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Secret Weapons Over Normandy Review
developer: Totally Games
PIII 850, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 2.2GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 18, 03 (released)
|» All About Secret Weapons Over Normandy on ActionTrip|
After taking a breather from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Why would you want to? - Smap), we turn our eyes to the latest World War II themed flight action game, Secret Weapons Over Normandy. For this endeavor, the diligent lads at LucasArts rolled the dice with Lawrence Holland and the team at Totally Games, putting together a co-project which attempts to bring players closer to what went on in the skies above Europe, Africa, and Asia, during the Second World War. For those that are unaware, Lawrence Holland is the creator of once hugely popular space shooters (Some of which I wish would get direct sequels today - Smap), Star Wars: X-Wing, Star Wars: Tie Fighter and back in 1991 he also got recognized for his game Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. We should also mention that Totally Games was also responsible for the brilliant Star Wars space action game, X-Wing: Alliance. Anyhow, this is the team's first endeavor in the WW II setting.
The single-player campaign of Secret Weapons Over Normandy lets players jump into the boots of an American pilot named Chase. As the armies of Germany march across Northern Europe, the British are compelled to withdraw whatever forces they had remaining on the continent. In order to accomplish this evacuation with as little casualties as possible, the British require powerful air support to deal with Germany's persistent fighters and bombers. After showing off his admirable flight skills in this mission (i.e. the evacuation of Dunkirk), Chase gets recruited by the RAF. To stand up against Hitler's famous elite Nemesis Squadron, the Allies assemble a secret squadron of some of the most talented pilots in the world. These were also known as the Battlehawks and as part of this squadron, you'll be sent on a variety of vital assignments throughout the globe to assist the Allies against Hitler's ruthless war campaigns.
The single-player campaign in Secret Weapons Over Normandy is actually well balanced between an epic scope and a personal experience of an American pilot. Although each completed task can turn the course of the entire war, the game doesn't appear to put too much emphasis on the historical significance of some of these events. The fact that Chase meets a few characters along the way makes things a bit more interesting. There's only one slight drawback in the entire concept though, the storyline is laid out as a narrative through letters, which the main character keeps sending to his family back in the States. Every time Chase writes his heart out, he also throws in essential details about his mission assignments, which are top secret by the way. You have to admit it seems a bit ridiculous when an elite Allied pilot starts revealing confidential military goals in personal letters to his loved ones. This immediately reminded me of that scene from "Airplane" the movie - I love you Elaine. My orders came through. My squadron ships out tomorrow, we're bombing the storage depots at Daiquiri at 18:00 hours. We're coming in from the North, below their radar... etc. Of course, when he'll be back, as she asks him this, is classified. I believe you get the picture. Although such inconsistencies do not influence the gameplay itself, they will most likely be too much to swallow for many gamers. If the RAF recruited pilots with such loose tongues, I doubt the Germans would have had any trouble putting up unbreakable defenses all over Europe right where they would be needed.
Throughout the game players are able to participate in over 15 single-player missions, battling in the aforementioned skies above Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Your main task will be to prove yourself in air combat, eventually unlocking more dangerous missions and additional aircraft. There's a relatively decent selection of primary and secondary objectives for you to undertake, usually ranging from reconnaissance, escort, bombardment, rescue, etc. Sometimes, however, your objectives are rather straightforward, such as destroying all enemies, annihilating a single vessel, bombing all bridges in the area, enduring through intense dogfights against a huge amount of enemy aircraft, and so forth. To enliven the atmosphere a wee bit, the developers also threw in a couple of turret-based missions, where players are forced to saddle-up the defense turret and clear the skies of approaching fighters and bombers. Although such segments come as a nice breather from flying and dogfights, it's still nothing we haven't seen before.
The great variety of playable planes certainly stands out as the game's defining characteristic. Basically, each plane has its advantages in particular missions, requiring you to push the aircraft to its limits in order to compete with often-hefty enemy resistance. Apart from utilizing the handiwork of American, British, and Russian air forces, players may also pinch German and Japanese aircraft and use them to their advantage during particular missions. For instance, you may find yourself taking off in the cockpit of a Spitfire, and later on you can land on a Partisan Airfield and exchange it for a Ju-88 or the Japanese A6M Zero (more popular as "Zeke"). Both Allied and Axis air forces have a wide assortment of planes. Another interesting addition to the gameplay is that you can upgrade aircraft after earning enough Upgrade Requisitions. These are gained by taking out secondary targets during missions - the more targets that you nail, the more you can upgrade your planes. This system actually proved to be an excellent way to shift the gameplay away from the practically constant action, also emphasizing the significance of targets beyond your primary objectives. After you've achieved enough "Upgrade Requisitions", you can head off to the hangar and instruct the engineers to add or modify any one of the following features of your aircraft: armor, engine, airframe, extra gun ammo, and double bomb pack.
Competing against the AI is not all that challenging. Fair enough, your opponents won't waste any bullets when they have you in their sights. Then again, it often appears as if they engage in specific flight patterns just to make it easier for you to blow them clear out of the sky. The AI of your wingmen can provide good cover, but may occasionally ignore your instructions by simply disregarding the fact that you have three bogies on your tail and are in dire need of assistance. Unfortunately and predictably, this doesn't have a happy ending. The performance of CPU-controlled pilots cannot improve since players are not allowed to adjust the game's difficulty in any way. Therefore, I'm afraid you're stuck with the AI the way it is: easy.
6.1 Above Average
Dynamic gameplay, plenty of planes to fly in, the ability to steal and operate enemy planes, good character voicing and cool soundtrack;
Often shallow and too mediocre, flops in the AI, choppy frame-rates, "fun" physics, sub par graphics, no multiplayer.