Ladies and gentlemen, having dished out the statuettes for Most Superfluous Subtitle, Least Essential DLC, Tiniest GUI Font, Most Disappointing Delay, Most Amusing Bug, Best Physics, Stealthiest History Teacher etc. it’s finally time for me to reveal the winner of this evening’s premier award. Tally-Ho Corner’s Game of the Year for 2023 is…
Gunner, HEAT, PC!!
As usual, this wasn’t an easy decision to make. This time yesterday, delights like The Troop, Derail Valley, and Second Front were still in the running. It was only after one half of The Committee (Roman) reminded the other half of The Committee (myself) how much pleasure could be wrung from unassuming missions such as ‘Crossroads Screen’, that Radian’s Early Access tank sim established a clear lead.
One of over sixty* ‘instant action’ outings included in the still-evolving GHPC (£24), the unpromisingly titled Crossroads Screen ranks amongst my favourite tank sim scenarios ever. Pretty remarkable considering it’s as hard as nails, fairly predictable, and doesn’t actually provide a bona fide ‘tank’ as a mount.
* Some of the sixty can be played from both sides and have night variants
Using a platoon of four Bradley IFVs backed by limited arty and air support, the player is expected to slay over a dozen Warsaw Pact AFVs intent on moving past the titular road junction. Dominated by BMPs and T-55s – foes quite capable of turning an M2 into an Mber with a single shot – the advancing force arrives in waves.
Its most potent assets are a trio of T-72s and a brace of Hind gunships – war machines that eat Bradleys for breakfast given half a chance.
Long odds, brutal enemy arty, and restless targets, all-but guarantee your first few attempts at this brow-beader will end in failure. Unless you’re a preternaturally gifted gunner, and damn lucky, hyper-vigilance and reliance on the earthen berms invitingly clustered around the crossroads, simply isn’t going to cut it.
Most armchair armour harmers will need to think like wargamers, and plunder personal playbooks built-up over decades of tank simming to have any chance of prevailing. Even when you know what to expect, without thoughtful use of cover, movement, smoke, off-map assets, and vehicle switching (platoon members can be remotely controlled with formation orders, or individually operated using first- or third person views ) victories are hard to come by.
One of the things that makes GHPC so special to me is that it’s possible to lose a mission like Crossroads Screen numerous times (I think I finally bested it on my tenth attempt and have played it many times since) without that malodorous bugbear Frustration or its dead-eyed sibling Boredom raising their ugly heads.
Heaven knows how many Cold War angry abodes I’ve trashed during the past year, but I still get a buzz every time I bag one in this sim. Kills with the Bradley are particularly satisfying because its two main weapons – the Bushmaster and the TOW – are so different from each other, and contrast so starkly with the primary death dealers fitted to the game’s MBTs (the M1 Abrams, M60, T-72 and T-55).
You’d need to be hewn from granite not to feel savage delight when a chain gun burst festoons a foe with fatal fireworks, or to remain completely calm while guiding a TOW missile to a tank busy rotating its turret in your direction.
Even hoverers can be clobbered with a mouse-steered “Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided” munition. It’s not uncommon when attempting to down an Mi-24 with a TOW to see a similar weapon whizzing in your direction. Now and again both missiles score hits and you’re left pondering the folly of your target fixation.
I love that after maybe twenty playthroughs not only am I still discovering new tactics – new ambush spots – in Crossroads Screen, I’m seeing things I’ve never seen before. In one of my latest attempts, a T-55 made it to the crossroads after slipping past my ambush position. I backtracked surprised my one remaining backstop – an M2 stationed in a wood above the junction – hadn’t dealt with the interloper. What had gone wrong? I got my answer as I poured optimistic 25mm chain gun fire into the rear of said interloper. From stage right a blazing ‘zombie’ Bradley rolled slowly into view.
Substance and replayability are two aspects of the GHPC success story, beautifully gauged complexity and a generous helping of grit are two others. I can’t think of many combat sims that simplify so adroitly. Panzer Elite SE, Steel Fury, Steel Armor, Iron Warriors… all great games, but they feel opaque… unwelcoming, compared to something this ergonomic. Apart from occasional excursions to the ‘I’ key to change reticle colour, my WASD hand is never compelled to leave its resting place.
Communicating the ghastly bottom line of armoured combat – horribly mutilated young men – is something devs have been understandably reluctant to do in the past. Clever Radian manage to do it without shedding a drop of ersatz blood or removing a single polygonal limb. In their own way, GHPC’s annotated post-aggro x-ray views are as grisly as Half Sword screenshots.
The game’s top-notch vocals inject truth and emotion into proceedings too. When you’re sitting in the gunner’s seat engaging something formidable, hostile, and alerted, your invisible crewmates provide regular audible reminders of what’s at stake in real-life armour duels. Every excited/alarmed “Again! Again! Again!”, “He’s looking right at us!”, or “Kill the fucker!” uttered by a comrade ramps up the drama exponentially.
The thunderous CAS and arty sound effects also deserve praise.
Night missions can be incredibly atmospheric. Lumbered with authentically modelled Eighties night vision and thermal optics kit which, like a host of other systems on the game’s AFVs, is susceptible to damage, you sometimes find yourself blinded by tank spotlights or firing at fuzzy muzzle flashes. Lose NV capability or have it taken away by a sadistic scenario-smith, and suddenly that off-map mortar battery willing to fire parachute flares at the locations you mark on the map, becomes your best friend.
CAS, smoke generation, significant engine improvements, new steeds and missions… GHPC came on in leaps and bounds last year. Even if Radian don’t get around to adding infantry, West German AFVs, and destructible scenery, (fences, walls, and utility poles are incorporeal right now, and vehicles don’t leave tracks) or sort out the game’s rare LoS/LoF and AI pathfinding issues during the next twelve months, Tally-Ho Corner’s favourite game of 2023 is sure to see lots of action in my Bradley-infested neck-of-the-woods this year.