Secret Weapons Over Normandy - game review
There are times when, bored with hunting strangers in the corridors of futuristic bases, or another shootout with bandits in some old warehouse, we want to take a break from the present and the future and reach for a game set in a bit more distant times. Not everyone is comfortable with the intricate strategies of the Second World War, sometimes one would like to be directly involved in the clashes of that period. While we haven't been complaining lately about the lack of games in which we hold the Sten's stock, there are definitely fewer games in which we keep the shuttlecock of the plane from those years. Most players can back out at this point, realizing just how skilled they need to be in aerial combat in games such as Il-2 Sturmovik. Secret Weapons Over Normandy was created for those afraid of testing their strength in the air. It is worth mentioning here that the head of the project is a Mr. Lawrence Holland, who "committed" in the past such games as X-Wing, Tie Fighter and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. As you can see, SWON is another baby from the Secret Weapons series. And it is really worth saying at the very beginning that those who, by the words "realistic simulator", get rashes and involuntary convulsions can be calm. SWON is a game that can be enjoyed by everyone who puts great, dynamic fun over realistically reproduced cockpits and hellishly demanding air battles. Although I do not belong to this group of players, SWON made me a lot of unexpected joy. But more on that ...
At the very beginning, it is surprising that we extract four silver discs from the game box. Honestly, I do not know why so much, although after feeding our CD-ROM drive with more CDs, it turns out that Secret Weapons Over Normandy reserved almost two gigabytes of free space on our hard drive. The first launch of the game and, as usual, we "spend" the inserts of other companies participating in the creation of the game (although with the LucasArts insert my hand hung over the space a little longer). After a while, an interesting, although completely static, intro appears, showing photos from the war period, and we hear the narrator's voice, building a specific mood. The game menu allows us to choose quick combat and campaign. The latter begins with a three-step tutorial that introduces you to the game. The last hopes for the "simulation" SWON are shattered by the control options, where we only find a handful of keys to master. This can be a great advantage for many players that they do not have to master complicated keyboards. As it turns out, it is not bad at all.
The introduction to the campaign is a bit surprising - we do not create "our" pilot here, as in most aviation games, but we play an existing character, which indicates that the campaign ahead will not be a cluster of random missions, but a story whose main character will be us. Another plus. As it turns out, our name is James Chase and we are a Yankee pilot who ends up in a secret squadron stationed in Great Britain called Battlehawks, which brings together the best of the best. Intrigued by this introduction, I decided to follow the tutorial. Before the first training mission began, I was in the hangar where the British Hurricane was waiting for me, and so far I had no choice of anything else. At this point, he quite strongly remembered the arcade nature of the game - the plane is described simply by four indicators on the scales - speed, armor, maneuverability and firepower. Other options in the hangar allow you to improve the machine (!) By interfering with the armor, engine and hull. This is done for special points that we will collect after completing subsequent missions. Well, my account was zero so I had to settle for Hurricane without tuning. So I put on a pilot and goggles, settled in the cabin and set off to conquer the sky.
The first seconds in the air immediately raise the question of where the cockpit has gone. The answer is simple - there are no cockpits. We see the plane "from behind the tail" in two possible projections, and the additional view from the camera is the view from the inside, from the perspective of the pilot's eyes. Despite the lack of a cockpit, on the screen we can see some of the most important instruments facilitating orientation in the air, such as a speedometer, altimeter or radar (!), Thanks to which you can clearly see what is happening around us. Well, since it is supposed to be a secret weapon over the Normandy, let's boldly use these undoubted facilities. The plane's flight model is extremely dexterity and has no reflection in reality. The plane follows a string in all directions, life is not poisoned by corkscrews or stalling in wheeled combat. And when it comes to wheeled combat, our machine has enviable maneuverability as I was able to make a 360-degree turn in six seconds. Thanks to this, it is quite easy to lose the opponent sitting on your tail and find enemy planes spinning around us. Landing, which we carry out either at the end of the mission or during it, in order to rearm the plane, has also been facilitated to the limit - everyone whose hands are shaking at the sight of the approaching earth do not even have to land, they just need to fly into the appropriate symbol rotating over the airport. Others can try to touch down, which is really not a complicated activity - just lower the landing gear, reduce speed and simply put the plane on the runway. Before I go to the description of the air fights themselves, a few warm words should be given to the graphics and sound for the program.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy is made really decently, the aircraft models are so pretty that sometimes I even thought of planes from games like Combat Flight Simulator series. Big applause for graphic designers who make the air really nice. Airplane explosions are amazing, even cinematic. Slightly damaged, they drag behind them thick streaks of smoke, and when hit by a lethal series, they break into pieces - you can see wings and pieces of the fuselage falling off. It really gives a lot of satisfaction to the pilot of the winning plane. The sound of machine engines and rattling machine guns was also reflected flawlessly.
