By Tristan Mayshark
Name notwithstanding, Secret Weapons Over Normandy doesn't really have anything to do with Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, LucasArts' 1991 combat flight sim. Where that game offered what was, at the time, essentially a sim experience, SWON takes a much more arcadish approach to aerial destruction in World War II.
Set, obviously, against the backdrop of the Normandy campaign, in story mode you take on the role of a Yankee who has come over to Britian to fulfill his dream of flying in the RAF. This is a sketchy premise at best, since the US had a notable air deployment of its own during the War, but my guess is that Totally Games wanted the player to be able to better identify with the protagonist. In some ways this is a shame because it hurts the credibility of the story from the get go.
SWON offers players the chance to fly from a pilot's-eye perspective, but the game defaults to a third-person chase view that is really how it is meant to be played. One can adapt to the control in first person, but it takes some time to become intuitive, and it's almost impossible to aim bombs with any sort of accuracy since you're guided by a yellow crosshair on the ground that's not visable unless you're close to the ground and in chase-view.
Additionally, a red target appears in front of a targeted enemy plane that's within about 2000 feet, showing you where you need to shoot if you want to hit the plane. This makes the game much easier, but also feeds the arcade feeling.
The game features an advanced? mode that makes the flight model a bit more realistic (read: hard to control) among other things, but this feels like something that was tacked on at the last minute and certainly won't satisfy flight simulation purists.
However, despite these basic shortcomings, SWON does offer up an explosive ride that's fun if not terribly original. At the outset, you have access to only a few aircraft, a basic cannon, and a basic set of bombs. There are a variety of weapons that become available as you progress through story mode (and are thus unlocked? in Quick Battle mode, which drops you right into a dogfight based on parameters you specify). Ultimatly, you discover secret weapons?, such as the Highball?, a bouncing bomb? made to be dropped on the water and skip? along until it hits something. I questioned the historical accuracy of this, but a quick trip to Google confirmed that there was, in fact, such a weapon.
The graphics in this game are a mixed bag. On the PC, with the details maxed out, it looks very pretty: however, this takes an exacting toll on even a high-end gaming rig. With details at medium, the PC still has the advantage over the PS2, and to a lesser degree the Xbox, because of higher resolutions and a few nifty shader effects.
The sound is tolerable, although the speech is fairly poor. Machine-guns spit realistically enough, but the German pilots screaming ve haff to destroy you!? suffer from classic programmer in the bathroom? sound effect quality issues, and the British accents are not much better. All in all, sound probably needs more improvement than any other area in this game.
At the end of the day, SWON is a good diversion, but there's not much meat here. My advice is to rent this one first, and if you're looking for a real sim, stick with the Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator games.