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 2022 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 third – are my attempt to recreate the experience offered by ye olde periodical platters. Carefully curated mixtures of the old and new, the obscure and 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.
Fleet Commander: Pacific
When your campaign is only ten turns long, I guess you can be forgiven for releasing a demo that declares ‘GAME OVER’ at the end of turn #1. Due on March 10, Fleet Commander: Pacific is War in the Pacific for Dolania americana. Saying it’s inspired by classic Avalon Hill board wargame Victory in the Pacific is a bit like saying the Tu-4 was inspired by the B-29. Developer SEP FCOM makes no secret of the fact that he has been playing VitP for over forty years, and loves it to bits. If FCP sells well then WW2 Atlantic and present-day South China Sea instalments may well follow.
Arms Trade Tycoon: Tanks
A pedantic part of me disapproves of this demo because it implies that the world’s first tank manufacturers produced nothing but tanks, and were vying with rivals and churning-out AFVs before the outbreak of WWI (Not only can you research, design, and produce rhomboidal landships in 1914 in the trial, you can whip-up Whippet-likes too). FunGi’s apparent willingness to bend history might stick in my craw if tank-focused company sims were two a penny, and I hadn’t seen ample evidence of subject-matter passion and game design competence during Tally-Ho Corner Tanks Ltd’s first year of operation.
Enticed into the cavernous bowels of a mysterious facility by an equally mysterious will-o’-the-wisp, the robot hero of Lorn’s Lure has been looking for a way out for 253 years. With his battery on its last legs, he has a stroke of good fortune. A human needing a break from warmongering and simming installs this atmospheric alpha and begins guiding him along ledges and pipework with WASD keys, and hurling him across voids with the space bar. Pretty soon he discovers a pair of ice axes and realises he can now traverse sheer walls as surefootedly as a gecko. Rubeki plans to release an updated demo some time in Feb, but that’s no reason to ignore the current one. Eerie, vertiginous and – if you shun the hints key – potentially puzzling, this tempter fulfils its remit admirably.
If time with this hors d’oeuvre doesn’t stir memories, you’re clearly one of the three Tally-Ho Cornerites who’ve never played Mount & Blade. Smiting enemies in person (your avatar is controlled with keyboard and mouse) while issuing orders to equipable/healable allies in Bennett Farmer’s Viking Age isometric RTT, is strongly reminiscent of M&B. Although there’s no trace of campaign mechanics in the trial, this roadmap suggests that the long game will also evoke TaleWorlds’ hit. Assuming the campaign layer is engineered as adeptly as the battle layer, then we’re in for a treat. It’s not hard to picture the engine, slightly tweaked, powering a traditional scenario-based Medieval wargame.
Take Command: 2nd Manassas
I was hoping that 3D warriors would increase my affection for Grand Tactician. Regrettably, they’ve made little difference. I still find myself yearning for Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!, Scourge of War: Gettysburg and the Take Commands when I’m battle orchestrating in GT. As this peachy, in every sense of the word, demo illustrates, Take Command: 2nd Manassas (currently £7 on Steam) offers more atmosphere and spectacle than the newcomer. To my mind MadMinute’s 2006 effort also boasts the better UI and AI.
The Great Circle
Do TJ have the skills, resources, and resolve necessary to realise their gobsmacking vision? I sincerely hope so. The Great Circle aims to be an animal sim like no other. The devs intend to recreate an entire African ecosystem – hundreds of playable species feeding, mating, giving birth, growing, dying, and interacting within the same 3D world. Be a springbok or a secretary bird, a hippo or a puff adder, a lion or a monarch butterfly! Apparently, around seventy-five species have already been implemented, but don’t get too excited. The rough-edged demo unveiled on Monday only allows you to try one – Loxodonta africana. My first avatar collapsed and died within thirty minutes of its ‘birth’ possibly because I failed to get the hang of feeding or wandered too close to one of the red icons that currently represent predators (there’s no tutorial or tooltips). During her brief, lonely life Nell did, at least, get to savour a refreshing rainstorm and experience companionship. Shortly before expiring, she fell in with a surprisingly unflappable flamingo.
I am an Air Traffic Controller 4
Don’t be put off by the FS2002-calibre visuals and the Fisher-Price moniker. TechnoBrain know a thing or two about making natty, reality-rooted ATC sims. After explaining a near-perfect interface (managing and monitoring arrivals, departures, pushbacks and taxiing is surprisingly straightforward) this taster invites you to oversee comings and goings at Haneda Airport for 25 minutes. By the time your relatively quiet shift ends, chances are the needle on the efficiency meter won’t be pointing at 100%, and you’ll be hooked. Whether trial enthusiasm ultimately leads to a purchase will probably depend on the state of your finances. This likeable tin-pushing sim and its airport add-ons are not cheap.
