Saturday, July 29, 2023

Red Baron: Won

Me, Georges Guynemer and Charles Nungesser, going off to bust some balloons. While I've been under the impression that balloon busting missions were a barrel of laughs, but in actuality they've been the most brutal missions the game has. These have usually been the missions that consume all my time and energy. Usually I am the only aircraft still above the ground. Which isn't a problem when it's me and two of the Allies anonymous, but here? I don't really want to see two aces dead. At least Guynemer isn't too far off from his real death, this mission takes place in August 1917.

In theory, I understand this mission's composition. Send three of likely the best the Allies have to stop the Germans from photographing our lines or whatever it is the balloons do. Kind of feels like a flying version of Where Eagles Dare, minus the spy stuff; and Richard Burton and whoever plays Guynemer in this situation aren't coming back. I don't actually know of a good WWI comparison, Wings is the only WWI film I know of.

Things go well. I spot the enemy well in advance, like usual, and end up approaching them head on, but below just enough that they don't go lower. Things are looking good. I find myself at the back of two different planes dealing excellent damage, and then I get wounded, lethally. I don't walk away from the crash.

All England mourns my death. Does France or America not care? That's basically it, we were all shot down, and then the campaign ends, uneventfully. No big anything, no newspaper, just a single message. Considering that three of likely the best aces the Allies had just died, I would have expected a bigger hurrah than that! Are you telling me that losing three of the best aces did nothing to the Allies morale?

Maybe I'm just expecting more from a game like this, but I feel slightly cheated.
Anyway, I just wanted to see what would happen if I died at the height of the fighting, while at a pretty good killcount. I did this by making a back up of my career, which, incidentally, works as a method of saving the game properly. Were I playing this on a real DOS computer, I would probably have figured that out by now.

Playing the mission properly, I get it done a lot quicker than usual, something I attribute to the Sopwith Camel. These guys, despite flying the regular German planes, are practically aces. My companions do little but buy me time to take them out. It's telling that when I won the mission I have literally killed every hostile myself. This gets me a bar on one of my medals, but it won't bring them back. The Allied skies are a little darker today, but at least they didn't die completely in vain.

Except that isn't what happened either, turns out my bright idea that backing up my pilot to save progress doesn't work. Yippee, another half hour getting to watch France's finest die at the German's hands. Alas, someone else takes out one of the balloons when the final mission rolls around...but Guynemer lives. Someone got real lucky. I hope this luck extends further, because I would hate to have a survivor for once, only for fate to intervene.

Next up is a zeppelin mission, a blessed relief. At this point the mission is something of a breather, I can do it solo and win more or less every time.


Back to simple dogfighting. Or not so simple. My group of four encounters a plane, I shoot it down. I turn around, and there's nothing else flying around, except me and my guys. Okay...I look around some more and my guys have disappeared. What the heck? Turns out there was a single plane below me. And this simple task, three against one? Well, while the German plane is smoking, so is one of ours. I was going to check to see if allied planes just go straight for the balloons during balloon missions, thus dooming them, but I can see even in the best of times they're not doing great. Anyway, the Spad 13 is now available, which seems to be slightly better than the Camel. I'm unsure if I'm going to switch when it's available. Or not, I can get it straight away.

Lothar von Richtofen has challenged me to a dogfight. He's the Red Baron's younger brother. Unlike him, he did not die during the war, but afterwards, in an aviation incident. It's surprising how many aces died after the war like that. Anyway, I shoot Richtofen...wait a minute, there are three planes here. You cheater! Upon realizing this, I was expecting to lose badly multiple times, but as it turns out, it didn't help him too much.

This one was actually a little bit interesting. Richtofen's plane was red, which if I may indulge in some amateur psychology, means he worships his big brother. He was the first to go. His fellows weren't so much difficult as annoying. They're very agile, possibly down to them being triplanes. There is a marked reduction in agility with the Spad 13, and I'm not sure the speed is that much better. For the most part with the last two, I just went around in circles a lot.

This puts me at 49 kills, or 39 against planes, making me a really juicy target. Germany still has three aces nearby, including someone who should have very good reason to want me dead. Granted, I know the game isn't built like that, but it all feels kind of eh to have these people as targets and none of them want my head on a platter.

