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Have You Played... Red Baron?

Air combat in the days before CTRL+E

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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.

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Tim Stone

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