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 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 fourth – 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.

Rush Rally Origins

(download link)

There’s a wealth of experience behind the brilliant Rush Rally Origins. Brownmonster has been coding vehicle physics for decades, and it shows. Ignore the fact that there’s no damage modelling (obviously, tangling with roadside trees and boulders costs precious seconds) and this is essentially a bona fide rally sim viewed from a low-flying drone.

Although the overhead view and the optional pace note arrows daubed before bends soften difficulty, plausible handling and breakneck speeds mean you never feel like you’re being patronised. Should the 48* ribbons of tarmac, dirt, and gravel – which can be tackled in four different modes (time trial, championship, race, and MP) and thirteen different cars – be a tad narrower and feature wayside ditches here and there? Possibly, but minor realism complaints haven’t stopped me having a ball with this £12 gem.

* Full game

Plane Accident

(download link)

Fancy spending the weekend analysing maps, meteorology reports, and witness testimonies, organising search parties and grappling with an array of high tech lab equipment? Sorry, you’re in the wrong place. This trial is more Murder She Wrote than Mayday. The hour I spent with it passed swiftly enough, but convinced me that the ETA-unknown Plane Accident probably won’t be the air crash investigation sim I’ve been hankering for since reading Air Crash, Fred Jones’ fascinating memoir. White Pig Games show their colours early on when they provide you with a drone then refuse to let you pilot it around the site. The search for dispersed components is heavily automated.

The hangar stage of the investigation also feels like a missed opportunity. You don’t microscope telltale parts yourself, you box them up, and give them to a courier for analysis elsewhere. The demo is at its most engaging when it drops all sim pretensions and goes full Bergerac. Get on the blower to people linked with the Beechcraft Sundowner prang, and the plot thickens intriguingly.

Incision

(download link)

Time is a strange son of a nailgun. If it had been released a quarter of a century ago, Incision would probably have secured magazine covers and multi-page reviews. WASDers the world over would have talked enthusiastically about its scuttling/shambling abominations, its menacing environments, and deliciously brutal weaponry. Today, jostling for visibility with a host of other retro FPSs, there’s a very real chance it will go unnoticed by many potential appreciators.

It took me a few minutes to warm to the abattoir ambience and the intimidating difficulty (F5 and F6 do nothing) but when I did, the happy memories of 1996-97 came loping back. Claustrophobic interiors quickly make way for airier arenas – spaces that strain necks and invite rocket jumps – and it’s not long before shotguns and SMGs are mincing as many horrors as the pleasingly potent default Magnum.

Mars La Tour

(play link)

Prussia’s bold use of lancers and cuirassiers on August 16, 1870 temporarily silenced Europe’s ‘cavalry charges have had their day’ lobby, and helped prevent a French withdrawal that, had it succeeded, might have changed the course of the Franco-Prussian War. A complete browser-reliant port rather than an installable fragment, Mars La Tour turns the pivotal battle into a sleek six-turn wargame shot through with ingenious shorthand. There’s no tutorial but a few minutes with this video or this pdf should answer most rules questions.

Manta

(download link)

Prepare to unlearn knee-jerk brine avoidance. While gannet-diving into the wet stuff in DCS World or IL-2 is guaranteed to end a mission, in Manta it’s essential to mission success. For reasons not fully explained, the genetic upgrades for your swish aero-amphibious biointerceptor, and the schematics and resources necessary for unit production, sit on the seabed.

The fact that Davy Jones’s Locker is perpetually shrouded in darkness (manually triggered sonar pulses briefly illuminate the bathymetry), and pilots are expected to RTS as well as dogfight, make Manta one of the more demanding demos on this disc. Persevere though and I’d be surprised if you didn’t leave impressed by developer Tao Langston’s skill and excited by his vision.

Artist Life Simulator

(download link)

Pour yourself a large absinthe frappé, and try a game that does something pretty remarkable with cards and dice. Interactive Fate believe it’s possible to sim the colourful life of a struggling early-20th Century post-impressionist painter without carefully modelled period environments, a sizeable cast of memorable characters. and lashings of well written dialogue. Having sampled their wares via this tasty aperatif, I reckon they’re right.