Electrician Simulator – First Shock
As I’m one of the unfortunates who can’t get beyond the logo screen in Electrican Simulator – First Shock, I’ve spent the time I’d planned to devote to it reminding myself how dangerous Fzzzt, the invisible millipede God that dwells in walls and ceilings, can be. Wikipedia’s “Accidental deaths by electrocution” page is littered with people who’ve perished while attempting repairs in the home. For some reason sportsmen seem particularly prone. Next time you’re thinking about reaching for the pliers and the wire strippers remember Australian rower Peter Evatt, Celtic winger Johnny Doyle, and one of the greatest weightlifters of all time, Khadr El-Touni.
Graverobber Foundation like their dungeons gridded and futuristic, their violence IGOUGO, and their texture folders empty. In Der Geisterjäger, their latest offering, characteristically stark visuals contrast with characteristically subtle turnbased first-person combat. You roam spooky wireframe corridors and chambers, gunning down foes, and rifling furniture for consumables, cash, and clues. Which weapon should I use here? What system should I upgrade next? Where the hell am I? WTF just shot me in the back of the head?… there’s always plenty to think about in this austere sci-fi Legend of Grimrock.
The Final Struggle
A THC demo disc without hexagons? We can’t have that. Wargame Design Studio, the new owners of most of John Tiller’s oeuvre, have always been diligent/generous sample providers. One of their most effective sales tools is The Final Struggle, a free Waterloo mini game designed to drum up business for the Napoleonic Battles range. 100-metre hexes and fifteen-minute turns guarantee intimacy, and unfussy turn structures and lashing of opportunity fire do a great job of disrupting potentially repetitive combat rhythms. The interface is typical Tiller. If you’ve played the Campaign series – which gained a new instalment yesterday – you’ll quickly find your feet. Unit stacks are selected with double left clicks and moved with right clicks (destinations must be adjacent). To fire on an in-range hex hold Ctrl while right-clicking. Change formations and resolve melees via the top menu, buttons, or hotkeys. Tactical tips? Don’t attempt to melee enemies in good defensive terrain without softening them up first. Ideally assaulting units should be in column formation and accompanied by a leader. Leave unobstructed avenues of fire for your cannon batteries when advancing.
“Not a war game or sim” even if you do order a Legion into battle but Expeditions Rome released yesterday and has an excellent demo.
Bad Tim! No linking to Steam without a referrer URL that earns you some pennies!
Which, as this isn’t my site, I shall now do. (Very) recently emerging from Early Access after 8 years of development is Gear City, https://store.steampowered.com/app/285110/GearCity/
Demo available, and it’s an ‘all about the numbers’ management game that only narrowly falls into the unstated THC scope by its implementation of actual historical events such as wars, depressions and the invention and growth of different technologies.
If you fancy designing, building, licensing and funding the racing of motorised vehicles, it’s technologically limited and simulationarily magnificent. Definitely one to stick on the demo tape. (I’m old enough to remember when these things came on a C30)
Thanks for the tip – I’m having great fun with the demo. There’s a youtube playthrough by Colonel Failure if that’s of interest.
Der Geisterjäger (Ghost Hunter?) and Fleet Commander: Pacific look fascinating, added to my must-play list.
Generally speaking I no longer try early access games, but the Great Circle actually sounds like a fascinating idea. Maybe even a little too ambitious. I hope the project makes it to a release. I would also second Blastaz, Expeditions Rome, while strictly only wargame/sim-adjacent could be of interest.
And I have to find some way to express my adoration for Hammerheart´s simple, yet appealing graphics, without admitting I might be the fourth Cornerite never to have touched M&B.
I miss demo CDs so much! Gems I came across through such tremendous taste tests; Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, Rainbow 6, Hidden & Dangerous, Medal of Honour: Allied Assault, Mech Commander, Full Throttle, Cossacks, Operation Flashpoint…
Been super excited about the rebirth of Microprose, as such Arms Trade Tycoon tickles my fancy most from your list here, Tim. Keep us abreast of all the goings-on with Wild Bill & his latest productions, cannot emphasise enough how cool it is that he is back!
I’m +3 for Blastaz’s recommend: Expeditions Rome.
Just downloaded and played the first hour and frankly the turn based combat is much less frustrating than Divinity Original Sin 2 (which is lauded for it’s combat that I find annoying with the constant failure cascades)…
Ahem, mini rant over, give Expeditions Rome a go, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it for the historical accuracy and frequent Latin terminology Tim.
Escape Simulator turned up in my Discovery Queue; it has a demo that I’m finding to be the right level of challenge.
The demo has a tutorial and three puzzle rooms: playing solo (co-op is apparently an option), I’ve only completed Ancient Egypt and Space so far – the Egyptian one is most likely to appeal to Foxer types as there’s deciphering involved. The rooms have clocks on the walls counting down 15 minutes; I’ve not quite managed that, needing a couple of minutes more. I don’t think there’s a penalty for going over the alloted time.
The rooms are small and have a Crystal Maze-vibe, however half the challenge is figuring out what the actual puzzle is (I guess that’s what makes it an escape room).
Approximately a one-and-a-half gig download.
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