Red Baron II Preview

Sierra returns to what may be the best WWI flight sim of all time

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Part of Sierra's award-winning team of Dynamix Aces war simulation products (and sequel to what some consider the finest World War I flight sim to date), Red Baron II takes the high-resolution mapped terrain and smooth gameplay of Silent Thunder: A-10 Tank Killer 2 and applies it to the arena of single, two-wing and three-wing WWI fighter combat. (Don't let the reference to Silent Thunder throw you; Sierra has recently taken a lot of heat for presuming, for daring, to include that much lighter weight sim in the hardcore ranks of the Aces Series, and they won't make that mistake again.) So not only is Red Baron II very pretty, but Sierra has gone to admirable pains to make it as historically, militarily and physically accurate as possible. Players in the mood for this sort of thing can even hit their military history books and marvel at the accuracy of the authentic colors and markings of each of the 22 aircraft presented in the game.

Red Baron II offers essentially two big improvements to its predecessor - Career Play and Live Flight. Not only can players choose from the usual single- and multi-player options, they can also enter Career Play mode, which focuses on the player's attempts to move up in skill as a combat pilot. In this mode, pilots from France, Britain, America and Germany participate in dogfights-in-progress, intervene in enemy bombing missions, and, of course, accept personal challenges from other aces such as Hermann Goring and the "Red Baron" Von Richthofen himself. Career Mode's mission generator combines a massive number of variables; you could probably play the game for literally years without encountering the same mission twice.

The other major improvement (and the best, in my opinion) is the Live Flight model, a feature so crucial and yet so basic that many sims do not address it: coincidental interaction with a living environment. One of the most irritating features of the combat game genre is the drone-like way the missions are presented, as if players could not decide for themselves how or even whether to engage the enemy. In RBII's Live Flight model, events in the air and on the ground within a 20-mile radius of the player's current position take place regardless of the player's presence. Friendly troops or rail transports cross enemy positions, air battles are in progress, lone buildings sit undefended just waiting to be bombed, the whole jolly business of war goes on its merry way - and the player can unexpectedly stumble into what is euphemistically referred to as "a situation." It's enough to make any gamer want to slap on his goggles and go on dawn patrol as his pilot of choice. Finally, as I've said in every review I've done, it's the little touches that make a good game great. In Red Baron II, what got me were the letters from loved ones at home, believe it or not.

Red Baron's physics are beautiful, with fragile biplane frames shuddering and tearing to pieces under high-strain maneuvers. This realistic movement, along with its open play environment and powerful campaign options, spell an almost certain success for Sierra.

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