Demo Disc

A minute’s silence in memory of the demo disc, if you please. Coup de grâced by broadband, the wafer of wonders* that once clung limpet-like to the front cover of almost every games mag is no more. Denied these monthly mix tapes, the gamer of today is, I reckon, less inclined to reconnoitre and genre-flit than their predecessor. Because in 2021 you rarely find yourself installing kite flying sims, apian Settlers clones, and puzzle games inspired by Underground Railroad quilts, out of boredom-tinged curiosity, there’s less chance of unlikely love affairs blossoming.

* And crud. Every disc came with a few stinkers.

Tally-Ho Corner’s demo discs – of which this is the second – are my attempt to recreate the experience offered by ye olde periodical platters. Carefully curated mixtures of the old and new, the obscure and the rescure, they will, I hope…

  • Help you forget an empty purse or wallet
  • Remind you that They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore
  • And gently nudge you in new directions

 

Destroyer: The U-Boat Hunter

(download link)

In the first Destroyer demo your Fletcher-class sub stalker was chronically undermanned. Altering course and speed, staffing the sonar room, updating the plot table, operating the Tactical Range Recorder, prepping and dropping the depth charges, aiming and firing the 5-inchers, making the cocoa, deworming the ship’s cat… the player was expected to do absolutely everything. Aware that some captains were struggling with the formidable workload, Iron Wolf Studio have released an updated trial aimed at folk who’d rather focus on tactics than fiddle with technology.

The most useful optional (all of the helpers can be turned off) aids translate sonar reports into chinagraphed chart crosses, and configure the TRR (a device that ensures you drop ash cans at precisely the right moment) for you. The friendlier taster also features a much-requested “relative bearings” option, revamped physics, and new audio reports and camera capabilities. Only the dev’s “Improved AI” claim smells a bit haddocky. Although my last hour-long Type VII hunt gripped from start to finish, on more than one occasion I was taken aback by my foe’s willingness to surface close to an alerted escort. Either the savaged sub’s temerity was involuntary or Iron Wolf still have AI polishing to do.

SimRail 2021

(download link)

As the humming Tron tenement under my desk and the Sim Rail 2020 demo don’t get on, unfortunately all I can tell you about this trial is that it dislikes older rigs, is made by knowledgeable souls, and is set in the land of the polonaise and the Polski Fiat. The full game will be with us by the end of year and promises something almost unheard of in the genre – interactive 3D signal boxes!

Train Crew Prologue

(download link)

My excuse for not playing another recent train sim trial is “Steam stopped me!”. Because the full version of Train Crew Prologue is already in my Steam collection (It’s awaiting a playtest that may or may not end in a 3×3 appearance) I’m unable to download and play the free portion. Trailers suggest TCP owes more to Densha de Go! than BVE. In my book, that’s not a good sign.

Ashland Dossier

(download link)

Roman would be ashamed of me if he knew. Unable to solve the foxer-like puzzle in this picture (you must decipher the calling cards on the left, by playing with the location and date selectors on the right) I’ve thus far only been able to make limited progress in the demo of PsyRob’s imminent (Q4) Nazi hunting “espionage thriller”. Intel analysis… tense operations… a rich backstory… two playable timelines (1960-1964 and 1941-1945)… unexpected plot twists… and historical honesty – Ashland Dossier promises much, but, could, if structured unforgivingly, prove maddening.

Grand Prix Legends

(download link)

The original GPL demo was a spectacular PR own-goal. Civilisations rose and fell in the time the 1998 taster took to process and display its multi-car prangs. This 2020 one, on the other hand, is pure magic.

David Kaemmer’s famously naturalistic physics, ten seriously eye-catching, seriously tweakable race cars from the 50s, 60s and 70s, four very different circuits (Monza, Road America, Sebring International Raceway, and Zandvoort) festooned with period detail, the option to enter full 50-lap GPs with practice sessions – in truth, this is a fine free race sim disguised as a demo.

Comrades and Barons: Gates of Freedom

(download link)

Māris Ozols’ contribution to the latest Steam Next Fest feels more like a tech demo than a serious attempt to tempt potential customers. The two included engagements are too small and short to reveal much about this Latvian War of Independence wargame beyond “It’s affable and unusually themed” and “It features novel Unity of Command-style busts”. Will supply lines matter? What role if any do the HQ units play? Is there any way of identifying at a glance which battalion a unit belongs to (Only units from the same battalion can combine forces during attacks)? How do things like terrain influence the card-based combat resolution? Too many questions are left unanswered by this titchy tidbit.

Supplice

(download link)

As the vast majority of menacing/bleak English nouns have already been commandeered by FPS makers, Brett Harrell’s decision to turn to French for his retro shooter’s moniker makes perfect sense. Supplice (“Corporal punishment or extremely painful torture, usually resulting in death”) is, this two-level demo suggests, a Doom-clone of the highest quality. Boomsticks, baddies, level design, audio… it’s all top notch. There’s even some solid storytelling and wry humour mixed in with the sci-fi bloodletting via some strategically placed computer consoles.

Boat Crew

(download link)

The Bomber Crew and Armored Battle Crew reminiscent Boat Crew is no PT Boats: Knights of the Sea, but some of its historical liberties aren’t as outrageous as they first appear. In the pre-beta demo’s tough second mission, players are tasked with eliminating a Fubuki class destroyer that’s taken refuge up a winding river. I’ve yet to reach the DD but have vanquished a number of the patrol boats guarding it with help from deck-mounted rocket launchers that I assumed were pure fantasy until reading this passage on Wikipedia:

“Occasionally, some front line PT boats received ad hoc up-fits at forward bases, where they mounted such weapons as 37mm aircraft cannons, rocket launchers, or mortars. When these weapons were found to be successful, they were incorporated onto the PT boats as original armament.”

