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 2024 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 seventh – are my attempt to recreate the experience offered by ye olde periodical platters. Carefully curated mixtures of the old and new, the obscure and the 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.

Headquarters: World War II

Could Headquarters: World War II do for Slitherine’s bottom line what Panzer Corps 2 did? On the evidence of this Sturmtiger-solid demo, quite possibly! Realising that the almost perfect Battle Academy 2 was long overdue a follow-up, the savvy Surreyites have joined forces with experienced Ukrainian studio Starni Games to create a spiritual sequel.

Like BA2, HQWW2 employs squares rather than hexes, and manages to be both detailed and fast moving. Realism relishers get meaningful morale, granular damage, penetration algorithms that factor in armour angle as well as thickness, and spotting mechanics that punish cocksure, unescorted tanks. The less fussy aren’t forced to wade through complicated turn structuring or an obtuse interface. Everyone’s happy!

Well, almost everyone. Ignatius, my shoulder-mounted moan gnome, let out regular sighs as I worked my way though the short tutorial and the main attraction – a mission in which you’re tasked with retaking a Normandy village from fresh-off-the-beach British forces. The cause of his consternation? Legibility. With some justification, he argues that HQWW2 battlefields are much harder to parse than BA2’s because of unnecessarily elaborate scenery and “ridiculously inconspicuous” unit icons.

1971: Indian Naval Front

The 1971: Indian Naval Front demo invites us to vandalise an unusual target – Cox’s Bazaar airport – with a rarely ludologised warbird – a Bréguet 1050 Alizé. What a pity the thematic novelty goes hand-in-hand with flawed flight modelling, mediocre visuals, suspect QA, and questionable sortie design. My first trip to East Pakistan ended abruptly when I ran out of time , my second when, climbing happily at “49kmph” and 1500 feet, I had the audacity to drop a bomb. The munition plunged for a few seconds before triggering an inexplicable ‘KILLED IN ACTION’ game over.

Relentless Frontier

There were two contenders for this disc’s retro FPS slot. After testing both the Caesar’s Revenge and the Relentless Frontier trial I decided roaming Ross 128-b was more interesting than roaming Rome 44 BC, and shooting up space lice was more satisfying than slicing up sandal wearers. The RF demo features one of my FPS pet hates, a spot where the player must perform a lightning-quick ‘crouch-slide’ in order to progress, but get past this early inverted hurdle, and you’re amply rewarded.

Strewn with ominous corpses and invaluable omnifuel containers (omnifuel can be converted into health, armour, or ammo) and lit by weedy roof rifts and glowing computer screens, the base where your adventure begins isn’t short of atmosphere. Occasional radio messages and distant weapon reports indicate that you’re not the only one fighting for your life against alien invaders that, early on, mostly consist of headcrabby acid-spitters and larger, heavily armoured quadrupeds.

Peaks of Yore

I can’t see 19th Century peakbagging sim Peaks of Yore (£16) replacing New Heights as my clambering game of preference, however its four-climb taster is sufficiently diverting to secure a spot on demo disc #7. I really struggled to conquer Greenhorn’s Top, the first challenge, until I found and filled the ‘toggle climb’ tickbox in the options. Unless you play with this ticked, you must hold down mouse buttons to maintain grip, a fact I forgot with alarming regularity. The full version of PoY features novelties such as bivouacking, rockfalls, and mountain critters.

Train Planet

Fishing Planet LLC, the outfit behind Steam’s most popular angling sim, believe they have the necessary expertise and drive to elbow their way into the seriously crowded train sim sector. The (mostly) impressive Unity-based Train Planet beta suggests their confidence is well placed. Hauling trains along the Cologne – Aachen main line with a BR 218 diesel or BR 186 electric loco, there’s plenty of time to admire this WIP’s nicely sculpted and lit clickable cabs, detailed linesides, and well organised GUI and dynamic tuition. The audio is serviceable, the cab sway spot on. If it wasn’t for the odd graphical glitch (see the buffer beam area in the image below), crash, and the complete (?) lack of AI traffic, all would be rosy.

The beta includes around twenty scenarios, most of which must be unlocked with an in-sim currency earned through completed activities and misdemeanour-free driving. The same currency also buys loco upgrades. I was a little sceptical about ride pimping at first, but, in some areas at least, the purchasable improvements do seem to have historical roots. The long-lived 218s, for instance, have undergone several engine upgrades during their fifty-year careers.

