Have You Played… Red Baron?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

In the dozen or so years I reviewed flight games for the British version of PC Gamer magazine I never gave out a 100% score. If I’d been sim scrutinising in December 1990 things might have been different.

Red Baron is perfection – a combat flight sim that combines flavour, pace, realism, accessibility, and replayability flawlessly. Later Great War aerial offerings boasted better flight models, more winsome Western Fronts, and more elaborate campaigns, but none of the Camel-crammed sims that followed Dynamix’s masterpiece entertained with such steady determination or startling economy.

The first few bars of the theme tune, and the twin lines of bullet holes that march menacingly across the fuselage-styled title screen when the game first loads up, still make me tingle. A quarter of century on my brain still links these introductory embellishments with the breathless thrills they invariably prefigured. You’re about to be pitched into a world of swirling Fokkers, fearsome aces, fleeting glory and formidable facial hair. Be excited!

RB’s campaign engine chains together randomly generated sorties. A tense dawn patrol, a tricky escort sortie, a deceptively simple balloon-busting jaunt, a hectic high headcount dogfight… you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. Success and survival quickly become indistinguishable. Longevity brings promotion, perks and flattering invitations. By the time you find yourself being headhunted by prestigious squadrons, and invited to duel with famous enemy aces, you’re probably flying a personal aircraft – a cutting-edge crate with a garish custom paint job. You’re probably thinking dangerous thoughts too.

I’m good.

I’m lucky.

I’m different from all those chumps in the broken, blazing flying machines.


  1. Epicedion says:

    I can’t remember if this was Red Baron or Red Baron II, but the first time I booted it up I tried to barrel roll to avoid enemy fire. As soon as I was inverted the wings fell off my plane.

  2. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    Used to sneak in to the computer lab to play this, i’d forgotten all about it!

  3. Faldrath says:

    That was the golden age of flight simmery for me, that perfect mix of my patience to learn games, and the games having just the right amount of complexity. As the years dragged on, I am much less patient and the sims got much more complex, so I haven’t really properly played flight sims in ages.

    But Red Baron? Aces over Europe? F-117? SWotL? Man, those games. Those games. Loved them to bits.

    • warenhaus says:

      F-117? SWotL? Man, those games. Those games. Loved them to bits.

      exactly! plus: LHX Attack Chopper, F-19 Stealth Fighter & M1 Tank Plattoon

    • melerski says:

      I had Flying Corps. Loved it.

    • Czrly says:

      Back when games were fun and, if they were complex, they were STILL fun BEFORE complexity.

      Not saying that some modern games aren’t fun… there are some… but so many are either so serious, so dark, so gory or just bonkers pedantic about every little detail.

    • dashausdiefrau says:

      I can’t believe how many people haven’t heard about the Strike Fighters series.
      You need an easy to play lightflysim to fly? It’s there, and it’s pretty good too.

    • SquidgyB says:

      Eeeey, what was the one on the Acorn Archimedes, where you flew a Tiger Moth?

      It was quite simplistic but I loved it at the time…

  4. trashbat says:

    Far too fleshed out for my liking. It’s no Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.0.

    Talking of Have You Playeds, can we one day have a HYP: Eurofighter Typhoon? The early 2000s Rage one. I have a very mildly fun story about that.

    • ExParrot_1337 says:

      Me too. I used to tutor high-school kids in maths while I did my Electrical Engineering degree for pocket money. The tutoring was for pocket money. Not the degree. But I degree … er, digress.

      Anyway. One Saturday morning I came home from tutoring a student to find my brother had made himself scarce. Mum intercepted me and told me not to be angry with him. ??? Thinks I.

      I eventually found him, and he owned up. He’d been playing EF2000 and was doing a low level mission when a SAM opened up on him unexpectedly. He wrenched the joystick hard over to the left to dodge. And snapped it right off. He thought I would kill him. Although I DID have to buy a new joystick, I could not get angry about it. I only wish I was there to watch!

  5. Turkey says:

    I think I got this in a cd-rom collection with sensible soccer and civilization 1. Took it for a spin a couple of times, but I was too dumb to understand any of it.

  6. phreddo says:

    I loved the use of a ball bearing at the bottom of the screen to show how far you’ve rolled the plane.

  7. CartonofMilk says:

    Still the best flight sim of all time (it may not be factually but this is how i FEEL about it). In my top 5 favorite gaming memories. A precious game. And the one to introduce me (and probably MANY) to the concept of editable and savable replays. I have to admit though, at 13 years old (1991), ironman mode (which is the only mode the campaign offers, you die, you’re done) was not very fun to me so what i would do is after every mission i’d exit to DOS and make a backup of the saves. So if i died i’d just recover the last backup (i didn’t do it if i got captured though). I did once or twice play legit ironman campaigns but yeah, i had more fun backing up my saves.

    The ultimate goal to me in campaign was to kill as many opposing aces as possible which implied getting transferred to different squadrons so you’d have a possibility of encountering aces that were in enemy squadrons situated nearby. It could be frustrating though, sometimes you’d spend many many missions hoping to encounter the next one on your list (or better yet get invited to a duel( and then you’d have to consider if maybe you should not keep wasting time (after all the game WOULD end in late 1918) just get transfered elsewhere where some other ace was.

    Obviously i never ended up getting them all (impossible, also i seem to remember that if you didnt kill them, those who had factually died during the war would die around the same dates as they were supposed to have in reality..i could be wrong about this but i don’t think so) but i did have a pretty good tally in my last game flying for germany. I want to say like maybe 80% of them.

