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 2023 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 fifth – 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.

Quang Tri ’72

(download link)

Carefully planned, massive, and involving some of the most up-to-date weaponry in the Communist arsenal, North Vietnam’s ‘Easter Offensive’ of 1972 comprehensively wrongfooted the ARVN and its US allies. The idea that the North would launch an invasion through the DMZ that separated North and South Vietnam was regarded as highly unlikely, but on March 30, defenders close to the city of Quang Tri found themselves dealing with just such a thrust.

The increasingly desperate battles that raged near Quang Tri during March and April are the subject of Wargame Design Studio’s latest demo/free mini-game. Downloaders get no less than fourteen fascinating scenarios all of which utilise the same 1400-hex master map. Hexagons are a mile across, turns cover three hours of action, and counters generally represent battalions. Because those battalions haemorrhage men, vehicles, and guns rather than abstract strength steps during combat, there’s an intimacy to Modern Campaigns exchanges that isn’t always found in grog fodder of this type.

If you’ve played WDS, John Tiller Software, or Talonsoft-era Tiller titles before, the brief but efficient pdf-reliant tutorial will be largely superfluous. Engine ingenue? Anticipate a fast-playing, relatively friendly wargame that, thanks to adroit modernisation by WDS, hides its antique origins well. The profusion of buttons in the screenshots above are somewhat misleading (most activate unit and map filters). Once you’ve grasped that selected units move and assault with a right-click, and open fire with a ctrl-right-click, you’re essentially ready for battle.

Rush Rally 3

(download link)

Brownmonster’s top-down rally title, Rush Rally Origins, appeared on the last demo disc. Now it’s the turn of Rush Rally 3, a sibling project with a much more flexible camera but the same common touch, firm foundation of realism, and enviable ‘Very Positive’ Steam user rating.

In return for temporary possession of just three hundred and sixty of your HD’s megabytes, this moreish trial lets you navigate six short squiggles of Finnish thoroughfare, have a bash at rallycross, experiment with car customisation, and try all 23 of the full game’s driveables.

Choose to view the lo-res-but-effective scenery using the bonnet, bumper, or cockpit cam and the sense of speed is superb. Opt to compete without an automatic gearbox, or steering and braking aids, and there’s evocation as well as exhilaration.

Soldiers of Anarchy

(download link)

A couple of hours with its fine demo, has nudged Soldiers of Anarchy into the top five on my ‘potential Dusty But Trusty  subjects’ list. Silver Style Entertainment’s 2002 pausable RTT prefigured Soldiers: Heroes of World War II (2004) in several areas. Sadly there’s no ‘direct control’ (In SHoWW2 and its descendants, units can be manoeuvred with cursor keys and weapons aimed and fired with the mouse) but the emphasis placed on commandeering vehicles and scavenging weapons is strongly reminiscent.

A tutorial introduces a RTS-style command system of exemplary elegance. Setting up ambushes, boarding vehicles, changing stances, collecting and distributing battlefield booty… it’s all admirably simple. Unlike Best Way, Silver Style opted for an apocalyptic near-future setting spiced with a pinch of sci-fi. I’ve yet to encounter a cyborg or a ‘crawling mine’ in the trial’s multi-phase story mission, however during skirmishes with paramilitary gangs – some of whom operate Shilkas and T-72s –  my band of marauders have perforated the odd muscle-bound mutant.

Mars Tactics

(download link)

The survive-for-as-long-as-possible skirmishes served up by this very promising preliminary seem horribly unforgiving at first. The foes that level weapons at your orange operatives, usually from well chosen cover, seem better armed, more skilful, and luckier. You’ll probably have to endure a few disheartening massacres, experiment a little, and return to the tips screen once or twice, before things click.

Brave the bruising baptism of fire, and you’ll find a rich and distinctive TBT with suppression, flanking, and overwatch mechanics at its core waiting for you on the other side. Destructible scenery, friendly fire, meaningful characterisation and character development, an intriguing strategy layer (full game only)… Martian Tactics has plenty going for it. The more I play the demo, the more impressed I am with Takibi Games’ AI routines. Assuming enemies are as good at grenade tossing and arty/airstrike tasking (elements not present in the trial) as they are at flanking and firefighting, they should prove a real handful.

