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Oliver Clare

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Codename Panzers: Cold War

Now with 100 per cent less Panzers!

Men of War

Company of Heroes has company.

ArmA 2

Co-operation Flashpoint.

GTR: Evolution

Change is good.

Democracy 2

Education. Education. Tax cuts.

Beware - this glitz-free government sim from lone coder Cliff Harris may alter the way you think about politics. This morning I started the day the way I always start the day - in the company of the Today programme's tireless truth-seekers. The first story to crawl inside my earhole concerned a plan Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has devised to give free English lessons to vulnerable immigrants. Instantly, I found myself visualising the policy through the filter of Democracy 2. There was the 'Free English Lessons' icon nestling among the other welfare policies. There, emanating from it, was a red dotted line ending at the 'patriot' vote and a green dotted one ending at the 'liberal' vote.

Something happened to me last night that hasn't happened for around 25 years. No, not that. (It's only been 138 days since that last happened.) No, last night I was shot down in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Rail Simulator

We express an opinion.

For the past twenty years answering the question "What game would you recommend to someone desperate to drive a steam train on the old Somerset & Dorset railway has been dead easy. Evening Star by Hewson Consultants. Now, thanks to the arrival of Rail Simulator, confusion reigns. What's urgently needed is one of those old-fashioned head-to-head comparison reviews. You know the sort of thing - categorised analysis, parallel pics, too many scores...

A few years ago I came this close to joining the army. I'd passed the medical and the psychometric test and was minutes away from signing on the dotted line when the subject of uniforms came up. I happened to mention that the Mk6 helmet really didn't suit me and that I was planning to wear a camo-pattern Trilby, or one of those Prussian jobs with the spike on top, instead. When the aghast sergeant pointed out that bespoke millinery was strictly forbidden I realised I'd picked the wrong career.

RACE 07

Ethnographers will be disappointed.

The RACE 07 review code arrived on the same day Team Fortress 2 entered my life. Unfortunate timing. I mean, who in their right mind would choose to drive a simulated Honda Accord round and round Anderstorp when they could be erecting sentry guns, beating medics to pulp with baseball bats, and plunging daggers into the backs of waddling heavies?

Global Conflicts: Palestine

If it bleeds, it leads.

You can keep your demon-lords, your sinister schoolgirls, and your tentacled Cthulhoid abominations. None of them are half as chilling as a 15-year-old Palestinian lad with an unhealthy interest in martyr cards ("They are like your Pokemon trading cards"), Paradise, and Israeli café culture.

Enemy Engaged 2

See you later Alligator.

These days only dreamers, masochists, and millionaires build combat flight sims from scratch. Everyone else takes an ageing classic, tarts it up, maybe adding a new campaign or two, then re-releases it. Falcon 4.0 and Rowan's Battle of Britain have both been hoiked out of retirement, re-sprayed, and resold. Now it's Enemy Engaged: Comanche Versus Hokum's turn.

Ship Simulator 2008

Taste the salt, hear the gulls, smell the vomit.

Sit down; this might come as a bit of shock. You know those big rusty things with the pointy fronts and the funnels and the anchors and the little round windows? Well, according to VSTEP - the creators of this atmospheric maritime sim - not all of them are crewed by terrorists and gangsters, or packed to the gunwales with dirty-bombs, guns or drugs. Apparently some have holds stuffed with completely innocent cargoes (bananas, disposable nappies, tropical hardwood, mercury-laced industrial waste...) and ply the oceans on totally legitimate business.

Sean O'Connor's Windows Games

Garage game garage sale.

Sean O'Connor has spent the last fifteen years making the PC strategy games Sean O'Connor wants to make. For GBP 26 he will sell you the fruits of his labour - a bundle of nine different titles that play a whole lot better than they look.

Kudos: Rock Legend

Clicks, drags, and rock 'n' roll.

Miranda Veranda are having some problems at the moment. After a string of sell-out gigs frontman/songwriter/manager Shiloh Manners (that's me) stupidly spent a large chunk of the band's funds on merchandise. The splurge on t-shirts, sweatshirts, and posters left enough cash in the kitty to line-up a couple more dates (perfect opportunities for shifting the aforementioned souvenirs) but, crucially, not enough to rent a decent rehearsal space, or buy depressive bassist Ray the fancy MegaBass he'd been wanting for ages.

Peacemaker

Feud for thought.

As I sit here writing this, the streets of Tel Aviv are filled with thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands - of people calling for the resignation of bungling war leader Ehud Olmert. By recent Anglo-American standards his mistakes were minor yet they still want shot of him. Demanding folk the Israelis, as you'll find out if you choose to play as their PM in this honest, harrowing, but ultimately hopeful simulation of Israeli-Palestinian hatchet-burying.

