As the cost of living is currently rising like Sky Goldscope, the Eurasian skylark that smashed the 100, 200 and 400 metre vertical ascent records at the last Avian Olympics, I won’t start the year with an exhaustive list of every promising PC wargame and sim due in 2022 – it would be too dispiriting. I’ll limit today’s overview to the ten titles I predict will tug on purse strings most insistently during the coming twelve months.
Sorry, Rise of the White Sun, Campaign Series: Vietnam, NAUTIS Home, Climber: Sky is the Limit, Sea Power etc (I’ve also avoided add-ons, and games in Early Access) you made the shortlist but ultimately lost out to…
1. Attack at Dawn: North Africa
Right now, answering the question “What’s the best computer wargame Croatia has ever produced?” is easy. In a few months’ time, serious pondering may be required. I first encountered Tomislav Čipčić’s talent and vision over a decade ago. Cross of Iron never made it to the finish line, but its descendent definitely will.
Viewed from afar due-in-the-Spring, Attack at Dawn: North Africa appears to combine realism, challenge, approachability, legibility, and pace with rare adroitness. When review time comes around, friendly controls, modest unit counts, and script-shunning AI should ensure it’s less criticised than Desert War, the last exploration of this subject. Whether I’ll end up playing the fifteen scenarios WeGo or without turns (the two options) I can’t predict at this point.
2. Burden of Command
Announced in the year Tanganyika became Tanzania and Sir Humphry Davy invented the tricornish pasty, Burden of Command is out to startle, move, and re-skill wargamers unwittingly anaesthetized by decades of thinly disguised tactical callisthenics. Rich leadership mechanics, telling permadeaths, and rigorously researched narrative choices, threaten to make battle sims that rely solely on morale variables and commander traits to humanise their pixeltruppen, seem horribly crass.
Although it’s impossible to winkle an ETA out of Green Tree Games, judging by what Luke Hughes and Co. achieved in 2021…
“We finished the defense and attack AI, got the armor mechanics in, finished most art, implemented Command and Control (platoon and company structures are respected!), and almost completed playtesting the 20+ scenarios.”
and what still remains to be done…
“For 2022 our focus will be stringing the scenarios into a campaign, adding the RPG mechanics (e.g. having units and leaders gain experience), permadeath for your leaders, and then balance and polish, balance and polish. Did I say balance and polish?”
…a release before the end of the year isn’t out of the question.
3. Destroyer: the U-Boat Hunter
If you’re familiar with its latest demo, you’ll understand why Destroyer is on this list. The yin to Silent Hunter’s yang, Iron Wolf’s atmospheric Greyhound-em-up demonstrates that combat sims don’t need visible enemies and player jeopardy to focus minds and dampen palms. Helpless dependants, sly/shy foes, and lovingly modelled 1940s ASW tech, endow Destroyer with the magnetism of an unusually stubborn limpet mine.
Once the Polish devs have finished engineering the last of the game’s nine internal stations (the tactical display – an overview aid through which you dispense orders to other escort vessels), wolves and shepherds will be sent back to school (“There is still TONS of work to be done on the U-boat and escort vessel AI, and how they interact with one another”) in readiness for the Spring launch.
Destroyer’s tight timeframe (1942) and focus on a single class of DD mean we’ll have to do all our U-boat slaying with ash-cans for the foreseeable future. Unlike the most successful Allied sub killers of WW2, the Fletchers never hunted with hedgehogs.
4. FireJumpers Inferno
Every list like this needs a dark horse. The outsider I’ve chosen is a 3D wargame with an enemy that’s indefatigable, incapable of mercy, and adept at living off the land. A wargame in which the battlefield can be absolutely anywhere in the continental United States, and multiplayer can involve up to 200 collaborating humans.
In FireJumpers Inferno we’ll fight wildfires with assets that include handcrews, fire appliances, bulldozers, water-bombers and smokejumpers. Weather and terrain type will, of course, have a huge impact on how the foe behaves. Developer Jason Thomas has been recreating rural conflagrations for years so knows a thing or two about the science behind them. He’s also a chap with a full-time job and a family, so it’s not impossible FJI’s long gestation may not end in 2022.
5. General Staff: Black Powder
Professional wargamers have been commandeering recreational battle sims for yonks. Few titles travel the road General Staff: Black Powder’s has travelled and come to Civvy Street after a spell in the military. Born in academia and DARPA, turn-spurning GSBP is the brainchild of AI specialist, Ezra Sidran so should sport some of the smartest, most adaptable generals ever to roam a digital battlefield.