Next up a patrol. Myself, two veterans and Fonck. Someone has a death wish. It goes pretty well once I master just how slowly I can make my aircraft go. Just let the Germans above me eventually make a mistake. It's okay, I can wait. It gets even better, after I take out most of the first wave, out of nowhere comes the second and they more or less just give up. Four out of five Germans prefer to get gunned down by a Spad 13.

For this, I am given the Victoria Cross, the highest honor that is given by the British Government, often by the ruling regent. This, incidentally, would if it actually happened, be the only example of an American pilot to receive the medal, as the real life Americans, all five of them, were infantry. I now have 53 kills, which swiftly increases to 54 the next mission, another zeppelin. If these things are supposed to be impressive, the game failed at depicting them correctly.

Guynemer transferred out of the Storks, which is probably code for "he's dead".

No time to worry about that, I've got some balloons to defend. The Germans are not sending their best. They certainly get one in during the initial confrontation, but I still fly. More a matter of hunting them down at this point than actually fighting them. One balloon is lost, and for a moment I could have sworn they shot down my wingman, Fonck, but no, it was just taking him forever to take out the other plane. Following this is another zeppelin mission.

Russia is out of the war. I mean, yeah, not technically, but come on, like anyone can continue fighting a foreign war while fighting among themselves.

Scramble, German fighters have headed for our aerodrome. Ah, it's going to be one of these days, isn't it? Three of us are sent out to take out four planes. Good, just what I needed. Considering the events of a scramble mission I start off in a poor position, the ground, while the AI gets to decide how we fight most of the time.

That said, this mission went well. The AI pilots weren't the crack pilots they usually send, or we just got lucky. And it might just be lucky, because the end of mission bit said all the planes were shot down, yet the entire squadron shot down three. I'm pretty sure I saw some flak explosions, which seems dangerous at this height. (a few thousand feet)

Luck is apparently not the operative word. Watch how if/when I do my German campaign I'm more of a danger to my fellow Germans than the French. Once Dunkirk was filled with Allied aces, now it's just me, alone.

So, they send me on an escort mission. Things go from zero to 100 quickly, the Germans aren't far off from where we start. Things are looking easy. Everyone flies off to do their own thing, I track down the one going after the recon plane, I seem to scare it off, then shoot it down. Then the mission ends. One victory for me, one downed recon plane for the Germans. Whoops.

And Russia is now officially out of the war. Like I said, nobody's nutty enough to fight at that point. The Storks are then transferred to Toul, which I don't want to be, so I request a transfer to the No.3 Squadron at St. Marie Cappel, basically where I was. I'm practically a stone throw's away from the German border here.

The new squadron doesn't seem to be that far below my old squadron in terms of quality. Obviously I'm not going to get all veterans like with The Storks, but I'll survive. Crud, that sounds a heck of a lot more ominous than I meant it. Next mission, stop a bombing.

It doesn't go well in one sense, and very well in another. I manage to nail the two escorts on the initial attacks, but get wounded. Okay, I'll just try to land this, while I have my allied attack the bomber. Damn, they don't see the bomber, guess I'll have to take it out. As the screen fades red in and out, I finish the bomber too. Can I survive? I'm very close to the ground, so I make my landing, my plane crashes.

I survive. In the real war it was a heck of a lot more common for people to get injured than the total kill fests it's been for me. If you're in the hospital, or heaven forbid, in an enemy prison, time passes while you recover/escape. Thankfully, for me, it's just two months.

This, surprisingly, is not the best mission I ever did by score. It's funny, by surviving a crash and killing all the enemy planes I feel like I did a hell of a lot better than if I just took out all the enemy planes. I should have saved the mission to a tape so you could see it, legitimately, this is the kind of mission I should have won a medal on. I mean another one, I just got another bar on my Distinguished Service Order.

New plane, the Nievport 28. I don't have the mission builder manual right now, so I'm not sure of the exact stats, but nothing about this implies I'm getting a better deal in any way. Keeping my current plane. We get transferred to Bertincourt, but that's okay, that's where all the German aces are too.

Speaking of which, Manfred von Richthofen has decided he wants to fight me now. Makes sense, our violent deaths are all but guaranteed in this war, as close as it feels to the end. Unquestionably, I am the best ace the Allies have, he is the best ace the Germans have. Better for one of us to die at each other's hands than uneventfully via flak. An attempt to retain the noble intentions of warfare, mano-a-mano.

