Jidai add-on and a WW2 MP tactics game with hints of Close Combat, Men of War, and Jagged Alliance.

Wallets have been weeping all across Simulatia in the wake of the announcement that Dovetail are to launch a new train sim at the end of the year. The Unreal Engine-powered, multiplayer-supporting Train Sim World won't be compatible with TS add-ons, which means anyone migrating to the new title will have to start their DLC collection from scratch.

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It would be easier to be resentful if A) perpetual backwards compatibility wasn't such a developmental millstone, B) TSW wasn't so promising, and C) Dovetail were planning to abandon TS2016/TS2017 the second TSW arrived. While I'm a little sceptical that “Train Simulator's best days are ahead of it” (see above video), the army of TS modders, activity crafters, and add-on artisans that has grown up around The 24th Best Simulation Ever Made are sure to take a year or three to switch iron horses. It's bound to be a considerable time before the newcomer has anywhere near the range of content offered by its predecessor. Having just fallen in love with an adorable TS2016 DMU, I, for one, am in no particular hurry to move on.

That said, the TSW teaser footage does look incredibly impressive and talk of fully integrated audio, physics, and animation is tantalizing. If TSW can tackle other TS weaknesses like stifling scenario scope (I want to be able to choose duties from a ceaseless timetable à la Omsi or Zusi 3), complicated route building , and exasperating dependency fussiness (If I'm not in a position to run a particular scenario, then, for heaven's sake, tell me that at the start of the lengthy loading procedure rather than at the end) it may be hard to resist its temptations for long.

Selling the last instalment of TS – TS2017 (ETA soon) – is going to be a challenge for Dovetail even with the Pioneers Edition offer. Purchasers of this special version get access to TSW and its initial batch of content (three contemporary US locos and the Sand Patch route) a couple of months before the rest of us.

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It's unfortunate. Most Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun screenshots make Byzantine Games' Pike & Shot offshoot look as dull as rice paddy water. What you'd never guess from looking at the snap above, is that at the moment it was taken, the camera wielder – Yours Truly - was utterly rapt.

Gempei Kassen (£2.79), the latest Sengoku Jidai add-on, has been scintillating my evenings all week. The 300-year era shift - GK is set in the Twelfth Century rather than the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth - has done little except swell and shuffle army lists (archers are now everywhere, firearms are nowhere to be seen) and provide new campaign start conditions, but that hardly matters when every battle plucks nerve fibres as if they were biwa strings.

You'd think that the combination of randomly generated venues and armies thrown together by movements on a cellular strat map would produce the odd duff scrap, the occasional carbon-copy of an earlier engagement. The miracle of SJ is that its battles feel so diverse, so individual, and never seem to slip into tiresome ruts. From the first turn to the last, palms sweat, pupils dart, plans are torn up or revised. If I ever get round to writing a Top Ten Wargames feature SJ will be somewhere within it, proudly rubbing sode with the likes of Combat Mission, Command Ops and Sid Meier's Gettysburg!

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In Sengoku Jidai when enemies appear from an unexpected direction, or rout repercussions cause a portion of your line to disintegrate like a tea-sodden digestive, there's time to ponder, opportunity to think your way out of trouble. In the available-since-Wednesday-in-Steam-Early-Access-form Divided We Fall, leisurely musing is a luxury often paid for in blood.

DWF has been around for yonks. Previously known as Call of Combat, and, before that, Chain of Command, the latest iteration offers incredibly friendly, agreeably action-packed real-time WW2 team tactics tussles for the not unreasonable sum of £8 (£10 after Sept 14). Multiplayer only, the ten-minute initiation process consists of reading the mercifully brief key guide, grasping that the colour-coded arrows on the map are instructions scrawled by your team's commander, and realising that cover and vigilance are everything in DWF skirmish spaces.

Your four-man team can be repositioned with ease thanks to helpful path indicators, an invaluable select-all shortcut, and Men of War-style destination ghosts and cover spots. Once stationary, troops fire on detected targets automatically, leaving you free to fine-tune positions, play with stances and rates of fire, and engage in the game's fiddliest and potentially most telling activity, grenade tossing.

Compressed ranges and reduced lethality make DWF feel more like a Day of Defeat spin-off than a Red Orchestra one, but there's enough realism and intricacy in evidence to stir pleasant Close Combat and 101: The Airborne Invasion of Normandy memories from time to time.

A few hours in I've already achieved some gratifying results and climbed a couple of rungs on the rank ladder. Higher ranks get first dibs on equipment during the loadout customisation phase, and are more likely to find themselves daubing 'Attack here' arrows on the map at the start of a scrap. Most battles are dominated by M1 Garands are Kar98K rifles, but it won't be long before you find yourself being offered BARs and Thompsons, MG42s and MP40s by generous superiors prior to a bout.

The community seems pleasant enough (My wayward pineapple throws and horribly flat-footed defending have thus far attracted no ire) and plans for the 6-9 month Early Access period sound sound. Glancing over the 'on the way' list...

- Better gameplay balance
- More progression possibilities
- More environments
- More nations to choose from
- Complete tutorial
- Map editor embedded in Steam Workshop
- More and improved weapons
- More game modes
- More complete UI
- Optimized netcode
- Optimized graphic performance
- Anti-cheat system

…the only really disappointing omissions are...

- Destructible scenery
- Melee combat
- Old West variant

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This way to the foxer

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