Alligator Strike

(download link)

This tantalising snippet is all that remains of an unofficial work-in-progress Desert Strike sequel that vanished without trace circa 2017. Had developer Anton Pavlov reached the finish line, I reckon his handsome isometric shoot-em-up would have sold well.

Compared to the likes of 1942 and Raptor, Alligator Strike’s arcade action is low intensity, free-form, and realistic. You buzz around a largish, sparsely populated Senegalese map at a fixed altitude, tackling objectives in any order you wish. The spookable civilians toiling in fields and loitering in villages are a lovely touch.

Capable of strafing as well as pivoting, the titular Ka-52 slides about in a delightfully Sikorskian fashion and does its hellraising with chaingun, rockets, and missiles. By hovering over waving friendlies and resource caches, you can rescue stranded allies and recuperate and replenish your steed. The demo doesn’t seem to be available through the larger gaming sites but dropbox downloads like the one I link to above are, in my experience, perfectly safe.

Total Tank Generals

(download link)

The box of tricks beneath my desk might be old enough to watch Jaws unaccompanied, but it still manages to handle 97% of the games I throw at it. Unfortunately, the Total Tank Generals demo is one of the diversions it refuses to run. Noobz From Poland suspect my elderly/unsupported OS is the problem. Unless things change, Windows 7 holdouts may not be able to see for themselves how this intriguing upcoming Panzer General-like compares to peers such as Panzer Corps 2, Order of Battle, and Hex of Steel.

Judging from the ‘Let’s Plays’ I’ve watched, TTG’s most singular quirk looks to be its multi-occupancy hexagons. Up to three different friendly units can share a hex. Potentially less agreeable are idiosyncrasies such as gamey levelling-up perks. In this vid Agrippa Maxentius gets the chance to increase the range of an ’88’ battery by two hexagons mid-game!

Disdain

(download link)

The bespectacled angel on my right shoulder thinks I should spend the hour before bedtime grappling with the complexities of the Inland Revenue’s online tax return system. The tattooed imp on my left shoulder recommends I spend the next sixty minutes splashing the walls of gloomy catacombs with the steaming arterial claret of cowled cultists.

Thankfully, there’s very little chance anyone with fond memories of FPSs like Blood and Shadow Warrior, will feel disdain towards the Disdain demo. Although the level design is unremarkable and the armoury a mite unimaginative, there’s a solidity to the violence and something agreeably Lovecraftian about the irascible* baddies that ensures this retro shooter never bores. ‘My ten-year-old nephew’ particularly likes the way foes slashed with the starting weapon, cleave in two then slump to the ground.

* Monsters often fight amongst themselves.

Xenoform

(download link)

Steam’s irritating “As you own the full game, you can’t download and play the demo” rule, means I’m unable to tell you how well or energetically this demo demonstrates. If Panic Ensues were feeling generous when they put it together, you’ll get the chance to trash SAM sites, pods, hoppers, bombers and fighters in your gambolling VTOL aerodyne. You’ll have ample opportunity to master a flight model that may – if you’ve not played Virus – seem perverse at first.

The fact that Xenoform has me seriously contemplating something I’ve never attempted before, indicates how much I’m enjoying its sweaty mix of ground attack, interceptions, dogfights, and landings. Yesterday after gaining both the Fighter Ace: Gold (Kill 50 fighters) and Missile Commander: Gold (Score 50 missile kills) achievements, I got the decidedly unfamiliar urge to earn all 37 available achievements. Scanning the fourteen that still elude me, Eco-Warrior looks the most intimidating.

Birth of America II

(download link)

AGEod’s Adaptive Game Engine titles are still available through the Slitherine/Matrix Games store, but the demo-sceptical Surrey lizardmen don’t host the trials that, once-upon-a-time, introduced countless wargamers to the pleasures of diversions such as Birth of America, Revolution Under Siege, and Rise of Prussia.