I have taken a video. This won't be as epic as the aforementioned defense mission, but that didn't have the legend himself. Oh, yeah, and despite being a "one-on-one" duel, the Prussian...prince, has decided to bring along two of his friends. Just for once I'd like to be the asshat who brings along his friends.

For those unable to see the video, in the opening salvo, I take an under approach, easily taking out the man himself. His companions prove to be far more annoying. Far too many turns just a bit too late to attack one, but once one is down, the last one falls easily. The Allies ace is better. Not only is the Allies ace better, it has been done so defacto better there is no excuse for the German side. If I were to have lost this duel, the Allies could rightly point out that it was three against one. Now all I have to do for the rest of the war is just not get shot down.

My next mission, a bombing run, is practically pedestrian in comparison. Or it would be if my companions knew how to fly their planes. Another friendly mid-air collision! I wasn't even doing anything fancy, apparently my AI allies have lost their artificial minds! I'm guessing this has something to do with how the bombers start off 10-15 yards away from me at the start.

I sort of don't really contribute to this one. My companions handled the enemy planes mostly swiftly, though some key positioning at the start is thanks to me. I'm not even sure I got off a single shot.

But I get my chance with a dogfight mission. I decide to test myself this time around, going out solo. This turns out to have been a mistake, although the game originally was going to give me one friendly, against four hostile. Curious, it's really hard for the AI to take me out when I'm constantly turning in one direction, though they get me eventually. Throwing in that trick the Germans do, occasionally going straight up for a moment, seems to work nicely too.

After this mission I get requests to join a couple of squadrons. I forget what one of them was, but I ended up joining the 94th Aero Squadron, including America's best ace, Eddie Rickenbacker. (which I checked after the fact, I mean, they were both seemingly random squadrons) Interestingly, checking the man's history, it's April 1918, practically his start in the war. I also like how his early days were described as incompetent, firing on friendly planes. He seems like a likeable guy, shame I've probably condemned him to death.

First mission with the 94th. Balloon busting, and my first secondary pilot is Rickenbacker. Oh, no. No no no no. No. Okay, we're going to try something else. Normally I go with whatever stuff the game sends me with. That's fine. Here, I'm going to go with four full planes. Hopefully this time, we'll all be going home. Enough people have died on these flights that I'm going to try my damnedest to get everyone home alive.

The good news is that by getting four planes we have one more than the enemy. Better still, we approach the enemy in the perfect situation, from below, and while I don't think I got any hits in, things went well. As I look around in the chaos of battle, I don't see any enemy planes I can easily reach, so I break off and go for the balloons. Leaving me alone against the flak fire, which is fine. My compatriots gun down the German planes and I take out the balloons unopposed. Everyone is alive.

This is by far the best balloon busting mission I've ever been on. For this I have gotten the Distinguished Flying Cross, and you know something? For once it is richly deserved. I'm proud of that mission. Applying my accumulated knowledge of the situation to success. Shame I'm mostly going to be taking advantage of that when I play the German campaign.

My next mission is far more mundane with lesser stakes, no aces, just regular pilots, well, veteran and regular pilots, against a bombing raid. It starts poorly, I don't spot the Germans until they're at my left side. Panicked, I order my flight to attack and begin chasing after them myself. I don't quite remember how the initial chaos went, but while going after an enemy plane, I noticed that two planes were slowly flying away.

Seeing my chance to stop the bombing, I chase after them, taking out both. They were sitting ducks. Somehow though, the fighters are still kicking, even taking out one of my own. Checking afterwards, they apparently had very few planes, so either an incompetent pilot or an extremely unlucky one.

And it's another balloon busting mission. We're going to see if success can be replicated, full four pilots, though no ace this time around, and approaching from the below. Apparently not, because I have the same old, same old troubles. Well, kind of new. If I take out the balloons, I get trouble with the planes, if I try to fight the planes, I never seem to actually hit them.

That said, I'm genuinely surprised at how often my AI companions manage to survive the mission, as I had to play through this one twice. Rarely do they take out enemy planes, but just as rarely are they actually shot. This mission gives me a Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar.

This makes me the highest scoring ace from the Allies. Not just England. In actuality, Rene Fonck has been dead for a little while, and the Red Baron has not achieved his full count, as he's also dead. In short, most of the people who were supposed to get near my count...can't.