Until a fairly recent decision inspired by conversations with Grand Tactician’s devs, those battlefields were going to be contested by flat sprites. Now, with help from Unity, Ezra is in the process of adding chunk to his units*. Will this partial 3Dification mean we have to wait longer for General Staff? Apparently not…
“Because Unity makes doing graphics easier (as opposed to WPF, which is what we were working in) we think that the change will accelerate getting us into early access on Steam. We’re hoping for mid-2022.”
* And pyrotechnics. Terrain will remain 2D.
6. Modern Naval Warfare
There’s no better introduction to Modern Naval Warfare, an upcoming Virginia class submarine sim, than the above video. As genre oracle Neal Stevens explains, the Maslas Brothers are aiming to deliver both realism and approachability. The option to hot-station will be there for those who want it, but players who’d rather leave tasks like classifying targets, doing target motion analysis, and calculating fire control solutions to AI subordinates won’t have to move a muscle if they don’t wish to.
Multicrew co-op multiplayer… VR support at launch… real-life weather… dynamic marine life and commercial shipping… the prospect of playable surface vessels in future… Dangerous Waters’ sixteen year reign as the acme of modern sub sims looks to be about to end.
7. Second Front
It will take more than an initial ETA (Q2-4, 2020) missed by a country mile and never replaced, and a recent unexplained video drought, to extinguish my enthusiasm for Second Front. I still find the idea of a wargame boasting “The plausibility, unpredictability and camera freedom of first generation Combat Mission. The detail and drama of the Steel Panthers and Close Combats. The friendliness, legibility and visual charm of the Battle Academies.” (my words not Hexdraw’s) incredibly exciting.
While Jo Bader’s 2021 tweets show he’s not averse to spending time on fripperies, they also reveal a dev working hard on AI, cartography, environments, GUI, and help screens. The education of Gretchen, SF’s silicon adversary, appears to be proceeding swimmingly. When will we finally get to meet her? Jo refuses to say, but the day, surely, can’t be more than twelve months away.
8. Tank Squad
A WW2 armour sim with first-person AFV repair & replenishment and first-person, dismounted scouting… Tank Squad’s place in gaming history is assured. If the dev was an unknown quantity, my excitement would be tinged with trepidation. Because DeGenerals is one of the hardest working, most communicative, and most tank-literate outfits in Simulatia, putting “Can they really pull it off?” concerns to one side, is easy.
The fortnightly devlogs are guaranteed to make Steel Fury fans salivate. The effort going into environment and infantry modelling is particularly impressive. Peering through fieldglasses, sights, and vision blocks we’re going to see angry houses bulldozing trees and floundering in AT ditches… men levelling Panzerfausts, aiming ATRs, and attaching Hafthohlladung charges… Bouncing Betties and Teller mines causing havoc. There’s even a chance we may sometimes observe these things through hull holes drilled by AP rounds!
9. Task Force Admiral
“No dice rolls, no artificial skill trees, no arbitrary stats, selective fog of war or supernatural crystal-clear communications. Just real-time crisis management, realism and historicity without concession, as little abstraction as can be.”. Drydock Dream Games’ simulatory ambitions are something to behold. Not content with rough approximations, they’re building a battle sim likely to serve as a genre benchmark for years – decades – to come.
Where previous tactical treatments of the carrier war in the Pacific relied heavily on technological differences to distinguish Japanese and American forces, in Task Force Admiral doctrines should delineate as vigorously as war machines. After USF-74: Tactical Orders & Doctrine US Fleet Aircraft one of the most dog-eared pdfs on Amiral Crapaud’s bookshelf is Navy Operation Plans and Orders, 1941-1945, a compendium of IJN documents salvaged by divers from a sunken Japanese cruiser in May 1945.
10. Tiny Combat Arena
The “Show them every rivet, every blade of grass, every canopy scratch” approach to sim graphics atrophies imaginations and contributes to the climate crisis according to my mate Gavin. He reckons we need more games like texture-free, polygon-frugal Tiny Combat Arena.
Around a month away from Early Access, Why485’s backwards-looking 1970s/80s flight sim will ship with just one flyable, the AV-8B Harrier, and no dynamic campaign or sortie sequence. Fingers-crossed the skirmish generator and slightly mysterious ‘arena mode’ (“Plan your moves on the strategic map; pick objectives, identify threats, choose which units to support, and where to make a difference. There is a war going on around you, and your participation will affect its outcome.”) are strong enough to distract from the deficiencies.