Monday, July 3, 2023

Red Baron: The St. Pol Campaign

Before starting the campaign I got a few more single missions in, just dogfights, 1v1 and 1v2. I tried to keep planes compareable, but I primarily used a Sopwith Camel and the Morane Bullet, or the second worst plane in the game. As I'm not going to be playing as the Central Powers for a while, if at all, I don't need to worry about the worst. So with my strategy so far, there's this thing where you can slow down as you're turning around to create a smaller turning circle and thus spin around faster. This works with planes like the Camel because at max speed, it's fast. The Bullet, in contrast, has the agility of a bullet, with the speed of an arrow, so while I'm still going to do this even though it's much less effective.

At the beginning of the war, which is where I'm starting, it seems like the Bullet is the only plane the Allies get...which is...uh...terrible. But that's okay, because the plane the Germans get is worse, the Eindecker Fokker. From what I've briefly read, the Fokker was the first effective combat plane of the war, as before you couldn't have guns pointing at the front of the plane without shooting the propeller off. This gave the Germans an advantage over the Allies, I wasn't able to tell if the Bullet was one of those planes or not, but I note that the Bullet being crappy is true in real life as well as here.

This is the face of a man who's probably said "Humphf! Peasants!"

It is December 1915, and I have been assigned to the No. 3 Squadron at St. Pol, which I think is Saint Pol-sur-Ternoise. And it looks like I'm French, as the British relied heavily on the French Air Force early in the war and the Americans weren't here yet. Or the game stuck a French flag behind a British officer for...reasons. We'll just pretend that I'm an American volunteer even if that's unrealistic, as I've read that aviation used to be one big club all the rich kids were in before the war screwed over everything. As I'm the fresh meat, a mere second lieutenant, I follow the commander's orders, and that means not going to far away from the commander.

Also, I may have said this before, but Red Baron has permadeath in the career mode. Unlike A-10 Tank Killer, the career isn't a predetermined set of missions, so I'm not just reloading after every mission. So long as I don't die or practically so, I will continue with the results even if they are unsatisfactory. I doubt the game is going to go a full alternative history route unless I really screw things up.

The plane's frame can really get in your way of seeing enemy planes.

My first mission, patrol the front...oh, good, just what I always wanted. Before I start, I check the realism panel again. I'm not using the default career realism settings, as I want the game to give me the most realistic flight simulation it has, though other aspects not so much. I want that crappy Bullet and that awkward to handle Camel. However, I'm keeping off limited ammo and allowing the game to turn on the limited fuel. Hopefully this won't screw me over. Things go smoothly, I'm not perfect, but I don't get yelled at. We meet the Germans obviously, their attack straight forward. Unfortunately, I don't do much in the opening salvo, but nothing awful seems to be happening.

Oh. That's not very good. Still I manage to take down one, seems like all but one are down. So we spin around in circles. It turns out that having unlimited ammo isn't much of a help, because if you're bad enough for that to be an option, you're not really going to hit the enemy planes to begin with. We spin around and around, until eventually...I crash into the ground. That's a great sign for this campaign.

Second attempt, goes like the first, except instead of crashing I actually take down the second plane...and I'm alone. Technically the mission isn't over yet so I guess I'll just...continue flying for a bit. At this point if the Germans try to take me out they're liable to succeed, infinite ammo or not...and I just sort of reach the end. One of the planes got away, perhaps I just missed it after I took down one of them, perhaps it landed.

The problem, I've found, with picking out screenshots here, is that I'm not quite sure which ones go to which missions, because I write these entries off-line and later add in the screenshots, sometimes days after the fact.

Next up, escorting some air recon planes. I hope they've already said their prayers, because when I was in a decent plane they didn't stand a chance. Now? Play Chopin's funeral march, they're already dead. Ironically enough...they don't die in either playthrough of this mission. The first time, I end up crashing into an enemy plane, quite by mistake, and the second time, the enemy got hit by some AA, and there was no other enemy aircraft, so the mission went smoothly.

Followed up by another escort recon mission. I see I'm rolling the dice poorly today. You really work out how to use the + and - symbols to control your speed here, because you don't want to be too far away and the numbers aren't as precise as they should be when selecting speed. Sometimes it takes a good moment when you tap a number to change speed. You can compress time with C, but before you encounter enemy planes, this seems like an unwise choice. I bring this up because nothing happened. Wait, did I get lucky this mission or did we clean out the entire stock of enemy planes? Is the game tracking that?

Recon mission number three, though apparently I lost a mission somewhere, this is going to be really bad news in the future if it's tracking how good I am at these missions and I've somehow managed to win three of them. This time there's an enemy. I get him pretty good, during the first couple of turns, but as I bear on him a third time, I note he, and my commander are far away from the recon planes, so break off, hoping he has it well in hand. The enemy was smoking after all.

