Red Baron fans, get ready for 3D! Yep, Sierra's venerable WWI flight sim has been revamped with Voodoo and Voodoo2 support, and it's itching for your hard-disk space. A sneak peek revealed new cockpits, planes, smoke, haze, and a host of 3Dfx graphics tricks. Fly as a pilot for France, Britain, America, or Germany and rise through the ranks to become top ace, where your actions may affect the outcome of the war. Choose from one of 22 planes, contend with a mission generator that pumps out real situations faced by the pilots of WWI, and dogfight on the Internet utilizing the free multiplay on World Opponent Network (up to 22 players simultaneously). If you just bought Red Baron II a few months ago, fear not--you get a 100 percent rebate when you purchase Red Baron 3D, or you can download the "Super Patch" off the Web. Watch your six and don't forget your barf bag ....
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With at least five major games released in the past year (and with more to come), the field of World War I flight simulators is suddenly rather crowded. There are several reasons for this spurt of popularity, including the mystique which now surrounds the flying aces of that era, the joystick-and-gunsight simplicity of the flying machines, and the ability of today's computer graphics to put game players into the near-equivalent of their own private movie.
Red Baron, from Dynamix, is one of the best WWI flight simulators we've seen. Not so long ago, flight simulators came in only two categories: "easy" (with compromises in realism), and "hard" (with realism purchased at the cost of steep learning curves, complex controls, and instructions that seemed to demand a degree in aeronautics).
Red Baron, by contrast, is both, with many fine gradations in between. Dynamix designed Red Baron so you can jump right in and fly exciting missions within minutes of loading the game. Later, as your expertise and confidence increase, you can gradually add new elements of realism. Every variable element of every mission can be adjusted from novice to expert level.
You can start by adding realistic weather - the screen turns gray when you fly into clouds, and flares blindingly if you fly toward the sun. Then you can graduate to realistic machine guns that frequently jam and carburetors that sometimes freeze at high altitudes. The ultimate challenge is to opt for realistic flying characteristics, which means your animated Spads and Fokkers will fly just as quirkily as the real things. If you forget which era you're flying in and plunge your aircraft into a steep power dive, you might even tear off your wings.
Red Baron offers a wide variety of single missions. (Try the balloon-busting patrols to see plenty of fireworks.) But most players will want to try "career mode," which allows you to enlist in either the British Royal Flying Corps or Germany's Imperial Air Service. Once enlisted, you fly missions until either your luck runs out (a fairly common occurrence) or the war ends. You may join up early in the war, when the aircraft were flimsy indeed, or later on, when both the machines and the tactics had become fairly sophisticated.
For the ultimate challenge, however, nothing beats a man-toman duel with one of the simulated historical aces. You can fight the Red Baron, or the young Hermann Goering, or one of the deadly Allied aces, such as Georges Guynemer. The instructions offer a wealth of tactical advice, including sketches of the various aircraft and Zeppelins, complete with diagrams showing the arcs of fire of their machine guns and the safest angles of attack.
Among the many thoughtful features in Red Baron is a flight recorder. Not only can you "videotape" any mission and r epl ay it from virtually any angle you noose, but you can also stop the tape and jump back into the mission at any point. It's fun, but it's also a valuable learning tool. You can try different maneuvers in varying situations just to see what happens.
Both the graphics and the sound are state-of-the-art. Tracers, trenches, cloud banks, and flak bursts are all rendered with gratifying realism. The sense of soaring through a vast and dangerous void, alone and with only primitive instrumentation, is quite exhilarating. Particular care has gone into creating an illusion of three-dimensionality.
If you have an optional sound board (.Red Baron supports no fewer than five), you'll enjoy the extra realism of engine noises, machine-gun fire, the sharp "Spang!" of enemy bullets shattering one of your wing struts, and the metallic thump as your own bursts strike an enemy plane. There's also a truly stirring sequence of background music that accompanies the game's handsome opening credits.
Dynamix has provided excellent instructions in a thick reference book that's ring-bound, so you can fold it flat without damaging it. The book is crammed with rare photos, detailed historical background, tactical doctrine,and lovely color plates of the major types of aircraft you'll encounter. Red Baron has obviously been produced with the greatest care and imagination. You can dabble with it, flying a mission or two when you have a few moments to spare, or get utterly involved in a long career as an ace. Either way, Red Baron is one of the best flight-combat games to come along in many a season.