A classic, World War I flight simulator, Red Baron threw you into the whirling frenzy of the dogfight. Along with the venerable Jet Fighter, this was one of the first flight simulators I played. Yes, its graphics were rudimentary at best, there was no air-ground combat and, by modern standards, the flight-models were ridiculously simplified (this is a DOS-era game we’re talking about, after all), but it got so many things right.
Firstly, the scope. The campaign mode let you choose which side, and when in the conflict you wanted to commence (later dates gave access to more advanced, less cumbersome planes). Missions ranged from escort duty and interceptions, to strafing enemy balloons and stopping Zepplin raids. Enemy aces could challenge you to one-on-one combat (and cheat, some will bring along buddies). It even had an autopilot and time-compression feature so you could skip all the boring flying there and back business and jump straight to the combat. You could end the war as an ace decorated with numerous shiny medals and receive multiple promotions, or end up languishing in a POW camp.
Secondly, even with simplistic flight-models, air combat was still exhilarating. Barrel-rolls, Immelmann turns and half-loops were the order of the day, as you desperately tried to line up a shot whilst keeping your enemy off your tail. Letting your guns overheat would result in them jamming. Put a Nieuport 17 into too fast a dive, and wings would snap off. Mishandle that Sopwith Camel and you could expect it to go into a lethal and nearly irrecoverable spin. Try to take on that Albatros D.III with an Airco DH4 and unless you’re really good, it’s game over.
Along with a custom mission builder which let you design your own scenarios, there were also historical re-enactments. These gave you information on the lead-up to particularly notable dogfights, and then challenged you to complete them. The most memorable recreated the defeat of Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron himself, and launched with his iconic red triplane popping up into your sights – miss this one easy shot, and you were then into a dogfight with the toughest AI opponent in one of the most maneuverable planes. You were unlikely to survive.
Red Baron II (renamed Red Baron 3D when a patched version was released) massively expanded the game, taking all the good features of the original and improving upon them. Far better graphics and better flight models were included, the ground could now be attacked (and attack you). If you became an ace, you could customise your plane’s paint-job. The campaign dynamically tracked not only your squadron, but all the squadrons being simulated.
One feature of both games which should not go unmentioned was the wealth of supplementary information bundled with both games. Along with historical maps and reference cards (giving you quick references to planes and their strengths and weaknesses) were the manuals. Each game’s manual ran for over 210 pages, with the vast bulk of that given over to the history of WWI air combat, dogfighting techniques (including Boelcke’s famous Dicta), biographies of aces and overview of the planes used. In short, for anyone with an interest in air combat (and if you’re not interested, why on earth are you playing this?), it’s an historical treasure trove – and a brilliant way to learn history (if you’re looking for an excuse).
Happily, Red Baron, and Red Baron 3D have been updated to work on Windows (XP through to 10, though there are some teething issues), and re-released as a bundle, both on GoG and Steam (the Steam version isn’t currently available in Australia as the publisher have yet to list an Australian price). Even better, all the original extras – manuals, maps, reference cards – have been digitised and included in the bundle. Even with super-realistic sims like out there Rise of Flight, this is something that should be in everyone’s library. ■