I'd break into a rousing chorus of La Marseillaise, but I don't know the words, I'd break into Jerusalem, but a Frenchman wouldn't appreciate that...and it doesn't technically exist yet.
I note as I reapproach the orange-ish recon planes that I can't really tell them apart from the ones the Germans fly. That's not going to bite me in the butt later. Keeping a razor sharp outlook, I see a grey plane approach from behind...ah, my squad leader. You know, that's just such a cool thing to see, not only did he win, he came back into formation. Damn, he's not even smoking. The question is, will the game throw another German at us? Yes, and once again, the squad leader takes him out, this time I even try to help, but he just knocks him out before I even have a chance.

These seem to be the only two missions at this point, protect recon plane or patrol the front. Air warfare after all, did develop a whole heck of a lot during this war, and we're, as far as technology is concerned, still figuring out the metaphorical wheel. This mission's a patrol, and the third in addition to the squad leader is a novice, who will no doubt be shot down at some point. The game is starting to not bunch enemies up like it did in single missions, here, we fight one plane by itself, then two at once. Unfortunately, the German planes here are grey, like's not good. I don't know who I'm supposed to be shooting at. I'm once again sort of just a contributor to this, but not really someone important.

I see some zeppelin hunting is going to be in my future.
Suddenly, the Germans assault Verdun, perhaps indicative of a similar air assault. And a new aircraft! The Airco D.H.2., will it be any good? Will I be able to fly it? Who knows? And then it's back to the front, patrolling again. If the new craft is available, I can't get it yet, but now the patrol consists of a good, solid 4 plane line-up. Mind you, we're doing it in terrible rain, so not completely good. Same concept as the last patrol, one to start with then more later, but this time I get one, luckily, but I got one. The first time through, anyway, but as it turns out it's very hard not to cause a mid-air collision in this game. Pretty sure nearly all my deaths so far are not because I was killed as much as crashed.

The second time around or maybe more, I get another kill, but unfortunately, so do the Germans, now I'm the flight leader. The Germans are quickly cleaned from the skies, but thanks to not being sure what the command functions are, I have my minor wing attack...something, and end up flying off since the game tells me Clear skies then, so I think, but wait, a grey shape is behind me. Is that a friendly or a German? I can tell, but only from a certain distance. One is grey, entirely, the other has black marks. So I make the very perilous journey to make a U-turn...and crash into a friendly plane. I'm getting the feeling that for my own sanity I should just turn off mid-air collisions, because at this rate I'm going to have a mission against the Red Baron and end up crashing into him sixteen times.

Eventually, I get lucky. I survive against the first one, and I think I technically took it out. After this I'm far enough away from friendlies that I have no chance at returning to formation before we encounter the second group. While I don't take any of these out, I contributed, might even say moreso than with the first one.

And a ceremony happens. At first I assumed I got an increase in rank...until a medal was pinned on my chest. A Military Cross, in recognition of meritorious service. I feel like Jack Frost from A Touch of Frost here, with his George Cross medal. I've been just kind of here, man. 199 score and three kills seems very underwhelming here. I also feel a bit confused about what nationality the in-game pilot is "supposed" to be. Even if for practical purposes, I'm basically LARPing as a much handsomer American who is somehow in whatever war is going on. How that one is going to work when I play Zero Pilot* or Nazi Germany is going to be anyone's guess.
*Zero Pilot is a Japanese-made WWII game series where you play as the Japanese. The first one uses the Strike Commander engine. I'm very much looking forward to that one.
Considering how many times I've done a mid-air collision, you'd think sometimes I'd have the excuse of taking a screenshot, but no...

BALLOON BUSTING! HAHAHAHAH! Now this is gonna be good! Under the cover of night, myself and another pilot will take out the balloons and any enemy resistance. Considering we're still using Bullets, this is a glorified suicide mission. The balloon is a sitting target, but the enemy planes are not. The Bullet, while not good at most things, isn't very good at dogfighting, and it has a way of stalling whenever you try to bank around that other planes just don't. I see the enemy planes approach, the sun is at their backs, but I see them approach. I miss the first salvo, or if I hit them, it wasn't very well.

The second turn I see a smoking plane, can't tell whose. But I have one of the Germans in my sights, and I get him good. He's alive, but limping. The usual message telling me that I'm now the flight leader goes. One against two, I like those odds. The limping man goes down and I spot his companion. He offers a little resistance, we nearly crash a couple of times, but he goes down just like the first. That leaves one balloon, a sitting duck. We won, but I won't be able to buy my compatriot a drink. My Military Cross gets a bar.

Still the same zeppelin bombs and bomber raids, huh?
At first I assumed that balloons counted towards ace status, but it turns out that I had indeed, shot down 5 aircraft. Either way, the sooner I can get out of this deathtrap the better. I'm sure by now some of the German planes I've shot down are technically better, which I guess puts some points in favor of my skill, such as it is. And the no 3 squadron gets transferred to Toul, from the north to the south of the front. The good/bad news is that there are some named squadrons here along with a few aces. Something tells me this might have something to do with my minor successes, they think I can deal with these guys. I look forward to crashing into Ernst Udet, who survived the war in real life and became a general during WWII. Oh...

This session: 2 hours 40 minutes

Total Time: 5 hours 30 minutes

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