|Red Barron II Preview|
Baron II..... The name makes me salivate.
I cut my flight simulation teeth on the original Red
Baron almost 8 years ago on my first pc - a 386SX!
....Red Baron II..... Probably the most anticipated follow up sim other than Falcon 4.
....Red Baron II..... In the words of frequent on line opponent and self proclaimed first "Chinese Redneck", FlightLine Staffer Jeff "Squinky" More, REEEEHHHAAAW!
Before I begin, remember this is a pre-beta preview release of Red Baron II. Many parts of this sim are not active yet, and everything that is, will continue to be developed and refined. What I've been able to play may not be the same as the upcoming released version. I would expect the flight model to be close to the same, but don't expect everything to be the same as this report.
Setup was uneventful. As with any Win95 sim, autoplay pops up your main screen, and you click on install. The sim currently asks for about 50MB of hard drive space, and requires approximately 80MB free disk space for a swap file. RB2 requires DirectX 5.0, so you might end up installing DX5 if you haven't already. Joystick calibration is performed through the new DX5 joystick control panel, which also adds force feedback capability, if you have such a device.
Only basic settings are active in this preview version, so I cannot go into detail on what you can and cannot fiddle with for system setup, flight modeling, game settings and graphics settings. What I can tell you is there will be a relaxed and realistic flight model, and no 3D support out of the box. Sierra may include 3D support as a patch or add-on. I'm sure we can expect to see the usual difficulty modifiers for enemy skill levels, no crashes, unlimited ammo, no blackout/redout, etc.
Gameplay options include single missions, a dynamic campaign, dogfight challenges of artificial intelligence (AI) controlled historical aces, and multi-player. Missions will include balloon operations (defensive or offensive), escort missions, dogfight missions, and ground attack missions including attacks on trains and infantry. Campaigns can be started during any year of the war, fighting for either Britain, France, Germany, or the US. You can choose your starting rank, and rank does have it privileges in RB2. If you choose a lower rank, you will fly as a wingman, which provides for challenging formation flying. If you chose higher ranks, you will be flight leader, in charge of multiple wingmen. At ranks of major and higher, you'll have access to customize the colors and decals on your aircraft.
Mission briefings differ slightly in single missions and the campaign. Both use a chalkboard motif, with pull down tactical maps and a "flip board" with pages showing waypoints, flight formations, and a photo of your targets or aircraft to be escorted. Campaigns up the ante with black and white films for intelligence briefings. This approach projects a feeling that you are in an actual World War I mission briefing!
The flight model is even better than I can remember in the original Red Baron. The effects of the rotary engines of these aircraft are evident, pulling the nose of the aircraft in the direction of rotation. You will need rudder pedals to effectively fly this sim. Put some g's on the aircraft and you'll hear the frame creaking and moaning under the stress. Pull too hard and you'll hear and watch your aircraft fall apart! I believe this pre-beta flight model will become the realistic model in the final version. If not, the realistic model will be a bear to fly!
Enemy AI is hot! AI pilots will use the spectrum of aerobatics and combat maneuvers to get on your six, or to shake you from theirs. They will try to fly you into the ground, and will push their aircraft to its limits, sometimes causing their airframe to fail under high g's. Its quite amusing to watch enemy aircraft fall apart when they push it too far, but take care, since their aircraft might be able to handle more g's than yours, and you may get to experience in-flight breakup as mentioned above. You will not be able to fight a sustained, high power turning battle as in modern jet sims, so be prepared to turn, twist, climb and dive like a madman. Airspeed and altitude management are a must here.
Views are based around a virtual cockpit. You can switch between a fixed view system for general flight, providing front, up, left, right, and check six views, or a virtual scrolling cockpit. The virtual cockpit scrolls smoothly and without problem. The included padlock view is the virtual cockpit with your eyes locked on to an enemy or friendly aircraft. Unfortunately, there are no visual cues as to where you are looking in relation to where your aircraft is pointing, which makes the padlock extremely disorienting. I hope Sierra adds some sort of visual cueing system to assist with situational awareness or the padlock is worthless in my opinion.
Ground attacks are accomplished by arming your aircraft with single free fall bombs, or rockets and are just as challenging as the air combat. You have no HUD or MFDs, as in the current crop of jet sims so you'll need to learn how to use other visual cues for release. Since you must fly relatively low to be able to see your targets, you must also watch out for ground fire from infantry units (remember, they had whole machine gun battalions in W.W.I !).
Aircraft graphics are outstanding. Each unit has its own artwork and insignia. There are a variety of effective and non-effective camouflage paint schemes. You can see the pilots in the cockpit, and the blur of the propellers. Ground objects are done well, and flak and ground fire effects are exciting to see. The terrain graphics are a bit disappointing. There is much detail in the terrain, just not quite what you expect from a sim these days. Hopefully this will be addressed before the release version., or with the possible 3D patch.
Frame rate is smooth, with no pauses for hard drive access that can plague a Win95 based sim. The flyer sent with this preview version stated frame rate would improve prior to shipping, I'd be happy with it as it is now, if they can add better terrain graphics.
Red Baron II will be fun to fly. I found myself completely immersed in the air combat, dogfighting for hours to the chagrin of my girlfriend! I hope to see changes in terrain graphics and the padlock system made prior to release. Personally, I will probably buy the sim regardless of the terrain or padlock - the air combat in RB2 is that good.