Secret Weapons Over Normandy
A review by David Eggers, Age 8
Before I start reviewing, I should warn you that I have yet to play LucasArts' classic World War 2 flyer games (Battlehawks 1942, Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, etc.). However, I am a big fan of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games, so maybe my review will still count. No, I didn't think so either.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy, as most of you know, is set during World War II. The storyline surrounds the career of an American pilot, James Chase, who flies for the British Royal Air Force. As you proceed through the different missions, which range from "things that actually happened" to "things that so didn't," Chase befriends a number of different pilots, is promoted from time to time, and ends up in many different spots around the world. The story is definitely secondary to the action, but fulfills its role dutifully. Chase is has a bit of the "everyman" quality going, but from time to time he hints at personality and having opinions.
Some of the screenshots that surfaced in the months before SWON's release were a bit worrying. The game's textures looked dull and flat, and the effects - explosions, bullet tracers, fires, etc. - did not look very convincing. However, I came to find that these shots can be misleading; it seems as though Totally Games has improved upon the visuals in the final release. More importantly, though, is that the gameplay moves quite fast, and photorealism takes a backseat with entirely non-disasterous results. The quality of the graphics suffers a bit in exchange for very smooth in-game performance (and fast load times, might I add), but I think the trade-off is worth it. In the end, I was actually quite content with the look of the game, and I found that most of the effects that looked questionable in screenshots to look fairly smooth during play.
SWON's sound effects and musical score and such are both great. I can't very well pretend to be an expert on music or WW2-era combat aircraft, but suffice it to say that your ears will be pleased. The sounds present in SWON are realistic and unique to each plane, for the most part, which was impressive. The music is nearly always present during the missions and seems to fit the mood of the level very well without being a distraction, you know, from the killing. Like in many previous LucasArts games, the music changes to fit the current situation in the missions, and the transitions are fairly smooth.
Okay, so how about the gameplay itself? In a word (or two), it rocks. Honestly, I didn't really care about this game until I checked out the demo. Like I said before, the screenshots I was seeing prior to the game's release did not impress me much, but as it turns out, the heart of the game is truly in its level of fun and engaging gameplay.
The feel of the game is instantly reminiscent of the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series: Not bogged down in trying to be a complicated flight sim, but with enough complexity in the control system to provide for fast, interesting action sequences with a number of fun features at the player's disposal. The two-player splitscreen mode in the console version of SWON is also a blast. As you progress through the single-player campaign, you earn new planes, locations, and weapon upgrades, which keep things interesting and competitive. My only real gripe with the gameplay is that it seems like the level of difficulty between missions varies a great deal. For instance, after I would finish a mission that I felt was very difficult, the next mission would seem almost too easy, or be over way to quickly. I guess that that didn't concern me too much, but I would have preferred a more even progression of difficulty.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy is a game that is definitely worth buying, if you know what you're buying. Don't expect a control-centric flight sim with top of the line graphics or a deep story. If you want a fun, challenging action game that truly stands alongside the legendary LucasArts flight games of the past, however, this one's a winner.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy has been available for months.
Pros: Gameplay is fun and engaging, reminiscent of LucasArts' flight combat classics.
Cons: Graphics could be more polished, story stumbles between history and fiction.