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 realism relishers and old fogies? Read a 3×3. Prior to penning one of these articles I’ll play three tempting titles for at least 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.
I encounter them regularly when out walking in the unusually militarised corner of GB I call home. Sometimes they are alone, sometimes in pairs or larger groups. Often they carry bulging Bergens on their backs. Maps in hand, they seek sheets of plastic-sleeved paper affixed to trees and bushes in out-of-the-way spots. Each sheet has a different word, number, or image printed on it that must be recorded as proof of a visit. One exercise might involve collecting a sequence of beer names – Heineken, Guinness, Stella Artois etc. Another might require the handing over of a list of Russian AFV types on return to base.
Compared to players of Early Access LANDNAV (£21), my local NAVEXers have it dead easy. Yes, they have to brave actual inclement weather and bear real burdens, but because they wander rural terrain crisscrossed by tracks and paths, and dotted with fields and patches of woodland, their task – navigating a cross-country course using nothing but a map, compass, set square, pace counter, stopwatch, and a set of ‘Control Point’ coordinates – is far less intimidating.
What makes the virtual exercises in LANDNAV so demanding at present is the sim’s sole environment. Apart from a peripheral lake and river, and a couple of clearings and radio masts, the 16 km² chunk of the ‘Maccoy Military Reservation’ that developer A. Javor provides is devoid of useful landmarks. Unless you’re a dab-hand at reading contours and dead reckoning – a nav technique that’s outlined but not actively taught by the software – you’re probably going to spend a lot of time wandering around places like this…
Fortunately, being lost in LANDNAV isn’t a wholly unpleasant experience. Turn a twig-poked eye to the absent woodland critters, and the forest furnished by this Unreal-powered offering is darn convincing. The dense and detailed vegetation isn’t just for show either. Plunge into undergrowth instead of going around it, and your rate of progress slows dramatically. Given the impact of bushes on MPH, I was a mite surprised by the ease with which my avatar scaled steep slopes.
Exercises begin with a preparation phase during which you plot a string of eight-digit Control Point co-ordinates onto your map and decide on a route linking those CPs that, ideally, will be quick and easy to follow. As in orienteering, often the most direct route between two points isn’t the wisest. Generally it pays to build ‘attack points’, ‘handrails’, and ‘backstops’ into your plans rather than relying wholly on compass, set square, and pace counter.
Once the sim gains the Italian Dolomites environment shown in several of the Steam screenshots and a “practice zone map for newcomers” its appeal to non-professional users should increase exponentially. Until then the inexperienced and curious might be better off scratching NAVEX itches with something like Orienteering Simulator (free and simple), Catching Features ($40, versatile, elderly), or Virtual-O (£35, attractive, EA but seemingly abandoned) and leaving the promising LANDNAV to those either already in the military or seriously contemplating it as a career.
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I wonder if I can persuade Bill Talpur to participate in a THC interview. Based in Hyderabad, Pakistan, this talented chap has single-handedly crafted a Commandos homage, that, judging by the four hours I’ve spent in its company thus far, is worth far more than its budget price tag (£13) suggests.
Having pondered the screenshots, trailer, and feature list before diving in, I was aware I wasn’t going to get Pyro-quality map centrepieces. There are no lovingly rendered ice-bound destroyers, Burmese bridges, Buddhist temples, Pacific islands, or Saxony schlosses in the demo-endowed Red Glare. The eight story missions take place on exclusively (?) South American maps* that lack the eye-catching landmarks that made Commandos 2 screenshots so easy to place, and will, fingers-crossed, help ensure Commandos: Origins shines.
* You are culling displaced Nazis working on some dastardly secret project.
To compensate for this deficiency, Bill has made his fully-rotatable levels flippin’ big. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it ended up taking me eight hours to do what needs to be done in mission #1. Between me and disabling the German reinforcements system, stealing the documents from the officer’s tent, and destroying the mysterious minerals the Hitlerites are mining, there are still perhaps fifty, cunningly sited and far-from-stupid foes.