Insolvency, infirmity, and apathy dog your footsteps in Nova Oportunia, ALS’s fictional setting. Using card combinations and attribute points you seek inspiration, friendship, and success in a manner that inevitably brings to mind the turbulent lives of people like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Judging from screenshots like the one above, while the game doesn’t explicitly model the dark side of its subject matter – syphilis, suicide, asylum sojourns etc. – such fates are implied.

Rise of the White Sun

(download link)

Maestro Cinetik is ready to show-off Rise of the White Sun’s military ops and province management sides. The updated demo includes a recreation of the first year of the internecine Yunnan–Guangxi War. At first glance the three-faction 1925 scenario is a bog-standard area movement wargame with one-week turns. Armies stomp about sparking automatic battle calculations when they meet. It’s only when you take the plunge that you realise that RotWS wars have a character all of their own.

Because counters represent unruly warlord-led rabbles not professional armies, it’s not uncommon for them to blithely ignore your orders. Demoralised and opium-addled forces are particularly prone to disobedience, as are troops in rich, pillageable locales. Immobility can even be the result of enemy intrigue or a sign that a coup is in the offing. There are ways to overcome intransigence, but naturally they usually involve outlay.

Ukraine War Stories

(download link)

Kyivites Starni Games have put aside hexagons, WW2, and the profit motive for the moment. Keen to document what the Russian invasion means for ordinary Ukrainians, they are currently fashioning a set of free adventure games set in Hostomel, Bucha, and Mariupol. If all of these creations are as naturalistic and powerful as this demo, then the warmongers and lie peddlers in Moscow are going to loathe them.

The trio are inspired by eyewitness accounts. In the case of the Bucha title, the account was provided by a Starni employee:

“One of the guys from our team was caught by the Russian invading forces in Bucha and had to hide in a garage basement for a week with his family until they managed to evacuate. His house was plundered and looted by the Russians along with many other houses in the town.”

Civil War Battles

(download link)

The fifteen Civil War Battles titles can trace their lineage all the way back to Talonsoft’s Battleground 2: Gettysburg, a title that appeared in numerous ‘best PC wargames’ shortlists in 1996. Although the first one hit virtual shelves in 2001, the peerless scholarship behind them and recent refurbishment and engine upgrades by new franchise owner Wargame Design Studios, means some grogs still consider them the finest ACW games around.

Until this three-mission Battle of Bristoe Station-themed demo appeared in June, road-testing the series prior to purchase was impossible. The taster doesn’t include an interactive tutorial, but select ‘001-Getting Started.scn’ from the mission list, opt to play as the Rebels (Set Union to ‘Automatic with FOW’), and then open the ‘Getting Started’ pdf by pressing F5, and your initiation should be relatively painless.

Raskopnik: The Trench Warfare

(download link)

This feels like the unholy progeny of Eye of the Beholder, Wolfenstein 3D, and a Warlord comic. Your squad has been wiped out by a plummeting Bf 109, leaving you to clear an enemy-infested orthogonal trench network alone. Using a spade, grenades, and a selection of scavenged firearms, you explore and alter the network one square at a time, neutralising Nazis and collecting equipment as you go.

The overblown violence might have been hard to stomach if witty Wilderness Theory hadn’t undercut it with plenty of gallows humour, and some splendid sprites that look like they’ve stepped straight out of an early 90s arcade cabinet. Raskopnik knows it’s a tad crass, and is all the better for it.

5 Comments

  1. I wholeheartedly applaud Rise of the White Sun for gamifying a little know conflict. And if the first impressions are anything to go by this might be a great title on its own.

  2. It faces some stiff competition, but the Demo Discs are one of my very favourite columns of yours, Tim. And this one is an absolute corker! About an 80% “very interested” rate on the offerings here, which is way more than my Australian PC Powerplay discs ever elicited back in the day.

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