Wheel combat is not a problem - just put the plane on the wing and spin the wheels for as long as the enemy pilot appears near the sight, without fear of losing speed and stalling. Importantly, we do not have to worry too much about calculating the advance of the shot (an unforgivable mistake even in such a game would be shooting "through the sight" during tight maneuvers), because, as in modern fighters, we see a moving circle near the sight showing where they will hit missiles at any given time. The circle can even change its color to inform us that the enemy machine is within the range of the shot - thanks to this, we do not waste ammunition on scaring the enemy miles away. As I mentioned at the beginning, planes in SWON have such a feature as armor. The authors of the program probably took it too much to heart, because they behave a bit like flying armored vehicles - you need to load a lot of ammunition in them (and the constructions from that time really required a short, well-placed series to end their life), to kindly littered the sky with their remains. Fortunately, our planes carry a good supply of ammunition. Over two thousand rounds on board will allow us to calmly force even a dozen or so enemy aircraft to uncontrolled landing during one mission. I was also amazed at how the issue of collisions and damage was handled. At one point, during a wheel fight, I found myself in a seemingly no way out - on a leading course, close to the enemy Ju-87 Stuk. Waiting for the imminent catastrophe, I let go of the joystick, but the gracefully heading machines only bounced off each other, changing the direction of flight. Well, I will leave this solution without comment. The damage level of our machine is shown by one of the indicators in the simplest way possible - the airplane symbol simply changes color to reflect the state of the machine. Of course, I haven't noticed any impact the damage has on handling, but maybe I'm clinging too much. A very nice touch in the game is that the airline pilots of each country shout over the radio in their own languages. Already in the first mission, I was impressed by the exchange of warnings in German between the Stuka pilots, when I fell between them, ready to fight. Interestingly, at some point in SWON we will also be able to sit behind the trigger of the on-board rifle of the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. Such "targeting" fun has always been addictive. Fighting in the air in SWON, despite significant simplifications, is very addictive!
Secret Weapons Over Normandy is not only about fighting planes high in the clouds. In most missions, we will also hang bombs or torpedoes under the wing of our aircraft and go hunting for buildings, tanks or enemy ships. Just like the airborne ones, the ground targets were prepared very carefully, especially the ships make a good impression. The area is quite undulating, overgrown with forests, and the towns are not only a few randomly arranged houses, but also really dense buildings with visible streets. Despite the richness of the terrain, we do not feel the single-digit number of frames - everything works smoothly.
The attack on ground targets was solved intuitively for this type of game. We descend above the ground, on which a circle is displayed on a regular basis, indicating the place where the bombs released at the moment fall. It sounds simple, but in fact it sometimes takes a few turns to get in a straight line over a column of tanks crossing a narrow bridge, at the correct height, where the circle will be visible on the ground. Interestingly, we can fly really low and drop bombs from a low height - even when we find ourselves in a cloud of debris from an exploding target, our plane will come out unscathed. Of course, you should be careful not to get caught in the fire of enemy anti-aircraft artillery - it can sometimes spoil your life ... Just like air combat, air strikes on ground and surface targets pleasantly raise adrenaline, and accurate hits give a lot of satisfaction.
The basic game mode is - as I mentioned earlier - a fictionalized campaign consisting of 30 missions. The title of the game may be a bit misleading, because the theater of operations is not only Normandy - learning about the history of James Chase, we will go through many events known from history, ranging from the evacuation of Dunkirk, through the Battle of Great Britain, the Battle of Midway in the Pacific, where we will fight Japanese pilots, the Eastern Front, to finally return to Normandy and take part in D-Day, the Allied invasion. In my opinion, this is a very pleasant differentiation, because the missions taking place only over the Normandy, in the number of thirty pieces, could tire the player a bit with monotony.
The hangar of available planes, of which there are over twenty, also looks good. We will pilot such classic machines as: Hurricane, Spitfire, P-51 Mustang or P-38 Lightning. Someone might ask at this point, where are the title secret weapons here? Hurrying to answer, I would like to inform you that we will be able to fly not only on the - maybe not so secret, but famous - jet Me-163 Komet or Me-262 Schwalbe, but also on strictly experimental designs such as XP-55, XP-56, or the XF5U-1 Flying Pancake, which, as the name says, resembles ... a UFO. However, these are not all the surprises that the game developers have hidden. As I mentioned at the beginning, the game was played by Mr. Lawrence Holland, the creator of X-Wing and Tie Fighter, which means that ... we will also be able to pilot these Star Wars fighters! But this is a masked surprise and we will have to unlock these cosmic gems thanks to the campaign.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy is a really good addictive game. When we forget about habits from classic flight simulators and accept the rules of the game, we will have a lot of great fun. The game does not require very powerful computers (minimum 850 MHz processor and 256MB RAM) and is suitable for players of all age categories. By the way, thanks to the photo documentation and narration during the campaign, it perfectly resembles the key events related to air battles during World War II. As an unrepentant "simulator", I was amazed at how I got hooked on this game, and now I know that it will remain on my hard drive for a while, so I can return to the Normandy skies in my free time ...
Adrian "Red Scorpion" Napieralski