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Join a Flying Circus with Red Baron 3-D

This World War One flight simulator comes out tops for historical authenticity and gameplay, but loses the battle on the graphics front. Graeme “Ace” Adamson has the details.

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By Graeme Adamson (claymore@iname.com)

Dynamix, now a division of Sierra, first shipped Red Baron, a World War One flight simulator, several years ago. It was (rightly) acclaimed for groundbreaking graphics, and a very realistic flight engine, complete with gun jams and structural failures. But when Red Baron 2 was released, it didn’t make much impact.

Now Dynamix have released Red Baron 3-D, with new 3D acceleration. In actual fact, it’s simply Red Baron 2 with a 3D patch that provides the 3D capabilities and some fixes, such as better artificial intelligence for enemy pilots. For those of you who already own Red Baron 2, there’s no need to buy Red Baron 3-D, since the complete update is available on the Red Baron web site.

Let’s see how many kills Red Baron 3-D (RB3D) scores on the Gadget Four Question User Test.

1. Is it ready to use?

Like most Windows 95 games, RB3D installs very easily, and sets itself up, complete with a keyboard shortcut of Ctrl-Alt-B that may catch you unawares. One negative point is that you have to have the RB3D CD in your CD-ROM drive to play the game, which is rather annoying.

2. Is it easy to use?

The flight simulator itself is easy to get into. The nicely designed intro screens and menus make it easy to set options, and choose whether to fly a campaign or just a single flight.

One of the best things about RB3D is the manual, which comes with a lot of very interesting historical information on the First World War – aces, combat situations, tactics, and awards and decorations. Unfortunately, the manual is littered with typographical errors, primarily in headings. The font used for headings doesn’t seem to have any punctuation symbols or accented characters, which makes for some disappointing errors.

3. Does it work as advertised?

Unfortunately, RB3D crashes and burns in the area it emphasises: the “3-D”. Although a great deal is made of the fact that it now supports 3D acceleration, it actually only supports the Voodoo 3D accelerator chips from 3DFX. While Voodoo-based cards are reasonably well known, it means that people who have bought any of the new generation of 3D accelerator cards can’t take advantage of RB3D’s acceleration. This is somewhat ludicrous: I have what is generally considered to be the best 3D-accelerated video card available, the Riva TNT-based Diamond Viper V550, and Red Baron 3-D runs in 2D mode.

Red Baron 3-D’s 2D mode, while not bad for a couple of years ago, looks awful now: polygon-shaped mountains, vague ground, and a boring sky. The terrible-looking propeller graphic obscures your view most of the time. Although the 2D mode supports resolutions from 640×480 to 1024×768, there’s no real difference, with jagged graphics even at 1024×768. Judging from the screenshots on the Red Baron web site, the 3D mode is OK, but not quite in the same league as Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator.

In terms of gameplay, RB3D is excellent. The sound is good, including subtle effects like the thrumming of bracing wires on your biplane, and the peculiar characteristics of the various aircraft are supported, like the ripping torque of the Sopwith Camel or the rapid dive of the Spad XIII. With all the things that can go wrong — gun jams, blackouts, red-outs (from blood loss), structural failures, engine failures, etc — becoming an ace in a campaign is quite a challenge, especially if you meet one of the top aces along the way.

4. Is it value for money?

The inexcusable lack of support for DirectX-supporting video cards makes RB3D poor value for money if you don’t have a Voodoo card, and you might be better advised to buy something like Flying Corps instead.

But if you like World War One flight simulators, and have a Voodoo-based 3D accelerator, the R300 price of Red Baron 3-D is good value for money, especially since the gameplay and historical accuracy is top notch.

* Are you an ace Red Baron pilot? Did you also find the graphics disappointing? In gung-ho South Africa, are combat games good preparation for braving the mugger-infested streets? E-mail us with your views: roy.blumenthal@pixie.co.za

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