Next up a patrol mission. Wow, talk about a blast from the past. Were the campaign capable of such intelligence, I would assume the generals were trying to get me away from the worst of it, you know, so I don't end up like the rest of the really good aces.

It's not that interesting of a mission, for the most part. The usual initial confrontation followed by one a little bit later on. Only this one happens near a cloud. You know, grey plane, grey cloud. I practically miss the guy at first, if I weren't compressing time I'd have never noticed him. Unfortunately, I never found him again after the initial spotting, so I eventually just ended the mission.
Hey, a new plane, the Germans now have the Fokker D. VII, which doesn't seem interesting at first glance.

Another patrol, normal at first. I dunno if this is just a trick with this particular section of the map, but I realized the game's coordinates match up with what I've always guessed are the trenches. Useful if true. Anyway, the initial meeting of enemies goes as usual...until I realize the Germans have stolen my paint design.

This might very well be the new plane, by my allies seem to have no trouble dealing with them. Curiously, it seems like the enemy has sent out a bunch of bombers or recon planes, I usually don't see those in patrol missions. Which seems like a wise idea because here they were sitting ducks.

A scramble mission, all hands on deck. Is it the Germans new plane? Yes. Good thing I don't have to distinguish myself from the others. Though I suspect were I actually doing this I would paint my plane red after seeing these guys. Sort of a, "I beat the Red Baron, now I am the Red Baron." Although I guess painting my plane red would be more appropriate for the self-styled "angel of death" moniker I've given myself. Though even that hasn't been true for a while. My allies have actually been surviving the mission, sometimes even the whole squad. This one I didn't even really do much, beyond shooting a couple planes a bit.

The red paint scheme appears earlier than it should, but it just seems like the final missions were not interesting enough for many screenshots.
More defense, this time stopping a bombing raid. My usual tactic of coming from the ground up doesn't really work because of how low the enemy I lose a few times while I restrategize. I instead go from above, which works so beautifully I take out both escorts myself. Leaving my AI companion more or less just sitting around watching while I gun down the bombers. Apparently the AI can't figure out the Z-axis too well here.

Revenge, except instead of a bombing mission, a recon escort mission. I now have the dubious honor of being able to claim I accidentally crashed into two recon planes at once. The worst part is that it was after I had already downed the enemy planes. Once I did the mission through properly, one recon plane got shot down, even though I had advance knowledge of where the Germans were and sped towards them.

Next up, patrol, me and Rickenbacker. This won't end badly. It really will since I forgot where I was supposed to be patrolling to. Well, let's test out my theory about following the trenches then. Starts off pretty good, I find an enemy plane, which might very well be a bomber who lost his escort. He doesn't fight back and doesn't turn around. No, it's just a single German plane, all alone, desperately trying to get home. Rickenbacker didn't even need to be on this mission. And my theory turned out to be true, you can finish a patrol just by following the trenches.

More protecting recon planes. Escort missions these days tend to have a full squadron of planes, making any enemies that fly towards us easy to deal with. This mission I had to worry more about flak than any actual enemy. It's funny how absolutely tedious it can be matching the speed of these things when you have four planes who just won't go to say, speed 2 or 3, when they're flying the same plane as you and somehow have troubles going below 80, while you and the plane you're escorting have no trouble.

And it's darkly hilarious to have finally finished off all the Germans, met back up with the recon plane, and start looking around for your fellows, only to see one come crashing into you. For god's sake, I'm only going 80 MPH, in the sky, where there is nothing around for miles and miles. Who the hell taught you how to fly? Time compression is awful in these missions, because the planes snake around a lot, preventing any semblance of being able to spot enemies from a distance. I have just now realized these things are connected.

On my final attempt, I make it to the final dogfight, only to get hit by flak -- My oil pressure is dropping. Well, there are two of them, I can try to take out one, then try to land gracefully within friendly lines. My luck holds, the blue plane is gunned down. I almost take out the other one, but I just give him a hardy seeing too. Not wanting to press my luck, I begin my descend, hoping my allies will continue the mission and take out the German plane.

Thankfully, the oil pressure stays relatively steady at 40%, so I ever so gracefully land. In a spare moment, I look around, to see all the friendly planes following me, despite no reason to, along with the enemy plane. Hey, at least the recon plane completed its mission.

