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SummaryHighly underrated and often misunderstood.
The GoodTo be frank, this game was actually quite good.
Making matters worse, I have always only played the original version of the game without any patches. Even with the strange crashes that can happen, and the other odd bug here and there, it never ruined my enjoyment of this game.
How you choose to look at this game is the biggest factor in how you feel about it after you play. To judge it by modern standards would, of course, be grossly unfair. For one thing, when it came out, no one was bothering to still make combat flight simulators that included a somewhat realistic campaign mode.
In fact, almost every combat flight sim released has had a linear mission campaign. This is true of even the original Red Baron, which only allowed you to gain in rank so to effect your level of control during missions and paint your plane as you saw fit. If you where never wounded in the original and stayed at the same base, you would always see the same missions, depending on which side you played. I assure you, all missions you play in campaign mode in the sequel are truly random, and the planes you will run across will be determined by what other aerodromes are near your current location.
In fact I played one campaign where every time I went out on a patrol for a period of about a month I ran across a specific British ace, stationed near the patrol area, attacking the lines! This actually lead to me discovering one of the bugs in the game, which I will mention in the bad list.
Because the campaign mode is entirely random as to what type of mission you will get, it also can become brutal. If you are sent on a lower altitude balloon busting mission with only one or two wingmen, don't expect to come back unless you stick close to the ground and/or attack the machine gun nests stationed around it. If there is an enemy escort (Which there isn't always.) you likely are in for a white knuckle ride that will likely end with a sudden stop, that being your untimely death.
But going right along with this randomness is the fact that promotion can really effect the outcome of the missions in this sequel. If you manage to survive to the highest rank, or alternately start the game on said rank, then you now have near total control of how the missions take place. Altitude, type of airplane (If your aerodrome has more then one that is.) ammo, and formation. Or you can opt to take a rain check on the dangerous mission and either create your own, or take over someone else's flight.
Another nice feature is that this game is one of the few flight sims of its time to include more then two sides. While the original Red Baron offered you three groups, American, English or German, this game smartly includes the French among this list. If you must play an American flyboy before America got into the war, then you can fly for LaFayette, the equivalent of the French foreign legion for pilots during the great war.
Historical events, from important to mundane take place, such as news reports of downed aces, new planes, and battles won and lost. Even things like pilots from your squad buying the farm, being transferred (Something which you are not immune to.) or promoted are reported. There is also a ton of information regarding your fellow pilots. Kills, not only in number but what type of plane shot down, as well as medals received are dutifully recorded.
Another often overlooked point is that the game allows you to customize the difficulty level. Trust me when I say, full realism difficulty isn't easy. In the early part of the war it can be, since all planes move slow and turn slow, but later on down the road a veteran enemy pilot in a good plane can shoot you down if you don't pay close attention. While it is true that spotting enemy planes is extremely hard without cheating, I've actually flown a plane and passed by another plane while in the air during mid-day in real life. He was only about a thousand or two feet away, but I sure didn't see him, and I knew where he was thanks to the tower telling me. Needless to say I didn't find this aspect of the game unrealistic at all.
Lastly I feel the need to reiterate the point that Red Baron 2's ground detail is fantastic for a game of its time. I offer a small example for you to consider. If you play the game a while, you will find yourself flying over the front during a ground attack. How will you be able to tell? Tiny little men with green or gray outfits running along side tanks to the other side of the line. The men usually die before they get to the machine gun nests, while the tanks keep on keeping on. And yes, if you get close enough you can see the tanks and men, and shoot them. Shoot a tank enough and it catches on fire! How can't you love this?
The BadOkay, I admit it, this game was never free of bugs. However as I already said, most of those bugs didn't "bug me" that much. Crashing I could have lived without, and the aces I shot down one mission popping up in the next (With my original unpatched version mind you.) was a little goofy. Heaven forbid if an ace on my wing was shot down though, as his death would always be final, unless he was lucky enough to land.
One big point of contention I did have with the game was mission regularity. While it is true that the amount of missions you will fly in a month are accurate, the real aces never encountered an enemy plane on every flight. While it does happen that some rare times you go up you don't encounter anything, most of the time you will. If you are like me and start your campaign in the early part of the air war, you can rack up enough kills to top the Red Baron himself in only three months with any luck.
But my biggest gripe of all was that combat damage never carried over on the map. If you somehow manage to blow up a bridge or something as large and hard to repair, It will be back to full repair in just a few days if you bother to fly over it again. Considering the engine being used here is that of the remake of Dynamix's A-10 Tank Killer, which would remember if you managed to damage a installation from one mission to the next, I have to ask why.
In fact, I've played some long campaigns, and I can't say I ever noticed the line moving as they claim it does. I challenge anyone to disprove this.
The Bottom LineFinal thoughts.
This game, while suffering from quite a few bugs, still managed to present a experience I've yet to see again in a combat flight sim, much less one about world war one.
If only Sierra and conversely Dynamix hadn't changed hands, and the higher ups had decided to make a Red Baron 3 with all the great features here plus more! Then perhaps I could truly have given up on humanity in general and sealed myself within a vault with the great war flight sim of my dreams. If only my friends, if only...