RG, like its
torturous time-consuming touchstone, can’t be rushed. Go loud, get cocky or over-ambitious, and usually, before you know it, alarms are blaring, operatives are bleeding, and you are reaching for the F8 key. One of the two commandos active in the opener carries a handy silenced pistol and a sniper rifle, but as ammo for these weapons is scarce, most of the corpses I’ve left in my wake thus far sport stab wounds or signs of strangulation.
Covert killing and stealthy movement is more practical during a mission’s night phases (the game’s day-night cycle are greatly accelerated, obviously). After dark goons not equipped with torches can’t see as far and are less likely to detect footprints and blood trails. Colour-coded vision cones warn you when things are about to go pear-shaped. As in Mimimi’s creations, there’s usually a second or two to dart back into cover or adjust a route before your cover is irrevocably blown and nosy, trigger-happy hostiles come running.
In RG nicotine addiction is just as dangerous as it was in Commandos. While not all forms of enemy can be lured away from posts and patrol routes by a tossed packet of smokes, the most common type will bee-line for Unlucky Strikes. Thrown stones can also help dismantle the fiendishly interlaced German defences.
I’ve yet to encounter the tanks and guard dogs mentioned in the load screen tips, or meet three of the commandos visible in released screenshots. Smoke grenades, mantraps, SMGs, poison syringes… the other operatives don’t appear to bring anything new to the genre, however if they’re as satisfying to choreograph and as nicely animated and voiced as William Egan and Walter Handley, that conservatism shouldn’t matter much.
Red Glare launched on Jan 25 with a couple of mildly disappointing mechanical shortcomings. One of those, the lack of a placeable show-me-who’s-looking-at-this-spot indicator, is already history, and Bill is working on addressing the other, the absence of a tactical pause/action coordination tool. Does the creator of this commendable Commandos clone have more ambitious plans? Hopefully, that question along with others will be answered in THC’s next interview.
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Roman’s main beef with Early Access Sledders (£21) is the lack of tweed in the outfits menu, Ignatius wants weaponised snowmobiles, and I wouldn’t say no to more interesting maps, better audio, and a few structured alternatives to freeriding. However, we all agree that tearing about in the game’s simmed skidoos is already a hoot.
Hour #1 was, it has to be said, a tad frustrating. Until you grasp that you steer a speeding snow scooter by shifting your weight rather than turning the handlebars, and get used to their tendency to wheelie when over-revved, and flop onto their flanks at low velocity, we struggled to have fun.
Happily, somewhere around the sixty minute mark, something clicked. Having acquired the requisite throttle and brake delicacy, shunned the A and D keys, and realised that slopes and bumps could be used to aid sluggish, cursor-coaxed turning, the spells between spills and tree prangs quickly lengthened.
Fast forward another hour, and the idiotic grinning had begun in earnest. There we were hurtling through woods like Deathchase doyens and plunging from cliffs with complete confidence
Well, almost complete confidence.
Crashes, it has to be said, could and should be more entertaining. Right now, because there are no replays, and thrown riders don’t ragdoll, mistakes produce precious little dopamine. A sadistic part of me wants to see my avatar rolling down slopes and wrapped around fir trees, but instead, more often than not he just plops into a nearby snowdrift like a moulded plastic figure.
There are thirty snowmobile types to choose from, but without performance graphs it’s somewhat tricky for the novice to sort the pussycats from the snow leopards. Disappointingly dainty/similar engine sounds suggests few of the machines boast sound effects derived from field recordings.
It’s good to read that Hanki Games intend to model compacted snow in addition to the deep powder currently simmed. Some surface variety and additional landmarks (chalets, ski-lifts, log-piles, boulders…) would add character to three maps – ‘Woodland’, ‘Hills’, and ‘Mountains’ – in need of visit-worthy distinguishing features.
Time trialling isn’t mentioned on Hanki’s 2024 roadmap which is a trifle odd. Given a choice between “progressive gameplay”, “physics fine-tuning” “unlockable items”, “different multiplayer modes.” (all in the pipeline) and the opportunity to hurtle around a dozen or so backwoods courses against the clock, I’d choose the latter without a second thought. Unusual steeds, pleasing physics, and spacious playgrounds mean it’s likely to be several weeks before I tire of arsing about aimlessly in Sledders, but the day will probably come.