Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Digital Gaming Cornucopia: New and Old, Free and Not

Here in the US, this Thursday is the Thanksgiving holiday. Many lucky gamers get Thursday and Friday off for this holiday and some fraction of those may sneak a bit of extra gaming into their schedule. There is plenty of new stuff out there. I will be mixing old stuff too. In my list of holiday gaming ...

Scourge of War Chancellorsville is the latest release from Norbsoft Games (published by Matrix/Slitherine Games). Norbsoft's is the only 3D tactical engine where you can seriously war game scenarios from the American Civil War. The Chancellorsville package can be installed as a stand alone or as an additional module to the previously released Gettysburg game. In Chancellorsville you get a chance to fight no less than 15 individual engagements pitying the forces of Confederate General Lee -temporarily deprived of the operational initiative- and US Army General "Fighting" Joe Hooker -bearing a bold plan to force Lee to abandon his strong position on the Rappahannock River-.

This game continues a tradition of very high standards of historical accuracy and realism in weapons effects, movement and command. And it looks pretty damn fine too!

A review of Chancellorsville is in the works.

John Tiller Squad Battles World War I. This one I didn't expect to see any time soon: a squad/tactical level war game about World War I. I have been playing the grand-tactical/operational level war game France '14 and boy many things that I've seen there now make sense! Like how entangled, protracted and blood-thirsty tactical combat was -even in the so-called "maneuver phase", 1914- in WWI.

Look at those wavy front lines in the above screenshot ... Looks almost like close order fighting! Almost, though. The rifles the above soldiers are carrying pack quite a punch and within minutes, that whole French line will get demoralized and broken.

Trench warfare, rolling barrages, gas shelling, storm troopers ... All in the game. This game appears to be quite well researched and in the extensive designer notes there is quite an emphasis about it being almost like a study in the transition towards modern tactics. Gudmundsson's Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army is referred to frequently in the notes, we will see how the game stands against it.

Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog, by Black Hand Studios and published by Matrix/Slitherine Games. The good news: is still Close Combat. The bad news: is still Close Combat. Technically speaking, this is the first Close Combat in years that features new content (i.e. not a remake of the old very old ones). As with every release of a Close Combat game in the last few years, there is a lot of demands in forums and whatnot about how this or that was not changed after all these years ... Is the AI better? Has path finding been fixed? Do the tanks make sounds when they move? Can I have 3,345 troops on the map now?

In my humble opinion, the Close Combat game design is like a very cool old grandpa that finds himself unexpectedly alive and lucid after all these years. Somehow his adoring grandsons had fitted him with a new denture, made him drink a pint of Pepto-Bismol, drove him straight into the neighborhood's Hooters restaurant and ordered him a bucket of wings with extra-spicy habanero sauce.

It turns out that you can have a great evening with grandpa if you don't take him out of the house and let him tell you his stories in the context and at the pace he actually wants to. Close Combat feels now like a design  by committee project, which is no design at all or at best a complete disregard for it. We want bigger maps! There, tactical objectives in each of them now look like a Google map showing chinese restaurants in Little China, Manhattan. Well, not that bad, but you get the idea that the AI may have an issue or two looking sharp navigating through such a context-rich virtual landscape.  I could go on ... But I'm digressing.

But I don't want to throw stones at Panthers in the Fog. We have fog now, as shown in the above screenshot. A bit cumbersome to find your own boots on the ground with it, but so it is for the enemy. Mortars targeting has been reworked to more realistic standards (delays and accuracy). Guns and troops can be hitched and transported in vehicles. A new interface. A new stats system that tracks every single soldier in a battle group. And more stuff that will be reviewed soon.

I'd be a total liar if I don't add to this entry that I compulsively played this game the whole day with enthrallment and that I had as much fun as losses to the German AI.

And last but not least, the big void in my combat flight simulation schedule continues to be a high fidelity environment for a fast mover. Flaming Cliffs 3 is cool and I will continue flying it for the "insurgency" series. But I needed some button pushing, so I brought my Falcon BMS to update 3.

After a few test flights and landings I am a bit surprised of how many things I didn't forget! :)
You can't beat free! Go for it while it lasts!



Mike said...

Thanks for the quick bit on Panthers In the Fog.

$40 is alot for something that looks to be exactly the same as the last 10 years of game releases.

I'm not sure I want to throw my hard-earned cash away if I'm just going to leave the game in disgust that absolutely nothing has changed.

On both the Matrix and Slitherine forums there is discussion on the pathfinding issues that persist within the game - ie - ordering a tank to drive straight down a road will cause him to jeer left and right....same old bugs.

JC said...

Hi Mike.
Thanks for your comment. Review coming up mid December.