Secret Weapons Over Normandy features 20 authentic World War II aircraft in a series of 30 air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Inspired by LucasArts' original Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, released in 1991 for computers, players become members of an ace squadron that is given the most harrowing assignments in the war. Players will engage in 15 combat theaters, taking them from Europe and the Eastern Front to North Africa, China-Burma-India, and the Pacific. Developer Totally Games draws from its experience in creating the popular Star Wars: X-Wing series for this project, offering a similar structure of cinematic storytelling, notable characters, and intense dogfights and bombing runs.
The action takes place over a period of four years, where players will become active participants in such infamous battles as the Evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, Operation Sea Lion, Battle of Midway, and the D-Day invasion. Flyable aircraft includes the P-38 Lightning, the P-51 Mustang, the Me 163 Komet, the Me 262, and the B-17 Flying Fortress. To further draw players into the game, sound effects were re-created using actual field recordings of aircraft flown during the time period. Voice acting is performed by Will Lyman, narrator of the PBS television series Frontline, and international film star Mako, who provides the game's Japanese Imperial dialect. Rounding out the list of features is the ability to enlist a friend, for cooperative play or for competitive dueling, in a variety of multiplayer modes.
I still have fond, fond memories of X-Wing, although time has blurred them a little. You know, turned them a sepia tone, making them nostalgic while obliterating any frustration, anger and grief that was felt at the time. But some of those memories achieved clarity again while playing Secret Weapons Over Normandy.
Both games had Larry Holland at the helm. And both games feature missions that approach "mind-exploding." On more than a few occasions, I had to walk away from Secret Weapons Over Normandy. While the multi-part missions and level designs are top notch, actually finishing some of them will put your nerves, accuracy, and patience to the test. (Although Secret Weapons Over Normandy is still easier than X-Wing or Tie-Fighter.)
As an American WWII aviator, you fly some of the better-known aircraft of the era - and, of course, some of the titular Secret Weapons. (Besides flying the planes you'll also man anti-aircraft guns and turrets.) There are upgrade options (airframe, increased ammo capacity, etc.) for each plane, that are accessible by earning "requisitions" during the course of the campaign and extra missions. The number of requisitions depends on your ability to fulfill both primary and secondary objectives of each mission. While upgrading the planes is not mandatory, it can make some missions a little easier - and you'll want every advantage possible.
It's really easy to screw up a mission if you're not paying attention to every minutia. Are there anti-air defenses? What are your wingmen doing? Did a German attack group just dive out of the sun? Subs present? How far away is the friendly airfield? Tanks? Your airspeed? Where are the roads into town? At any time your attention is split five different directions, if you're lucky. Usually, you'll split your attention on three things and the fourth thing (maybe your altimeter) will usually kill you. And because the missions are mostly multipart affairs you have to be on top of your game in short order if you want to see the next mission but for all of its frustration, Secret Weapons Over Normandy is hard to put down, too. That old, "Just one more mission..." takes root more often than the desire to just walk away from it.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy includes automatic checkpoint saves during the course of a mission so if you bail you can pick-up somewhere in the middle instead of at the beginning (although you still have the option to start the mission from the beginning). There's also the ability to slow down time, a la Max Payne, which can improve your aim drastically.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy never pretends to be a simulation game - it's all about action in the sky. The planes behave like you'd expect them to - bombers are slower, fighters are speedy and agile, etc. - but this is not Microsoft's Flight Simulator. As such, the controls are straightforward and provided you have a good joystick you'll have no complaints. I have an older Thrustmaster joystick and never had a problem. Until that time I used the keyboard, which is a bad, bad idea. You can remap the buttons but actually flying using just the keyboard is very tough. Really, you'll need a joystick (or at least a gamepad).
Secret Weapons Over Normandy looks very good and blasting enemy fighters out of the sky never gets tired. Everything is animated in a believable manner, whether it's subs sinking or enemy bombers splintering. Objects on the ground also get some attention but you'll want to turn down the detail if you don't have the right hardware. My one gripe stems from the fact Secret Weapons Over Normandy would always reset the gamma on me whenever I booted it up. I always had to increase it before playing. Not a crippling problem but annoying.
There's not much about Secret Weapons Over Normandy that could have been improved. There's no multiplayer and the subject matter begs for a dogfighting mode. Extending the playtime is an "Instant Action" mode. Just set a few variables and away you go.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy is a good game - almost achieved "great" but, sweet momma, some of those missions are hard - filled with action, challenge, the obligatory references to Star Wars, and a first-rate presentation. Give it a go, just make sure you have a joystick handy.
People who downloaded Secret Weapons Over Normandy have also downloaded:
Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (CD-ROM), Wings of War, Heroes of the Pacific, Wings of Honour, Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2: WWII Pacific Theater, Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator: WWII Europe Series, Jane's WWII Fighters, Shellshock: Nam '67
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