    Also one of the very early games in which I experienced customization such as paint job color and insignias. And starting the game from 1914 you got to experience the clear improvements in planes in the short four years the war lasted (i say short…i’m sure everyone who lived through it found it lasted an eternity). Once you got “big” enough to request the model you wanted to fly and cutomize it to boot, that was the life. Red Baron? Oh yeah, you mean the SECOND best ace of the great war.

  8. somewhereindc says:

    jumping jiminy christmas this game was amazing. I thought I was the only person on Earth who played it. Now I know there’s 8 others.

  9. spleendamage says:

    Surviving long enough to get a custom paint job for my plane was one of the high points of my early gaming days.

  10. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Yes! I used to play it with (or just alongside?) a friend of mine who was really into all the different planes and aces and stuff.

    A sim I owned around the same time we played that game was Silent Thunder: A-10 Tank Killer II. I played that thing for hours and hours, and I particularly liked messing around with my load-out and just going around killing stuff as if it were some flying Mechwarrior game (I may have been playing both wrong), but Red Baron I nebulously remember as being more interesting.

  11. mgardner says:

    This game was the benchmark for me, against which all other flight sim games were compared. Later games sure looked prettier, but I never did find one that surpassed the charm and entertainment value of RB1. I had high hopes for Dawn Patrol, which I remember because it was my first purchase after getting my first 3D graphics card. I stopped playing flight sims years ago, and never did find what I truly wanted: Red Baron 1 with better graphics.

  12. hurrakan says:

    Yeah I played it a lot. Some of the most fun missions were the reconnaissance ones where you had take photos – and then it showed you the pictures you had taken, like screenshots. It seemed quite advanced at the time!

  13. Geebs says:

    I played it on a Mac Quadra something or other. I quickly worked out that turning off the sound and playing an audio CD instead doubled the framerate, and now listening to Surfing with the Alien gives me a powerful subconscious desire to strafe observation balloons.

  14. Chorltonwheelie says:

    Played it to death on my Amiga 1200…presuming it’s the same title?
    Tally Ho!

    • Dennis8211 says:

      No. It was “Wings” !! Awesome game. And the music…… <3

  15. Darth Gangrel says:

    “a world of swirling Fokkers” I’d be more interesting in Fokking swirlers, but that’s just me.

  16. hoho0482 says:

    Knights of the sky was the mutch better game.

    • GameOverMan says:

      At least it ran fine on my A500, Red Baron ran at 1 FPS on a 68000 processor.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I always preferred Flying Corps to either.

    • MrThingy says:

      I loved the intro to Knights of the Sky. The honky-tonk style piano and the grainy film effect.

  17. Daniel Klein says:

    Right in the nostalgia. I played this so much when I was a kid, and no other flight sim ever felt as good again (I liked SWOTL as well, but I’m hazy on the order of releases). Really tempted to revisit, but scared of the disappointment.

  18. Missing Cat says:

    Tim, your articles are the reason I read RPS, thanks for another brilliant read! To answer your query, I somehow missed the first RB but I’ve been playing Red Baron 3D with the ‘Full Canvas Jacket’ mod for the last ten years and still doing so. BTW, my favourite retro flightsim is Lucasarts’ Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain (the forerunner to SWotL, just after Battlehawks 1942). One of the best things was the superb (and thick!) manual – which even though I haven’t played the game in ages, I still skim though it occasionally. Unsurprisingly, the gameplay was so revolutionary when you think the man behind it was Larry Holland. Yes, the guy who made “The Best Game Ever Made”, TIE Fighter. And we all know the history of the making of Star Wars… what with G. Lucas getting his inspiration from WWII dogfight footage and the Battle of Britain. I think the best innovation Larry Holland realised was a key gameplay mechanic that changed flightsims forever for me – the movie flight recorder. I mean, even though it’s clearly a brilliant flightsim, I couldn’t really get behind the thought of playing through a WWI WoFF career with no simple way of recording mission flight footage (and one of the key reasons why Falcon 3.0/4.0, Total Air War, RoF, BoS, CloD, BoBII and 1946/Pacific Fighters were so awesome for me). If only the flight recorder of DCS World could be repaired to a reliable system like it was back in the Flanker2.5/LOMAC days it’d be almost as great as say, the dear late Flight Lieutenant Raymond Baxter OBE narrating airshows again. Cheers!

    • Missing Cat says:

      …not forgetting the ‘Dambusters’ Death Star trench run :)

  19. shagen454 says:

    One of the most immersive games I ever played.

  20. PcKaffe says:

    Did you by chance review Tornado? That is flight sim perfection. I never really got into the ww2 or earlier focused sims, all the planes feel so.. Shitty. Compared to modern jets I just don’t see the appeal of shoeboxes with propellers and some fabric.

    • unacom says:

      I believe it has not yet been written about.
      It´s one of the games little me loved to bits. It had a neat campaign mode and made me really think about coordination, timing and speed. Still love it.

      • PcKaffe says:

        I saw some guy talking about upgrading Tornado now since the source code had been released. The site is a mess but it’s over at tornado2.com

        I played it for the first time just a month or so ago, it still holds up really well.

  21. Captain Narol says:

    Red Baron was my first flight sim, was really great for the time and I had a hell of fun with it ! Good ol’ days !!!