Bookworm Adventures

The lexicon of love.

If PopCap's faintly sinister 'player profile' page is to be believed, playing its games on a regular basis will improve your reflexes, sight and memory, and help you cope with stress, autism, attention deficit disorder, multiple sclerosis and addiction. I'm not in a position to verify any of these claims but - and this might be pure coincidence - I have noticed that my athlete's foot seems a little better and my piles slightly less itchy since I started playing the brilliant Bookworm Adventures.

Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific

Howling gales explained.

Before we start, it's only right I declare a small vested interest in this submarine game. For the record, I was the one that came-up with the 'Wolves of the Pacific' part of the title. Since 2000 I've been helping Ubisoft name all of their simulations. Silent Hunter 2: Mongooses of the Atlantic was one of mine. IL-2: Crocodiles of the Clouds, that was another. Right now it looks like the new Oleg Maddox WW2 flight sim will leave the hangar as Battle of Britain: Sky Voles versus Air Rhinos thanks to me.

Theatre of War

The worst case of stage-fright in RTS history

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. isn't the only long-awaited East European traveller arriving this Spring. Theatre of War - a real-time WW2 tactics title that first turned heads back in 2002 - should be with us sometime in April. For the last few days I've been sat in a ruined church tower with a pair of binoculars spying on the preview code. This is what I've observed so far...

Space Empires V

Like Triton, it's big, icy and short of atmosphere.

If you're looking for the sort of review that compares Space Empires V to Space Empires IV then the following is going to disappoint (This is my first foray into the series). If, on the other hand, you're looking for the sort of review that compares an ambitious space colonisation strategy game to a dead badger and mentions gnat testicles and solid gold hats then you're in luck.

Armed Assault

Bring your own bodybag.

7.30AM. A secluded clearing a few clicks inland of South Sahrani's coastal highway. A man heavily laden with weaponry moves from the zebra-stripe shadows of the spruce forest to a beat-up pick-up truck parked in the centre of the clearing. He gets in and drives away.

Bombarding Bohemia

As in, Interactive. As in, with Armed Assault questions.

When publisher Codemasters and developer Bohemia Interactive split, BI got the Le Creuset saucepans, the ride-on mower, the foot spa and the dog, but not the right to use the name of their stalwart soldier sim Operation Flashpoint in future games. Unperturbed, the studio has gone and made a sequel anyway.

UFO: Afterlight

Beagle 2 never stood a chance.

Here's a daft hypothetical question for you. If, for the rest of the year, you could only play games made in one country, and that country couldn't be one of the big four (America, Japan, Canada, and the UK) which nation would you choose? Being a lover of strategy and simulations, Russia's pretty tempting (1C:Maddox, Eagle Dynamics, Nival...) as is Sweden (home to Simbin, DICE and Paradox). Ultimately though, I think I'd probably have to plump for the Czech Republic. Eleven months of nothing but Operation Flashpoint/Armed Assault, Hidden & Dangerous 2, Mafia, and Altar's UFO series would be rather agreeable I reckon.

Priceless Victories

Five freeware strategy games too good to miss.

Rent on an average single bedroom home, £650 a month. Average UK electricity bill, £383 a year. Petrol, 90p a litre. A decent single malt, £25 a bottle. Pickled onion Monster Munch, 38p a packet... With the cost of life's bare necessities getting sillier every year, it's good to know there's still one basic need that can be met for nothing. If you crave quality strategy games, but hate playing them while bull-necked bailiffs beat noisy tattoos on your front door, freeware like the following is a godsend.

Birth of America

The Yanks are revolting.

Britain has a great way of dealing with the less glorious episodes in its colourful past - it doesn't talk about them. Ask the average Brit to name a conflict that ended in defeat for the UK and chances are they'll struggle to come up with one. I'd probably struggle too if it wasn't for the fact I'd just spent a pleasant and highly educational week in the company of American War of Independence wargame Birth of America.

Zoo Tycoon 2: Zookeeper Edition

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

My name is Isobel. On Saturday I went to the zoo with my Daddy and Liam who is my brother. I don't think Daddy really wanted to go but he smiled a lot when he was there.

Faces of War

Platoon of Heroes.

Looking at the rows of gleaming medals pinned to the chest of Company of Heroes by the world's game critics, you'd think it won WW2 (the RTS) single-handedly. It didn't. Not quite, anyway. Most of CoH's most striking features first surfaced in a Russian strategy game released over two years ago. Soldiers: Heroes of World War II was the very first real-time tactics title to combine spectacular physics, great graphics, and a good-sized dollop of WW2 realism. Only a lack of polish and presentational panache kept its gong tally low.

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