Glider Sim

(download link)

In most flight sims, wing collapses are swiftly followed by farm purchases. In this one, more often than not, they’re minor inconveniences – just Newton’s way of telling you to stop monkeying about.

The helpful way abused paraglider canopies tend to automatically recover/reinflate when left to their own devices, is one of many aerodynamic truths faithfully simmed in GS. Although this entertaining trial doesn’t reflect the current state of Joey Sipos’ work-in-progress (physics and scenery have undergone major revisions since it was released) time spent in its company should help you decide whether to invest £15.

Ozymandias

(download link)

The Secret Games Company have left ripe, plump, juicy Civ out in the blazing sun for a week or two and tasty Ozymandias is the result. Friendly and fast-playing yet deep, Shriv, as I’ve mentally nicknamed it, implies the stuff historical 4Xs usually spell out – unit types, city structures, techs, warfare, culture… etc. It works because the abstraction is adroit and rehydration and embellishment is easy if you know your history or have Civ-ed in the past.

The cash I just spent “increasing Power on plains hexes”? Cavalry research. The lucre that went into boosting food production in desert areas? Investment in irrigation. The demo allows you to play a full game on the game’s ‘Fertile Crescent’ Middle Eastern map. The first screenshot shows my Babylonian civ (blue) struggling to contain the expansionist Elamites (yellow) while passively (cities exert influence on nearby borders) nibbling at Assyria’s (green) southern provinces.

Kaiju Wars

(download link)

Sorry, Kaiju Wars. I love your premise (Protect cities from rampaging Godzilla-type behemoths) and your isometric pixel art, but your tiny venues and simplistic mechanics, leave me colder than a Winter War cadaver. Fans of the claustrophobic TBT proudly occupying slot #25 in PC Gamer’s latest ‘Top 100 PC Games’ stand a much better chance of enjoying this Micheal ‘Radio General’ Long creation. To the untrained eye, KW and Into the Breach look to have plenty in common.

Panzer Command: Ostfront

(download link)

Every grizzled games critic has a few regrets, a few questions they ask themselves when they leaf through their back-catalogue of reviews. One of mine is “Did I give Panzer Command a fair crack of the whip?”. Koios Works’ WEGO series had the misfortune to enter the fray after Combat Mission. In the mid Noughties I analysed its earliest incarnation on behalf of PC Gamer UK and decided, fairly quickly, it was inferior to CM in almost all respects.

While the pleasant hour I’ve just spent with the 2011 Ostfront demo, doesn’t convince me that assessment was wrong, it does remind me that 3D WW2 tactics titles with simultaneous order execution and simulatory aspirations, aren’t exactly common, and Koios’ effort, although flawed, still has the power to captivate.

Once you’ve got your head around odd* features like ‘reaction’ turns (The full order palette is only available every other turn) and HQ importance (Commanded separately, subordinate units have limited freedom) enjoyment is pretty much guaranteed. While the TacAI isn’t as strong as CM’s, there are compensations. An elegant GUI, useful order nuances, and visible Sturmoviks, for example.

* To Combat Missionaries at least.

Panzer Command: Ostfront is one of those workmanlike wargames that deserves an Indian summer. Priced at an optimistic £24 and only available through the Matrix store, that late-life renaissance is, sadly, never going to happen. Any chance of a cheap Steam/GOG release, Slitherine?

10 Comments

  1. I love Fridays when I get a fresh THC article in my newsfeed. Shoo the kids off to school, pour a cup of coffee, put on some nice music, and sit down with the latest TS prose.

    Sub upped a level to help you upgrade to that coveted 486. Have a great week!

  2. A stunning pageant of playthings, Tim.

    Panzer Command: Ostfront actually sounds like I might enjoy it better than CM. What are oddities to Tim strike me as familiar from cardboard wargames, and I can cut the codebrain some slack in exchange for welcome compensations.

  3. Panzer Command Ostfront has never left my hard drive since I purchased it. I believed at the time of its release some wags labeled it CM 1.5, as the CMx2 engine with better graphics was coming out about the same time. I personally like the game very much and I especially like all of the battles that span the time span from Barbarossa through the end of the war. I have run it on Win 7, which I still do, and Win 10, which I experimented with and with no problems. Some people have reported issues with Win 10 installs. I know that there are two old Matrix hands that have been trying to upgrade it, work out issues, and provide fixes for years, but for them it’s a spare time “labor of love” and my last comms with them read like they are running out of steam. It’s a gem, kind of like Supremacy at Sea,both IMO were unfairly maligned upon release and dismissed by wargamers for the most part.

    • You’ve convinced me Panzer Command should be in the Top 50. It may well end up with zero votes, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of (Currently titles like Lock ‘n Load Tactical Digital and John Tiller’s Panzer Battles are voteless).

      • Yeah, I almost put it in my top five with the top 50 games thread. I would say it is definitely in my top ten. I enjoyed both single-player and PBM with it. I still fire it up on occasion.

  4. Definitely going to give Supplice a try, just started Doom 2016 and loving every minute of it. First Doom/boomer shooter for me since the OG Dooms. Apparently scratching an itch I didn’t know I had.

    Grand Prix Legends looks interesting as well, been on a low-key lookout for a race game for a while.

    Fully agree with Jer, these articles are a nice thing to look forward to at the end of the week!

  5. To my knowledge this might be the first game about the latvian war of independence. Although going mostly unnoticed in favour of more clear cut conflicts, the dirty little wars in the wake of WWI are actually rich in storytelling opportunities and complex strategic scenarios. Which is code for `quite a mess`. Please kep an eye on its development, Tim.

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