GoG Thursday: The Red Baron Pack

8 10 2009

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Once upon a time, back when we still thought the ’90s were going to be awesome (which they really are only in comparison to the ’00s) there was a company called Dynamix which was the best there was at what they did. Unfortunately what they did was create computer simulations, a genre that has the distinction of making the adventure game genre looking healthy and robust which is why they’re no longer around. There was a time though, when simulation, especially flight sims, were a commercially viable genre and flight sim fans eagerly looked forward to a wealth of product on store shelves that simulated everything from helicopter flight to battles between nuclear submarines. It was into this genre that Dynamix launched Red Baron, the subject of today’s GoG Thursday (which is actually a bit late due to circumstances beyond my control.)

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Here’s the thing about Red Baron — unlike most flight simulators before or since, it would successfully straddle the line between a scarily realistic flight sim with all the physics and turn ratios and airspeed drag and the sheer white-knuckle excitement of an arcade shooter. The game had excellent simulation characteristics for the era and faithfully modeled over 20 different planes of the era. If you weren’t a flight-sim junkie though, you could turn on and off different characteristics that were giving you trouble, making the planes as easy to fly as you needed.

The real joy of the game was in the campaign mode. Playing the Red Baron campaign mode it becomes obvious that it had a significant influence on LucasArts’ X-wing and Tie Fighter games. The game’s campaign would allow you to fly on either side of the Great War and would track your performance, giving you promotions and allowing you greater latitude in selecting where you wished to be posted and what planes you would fly. When you consider that most of the campaign and “the world” you fought in was presented mostly through static text screens, the game did a remarkably good job of immersing you into the rarified and psychotically dangerous world of the World War I flying ace.

The down side of the game was that the enemy AI wasn’t particularly good, even for the standards of the time. The team made up for that by making each mission in the campaign a sort of puzzle to solve. It wasbn;t enough to just fly around shooting down planes at random. You had to develop spatial awareness and understand what was going all around you. Certain enemies had to be destroyed first, you as a pilot had to be at certain places at certain times and certain objectives had to be protected or destroyed (shooting down observation balloons was as harrowing as the Death Star run). It made the game frustrating sometimes because it could be tough to figure out exactly why you’d failed a mission. Since much of the enemy actions in missions was hardwired, it also made replayability a bit of an issue but oh those tense moments when you’re pulling just enough Gs to avoid a blackout and a German fighter is getting a bead on you… It was exhilarating.

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