Want to turn a green lane into a brown lane, tow a Gulaschkanone across a snowy field, or roam the Western Desert trashing Axis airfields? Get a 4×4. Want quick introductions to games of interest to wargamers and simmers? Read a 3×3. Prior to penning one of these articles I’ll play three tempting titles for three hours each. While it would be cavalier to call the reports that result from such brief auditions ‘reviews’, it’s conceivable they might lead to more prolonged playtests, and prompt or prevent the odd purchase.
Sail Simulator 5 Deluxe Edition
During the twelve years Sail Simulator 5 has been afloat it has been surpassed as a tutor by patient, quirky eSail, and been made to look decidedly parochial by globe-girdling Sailaway. Reinstalling this week after a long separation, I was keen to find out whether it still cut the mustard in the physics and feel departments.
Happily, it does.
In fact I’d go so far as to say, if you simply want to mess about in verisimilar virtual boats… to feel the spray in your face, and impatient wind-spurred wood, fibreglass or carbon-fibre beneath your feet or backside, this is the sailing sim for you.
The £30 Deluxe Edition comes with seventeen different steeds, and five smallish but interesting scenery areas. The former range from ponderous walnut shells like the Optimist to million pound racehorses like the Volvo Open 70. Predominantly prototypical, the maps centre Fluessen, Scheveningen, Cabrera, Koh Hong, and a fictional desert island.
Although in-sim instruction is perfunctory, a well-organised UI and the inherent simplicity of craft like the Lasers and 420s, mean total novices should find their sea (or lake) legs relatively quickly.
Avoid gales (Wind, waves, and currents are customisable. Rain isn’t modelled), ditch sedentary habits learnt from flight and driving sims (Timely hiking can be crucial in SS5), and utilise the numerous toggleable sail and crew management options on offer, and pretty soon you’ll find you’re going hours rather than minutes between unplanned inversions/immersions.
Despite somewhat crude coastlines and absent self-shadowing, visually, SS5 has aged remarkably well. Pottering amongst Thai islands at dusk or belting down a reed-fringed Frisian canal on a sunny day, the sim tricks the eye almost as adroitly as it tricks the inner ear.
Sadly, the chance of Stentec adding a few ambience-enhancing gulls, ducks, porpoises and jellyfish at this point, is about as likely as them addressing more significant omissions such as the lack of bots, ghosts, and a full scenery editor. If the bespoke buoy-marked match courses that are so easy to create could be enjoyed in the company of AI competitors or a diaphanous older version of yourself, I’d have fashioned far more of them this week.
* * *
Valor & Victory + Stalingrad DLC
In parallel universe RadetzkyJambon9174022/39316281/8X3, www.tallyhocorner.com doesn’t exist. I regularly plenish instead www.hexiana.com, a site devoted entirely to hex wargames. Hexiana has covered Valor & Victory several times since the £15 board game port launched in June of last year. In its most recent piece – a re-review prompted by the simultaneous release of a Stalingrad-themed DLC and a free update – I sum up V&V as “fun but fundamentally flawed”.
The game’s pace and visual and mechanical clarity elicit praise. Scenarios, 24 of which are available once Stalingrad has been installed, usually reach their climaxes in under thirty minutes – good news for those with limited leisure time. Turn structuring that feels fussy at first (Each turn consists of two sequences of command, fire, move, defensive fire, advance and assault, and after-action phases) quickly melts into the background once you get into the swing of things.
Refreshingly, you don’t need to be a devourer of manuals or a gifted mathematician to understand how combat works. Naked dice rolls and highlighted, on-screen Combat Result Tables succinctly explain why your Panzer III failed to puncture that T-34… why your squad of MG 42-hosed Screaming Eagles is now a half-squad.
Small maps, low turn counts (most scenarios only last six turns), and honed victory conditions assist a sensible AI. When the computer is defending and has a mortar or two at its disposal, expect to lose.
My main reservations are realism related. As this is a faithful port, we get nary a wisp of Fog of War. Not only can you see exactly where the enemy is at all times, if you choose to right-click its stacks, you also have perfect knowledge of its firepower, experience, and leaders.
Buyers must also accept Barry Doyle’s rickety range rules. Weirdly, a rifle or machine gun bullet in V&V has as much chance of hitting a target six hexes away (the maximum range of most infantry squads) as it does of hitting one in an adjacent hex. Whereas distance is a factor in armour combat, when grunts swap lead, it’s irrelevant.
Turning a blind eye to hamfisted shorthand like this would be easier if there were fewer tempting Advanced Squad Leader-likes around. Folk with fondness for Lock ‘n Load Tactical Digital, Squad Battles, and The Troop, are bound to enjoy Valor & Victory, but may end up feeling it sacrifices too much truth in pursuit of pep.
* * *
I suspect the Venn diagram showing the overlap between Tally-Ho Cornerites and owners of unmade plastic kits has a pretty hefty intersection. Amongst the boxes gathering dust on my shelves are a PR Spitfire and a Sherman Crab – Christmas presents waiting for a rainy day that never seems to arrive.
Would I be more productive if paint was free and delivered instantly… if I owned an airbush… if my eyes weren’t shot from decades of scrutinising tiny game fonts? The released-last-week Model Builder may help me answer those questions.
Moonlit’s sim removes much of the expense of kit building. Fifteen quid buys you a fully equipped virtual workshop, and 16+ kits that can be assembled as often as you like. It eliminates some of the frustrations and challenges too. There’s no flash. It’s impossible to misalign parts. Tiny components never go missing or break. Decals never disintegrate. Excess glue isn’t an issue, because – unless I’ve missed a settings tickbox somewhere – all models click together.
Judging from my brief testdrive, these little white lies together with a failure to support kitbashing, turn assembly into a fairly dull, mechanical process. As built sections are ‘stored’ in a GUI sidebar*, we don’t even have the satisfaction of seeing a miniature aircraft, AFV, car, ship, or sub slowly taking shape on the worksurface in front of us.
* Tools and paints are also kept in abstract 2D spaces. Another questionable design decision.
MB’s painting dimension, although bereft of paint mixing and thinning, and weakened by a laughably poor recreation of colour washing, offers far more realism and room for creativity than the building side. If you’ve got patience and an artistic eye, and are willing to experiment with the various customisable brushes (standard, dry, wash, and air) some pretty impressive results should be possible.
Having had an almost finished King Tiger completely paint-stripped by a bug yesterday, I won’t be attempting any ambitious camouflage schemes until the game’s teething troubles are behind it. Right now Model Builder needs a number of fixes, and tool and camera tweaks. Assuming it gets those, and the inevitable deluge of add-ons includes some well designed, interesting, and sensibly priced kits, this could be the start of something big – a series as enduring, colourful, and popular as the hobby it
strives attempts to replicate.