Death of the Reprobate

It took the Death of the Reprobate demo approximately fifteen seconds to put a grin on my mug. Intrigued by the ‘Introduce Bumblebee’ option on the main menu I chose to introduce the bumblebee and was smiling like a sandboy moments later. Like its unmissable predecessors, Four Last Things and The Procession To Calvary, DotR is a gloriously silly/blasphemous point-and-click adventure set in a world lovingly fabricated from Renaissance paintings. There’s tough but logical multi-stage puzzles, wonderful animations, laugh-out-loud dialogue, dashes of philosophy, memorable characters, and lovely music to boot. If games awards weren’t a complete racket, creator Joe Richardson would have a mantelpiece groaning with the things by now.

#DRIVE Rally

Art of Rally, Rush Rally Origins, Rush Rally 3… I’ve acquired several light rally games in recent years, but none of them let me hurtle along narrow, winding rural roads while a sardonic Arnold Schwarzenegger-soundalike critiques my driving from the passenger seat. The amusing #DRIVE Rally demo co-driver is sometimes so busy commenting he forgets to share his pacenotes, but apart from this minor complaint, Pixel Perfect Dude’s offering is damn near perfect.

If you find most sim rally steeds too lairy, and most sim rally stages too punishing, this is definitely one to try. The 4WD, 5-speed manual or automatic (your choice) ‘Doggo RS’ pictured above is as sure-footed as a wall lizard, and unforgiving roadside ditches, boulders, and logpiles are rare in ‘Holzberg’, Germany.

Rugby League Riot

The online Rugby League Riot demo urgently needs a beginner-friendly half-speed option. Kiwi developer Morkz DeLorean looks to have done a great job of turning rugby’s least fashionable but most fluent form into a top-down keyboard-controlled solo game, but right now a complicated control system and uncustomisable pace makes learning the ropes difficult and dispiriting.

ΔV: Rings of Saturn

I’ve been meaning to try this well-received 21st Century take on Asteroids for a while. Videos of the game’s top-down mining vessels manoeuvring with multiple OMS-style rocket pods, and passages like this in the Steam blurb… “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Thrusters eject gas that heats up and pushes away objects” hinted that ΔV: Rings of Saturn would play like an unholy cross between TerraFire and Narrowboat Simulator. Having tried the demo, I now realise a helpful autopilot means you don’t need to be all that dexterous to zap asteroids and gather their lucrative contents.

Although, with AP assistance, mining itself is a mite mechanical, colliding with twirling rocks while searching and exiting Saturn’s granular halo is eminently possible. I believe it was one too many prangs that FUBARed my nuclear reactor during my first foray (or it might have been an imperfect understanding of how core cooling works). I was probably lucky to get home, but get home I did, and with sufficient ore swilling about* in my ship’s stomach-like hold to hire crew and do some upgrade shopping.

* Weirdly, ore isn’t secured after collection; careless maneuvering can lead to it escaping when your ship’s bow doors are opened.

Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg

There’s no mention of it on its Steam page, but new Steam arrival Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg boasts an excellent three-scenario demo. Counterattack at Lutrebois, A December Morning, and Battle for Chaumont are all gripping Battle of the Bulge engagements. In the first two missions you’re asked to eject out-of-steam Germans from forest-hemmed Ardennes hamlets with a selection of typical late-war US ETO units (Rifle squads, mortar and MG teams, Shermans, Greyhounds etc.). In the third, BFC expect you to trade M4s for StuGs and Jagdpanzer IVs, and GIs for frozen Fallschirmjäger and Volkgrenadiers, and try a spot of counterattacking.

Although series newcomers may find the pdf-reliant tutorial, idiosyncratic camera controls, and profusion of order types, a tad off-putting initially, the plausibility and drama of the events unfolding either seamlessly or via 60-second-long WEGO replays*, should quell the urge to jump ship. There are good reasons why CM is regarded by many grogs as the king of tactical wargames, and this compelling demo showcases many of them.

* Second-gen CM supports both real-time and WEGO play


  1. Only one comment? I appreciated the article, even if others are reluctant to admit it.

    ΔV is one I’ve looked at in the past but it has to compete with top-down space mining sims that also embrace the whole Elite explore/trade/fight gameplay too, and I’d rather play them. Currently monitoring Starcom in early access, and Endless Sky just had a new release I’d like to find time to try.

    I am however regrettably going to have to express confusion regarding Rugby League Riot. Not the unfortunate choice of League rather than real rugby, not that of all people it’s a New Zealander who made this choice, but the rather contentious description of Rugby League as the ‘most fluent form’ of the game.

    They stop playing every single tackle! There’s no fluidity at all! Sigh.

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