Rickenbacker transferred out of the 94th Aero Squadron, which I'm not quite sure what that one means. The Germans get a new plane, the Siemens Schuckert. A Mission Builder plane, and attempting to look it up on the internet reveals that it's the manufacturer...which is a bit like calling a plane the Sopwith. It seems to be the D.IV, not that it seems special. And why do all German planes sound like something I can't say?

Finally, the 94th has been transferred to the Chateau-Thierry...which is pretty far south as far as combat goes.

Balloon busting. Sigh...and after that truly interesting flight, one that guarantees I have another mission in my session. It's not easy, but that's less because the enemies are hard as much as my three wingmen practically fall from the sky. Flak mostly served as my foe, as I more or less handled even three enemies at one beautifully. The time I won I was even the only person to have knocked out a plane.

The Germans decide to have their revenge, so we have to protect our balloons. I swear, my own allies are shooting the flak directly at me...wait, I'm still blue. IS THIS INTENDED BEHAVIOR? Well, this mission wasn't too difficult the first time around, so I quit afterwards, meaning I have to play it again. This time, I do so with a red plane. Does it change anything? Nope...which means the game starts me in front of enemy flak. Wow.

New plane for the Germans, the Fokker D.VIII, which is not in the manual. Presumably, it's better than the Fokker D.VII.

Scramble, will the Germans bring their new Fokkers around? No, it's the usual Fokkers. Today on Morpheus Kitami's Flying Circus, witness so many vehicle on vehicle collisions and gun shots you'd swear you were in Chicago on a wet summer day. At least this time it's the enemies randomly crashing into me and not friendlies.

Time for an ordinary dogfight mission. These guys are the new Fokkers. The planes are black, which is unfortunate, because the black of the Germans and the olive green of the friendlies is very difficult for me to distinguish. That honestly makes the mission a lot harder than it should have been.

Finally, the Sopwith Snipe, technical stats don't really matter, but it is supposed to be the Allies best plane. No more awkward turns. Also, the game didn't mention this, but Rickenbacker has returned, and Udet is roughly in the same area I am. Does this mean I'll be able to take him out? Probably not, I seem incapable of creating change for the better.

Another dogfight, which means it's time to test out my new plane. Two far weaker enemy planes, which means I really shouldn't have brought two people. One friendly dies, sadly. The Snipe is flawless, basically a Camel with 120+ MPH speed at level.

Defense against bombers mission, and unfortunately, I'm the second in command here. Rickenbacker, who I should point out hasn't been with this squadron for a couple of months, is the leader. Now I have to protect his behind while not getting out factory bombed. This is easier than I would have thought, the Germans decided to send three bombers with no escorts. I just have to get them before Rickenbacker decides that the only way to win is to collide with the enemy.

Another dogfight. Perhaps it's just because I know the war will be over soon, but there's an air of resignation in these missions. Like the Germans are running out. They do put up good chase, but we win without a loss.

You know what I like after a dogfight? Another dogfight. The game tried to send me with three wingmen, I went with two wingmen and fought two planes. Even that felt like overkill. The worst threat to my fellows was me, trying to make some leading shots, only to shoot a friendly as he shot past the hostile.

Recon mission, hopefully for the final big push. The real test for the Snipe, protecting friendlies. And it goes so-so. It's more about ensuring enemies don't get the chance to get behind the recon planes, they're defenseless. Unfortunately, when they're behind recon planes, you have to be very careful about shooting them, or you've just downed a friendly.

The war is over. That was rather a mundane ending. It's told through a series of newspapers and then I get my final score. 105 kills and basically all the medals. Allied ace of aces, and probably ace of aces period for this war, but I don't know if the game tracks that.

So...playing this game again as the Germans. I've given it a lot of thought. This game has gone on for a month, which isn't too unusual for the longer games, and even though I would be forced to reuse earlier, crummier planes against the Allies, I don't think I'll do so. I don't think I'll get anything more out of it than I did from the Allies. Certainly, the Germans have a better game, albeit with an easier period when they first get the double machine gun planes to when the Allies get them, but I'm not going to get anything more out of it beyond a better understanding of how the Germans planes work, which isn't necessarily required. I also don't want this game to overstay it's welcome, either for me or my readers.

This Session: 7 hours 30 minutes

Final Time: 21 hours 50 minutes

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