PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


"Mission Builder," in addition to allowing you to custom-design missions (solo or formation) and designate objectives (dogfight, escort bombers, bust balloons, strafe locomotives, and so on), type of ammo (regular or incendiary), time of day, weather, flight paths, waypoints, and other parameters, adds a few fixes, patches, and fillips to the original game—that is, support for rudder pedals and the ability to fly a mission over again until you get it right.

Before you can begin, you choose among three levels of flight model (from too easy to too hard; the middle is "just right" but leaves you nowhere to go once you master it), and you can cherry-pick from a "Realism Panel" that toggles limited ammo or fuel on and off, as well as blackouts, sun blindness, gun jams, weather, and time of day, etc. The harder you make it on yourself, the faster you'll rack up career advancements. If you survive.

Although the cockpit detail is excellent (you can see the wood grain on the dashboard), the ground detail is parsimonious at best. Attacking a moving railroad is like shooting at a cardboard cutout. Considering how close to the ground World War I aeroplanes spent most of their time flying, this is a sorry shortcoming.

Red Baron's sound effects are outstanding. Your motor sounds like that of a flivver, your machine guns' rat-a-tat-tat is correct for the period; when bullets hit your fabric-covered fuselage they go rrrippp and when they hit metal parts they go clanggg! When you're victorious, you're treated to a stirring Sousa march, and when you die a mighty organ plays a somber dirge.

The interface, like the aeroplane's, is dirt simple, and the documentation is excellent, giving a lucid account of the historical context (even if many of the accompanying photographs look like they were faxed from the Smithsonian).

Finally, there is no multiplayer mode in Red Baron, but there is something almost as good. Dynamix's parent company, Sierra On-Line, offers a dial-up service that's kind of like an electronic amusement park for young computerists with modems.

You log onto the ImagiNation Network (nee Sierra Network), select Red Baron (there are other games and interactive services), and hang out in a ready room, spoiling for a fight. Like computer dating, you are paired with an (allegedly) equal partner. The network Red Baron is not the full, store-bought version of the game; dogfighting is pretty much what it's all about.

The upside: you're not up against the predictability of the stand-alone game. Once you've learned to nail Billy Bishop as he comes out of one of his loop-de-loops in a left-hand turn ten times out of ten, there's a tougher challenge as close as your telephone (not surprisingly, AT&T is Sierra's partner in this venture).

Hals und Bein bruch!

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