If you’ve not sampled AGEod’s wares before, the Birth of America 2 demo is an excellent place to start. In addition to a bijou four-turn interactive tutorial, the trial provides a year-long, twelve-turn American War of Independence scenario in which dozens of strategic towns are up for grabs, and winter weather and Native American forces play notable cameo roles.

Sky on Fire: 1940

(download link)

A pay-what-you-like “student project” rather than a demo, Sky on Fire is as full of surprises as a YB-40 Flying Fortress. Shunning superfluous polygons and lavish textures, Parisian code wizard Vinh-san Bernaud has built a WW2 flight sim that, at times, stirs memories of The Greatest Combat Flight Sim Ever Made.

Although there’s no campaign yet and all the action takes place over a small corner of Kent, an impressive choice of flyables equipped with respectable* flight models and decent** AI, ensure the Unity-powered SoF is no fifteen-minute flash-in-the-pan. When the brief introductory recce I had scheduled, turned into a three-hour bandit savaging session, I knew I was in the presence of something special.

* Read on for a qualification.
** If slightly accident prone.

At regular intervals during my marathon first encounter, I happened upon features I hadn’t expected to find in a 130 MB flight sim. G-force-induced blackouts, airframe creaking, crewable gun positions, openable canopies, a bomb sight view, a quick mission builder, slo-mo, functional barrage balloons, a photo mode, on-the-fly cockpit switching (you can even switch to enemy crates mid dogfight)… the pleasant surprises kept coming.

Only when I took some time out from lead spewing and crater making to investigate stalls and spins, did I experience anything resembling disappointment. Right now aircraft that exceed their critical angle of attack nose down but never seem to gyrate.

For a game so framerate friendly, so short of graphical frills, SoF is also uncommonly photogenic. Looking through the 60+ screenshots I snapped yesterday, there are dozens that would make worthy accompaniments to this articlette. In fact, I’m not sure I can resist an impromptu photography exhibition at this point…

Already great fun, Sky on Fire with spins, sortie sequences, and new maps, would be quite the thing. Fingers crossed, Vinh-san has big plans for this timely reminder that sims don’t need to melt video cards and monopolise hard drives to mesmerise.

7 Comments

  1. Definitely saved an utter gem to last there. Just as I’m finishing building my flight sim rig too!

    Incidentally, if you want to try the demo for a game you own, does logging in with a second separate Steam account work?

    • Did you find an answer to your Steam question?

      Firstly I’d try looking at store.steampowered.com in a web-browser, making sure you’re not logged-in, and clicking the ‘Download Demo’ button. Then select ‘Yes, Steam is installed’ – that should hopefully send the steamapp id and start downloading it in Steam.

      If that doesn’t work, you could try looking the demo up on steamdb.info and clicking the ‘Install’ button in the upper right. That should do the same: launch Steam and download the appropriately numbered app id.

      I’ve used the second method (SteamDB) to download some demos when they weren’t visible on the Steam page, eg. Talos Principle.

  2. Sky On Fire looks really promising for an indie sim. Just a shame it doesn’t have proper joystick support yet. Mouse controls just feel wrong for a flight sim. For now it just makes really want to revisit Battle of Britain II or maybe the old Il-2.

  3. Desert Strike is a blast from the past. I have a vague memory of it appearing on a PC Format coverdisc too, since I don’t think I ever bought the game? I do remember really enjoying that first level, though. Partly because helicopters are the coolest pieces of military hardware that exist, but also because I find games set in conflicts that happened in my own lifetime more compelling than historic stuff.

    While searching for this demo I came across another unfinished remake: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1710820/Cleared_Hot/

  4. Soldiers of Anarchy is a bit of a strange beast. I liked it, when I played it a couple of ages ago. It did a lot of things very well. Back then, it felt like going down a path that was not so well trodden. I liked the looting and trading system which forced me to reflect on my intended playstyle. The story was solid, though not overly innovative. The only gripe I had was the necessity to micromanage.

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