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by Avalon Hill
What the game is about:
Over the Reich is a turn-based tactical "flight simulator" in the tradition of Flight Commander 2. Users command an entire squadron of English, American or German aircraft and reenact World War II battles in either single mission or campaign modes. Over the Reich is an addictive, detailed simulation that literally adds another dimension to wargaming.

The Review:
If a picture really is worth a thousand words all I would need to do to convince you to buy a copy of Over the Reich is post a picture of my face instead of this article. The gleam in my eye and extremely wide grin plastered across my countenance would assure you that Big Time Software has released something very interesting.

otr1.jpg (9097 bytes)I am not usually prone to outward expressions of glee while playing computer games so I suppose this warrants some explanation. I just returned from a mission, you see. I was commanding 23 P-51 Mustangs (not to mention my 15 P-38s) when we happened upon a motley collection of 15 Me-190s and 15 Bf-109s (not counting the three additional enemy planes that joined their comrades in the middle of the fray).

I like planes, especially World War II planes, and that is a lot of World War II planes. There are some traditional flight sims capable of handling these kinds of numbers--albeit slowly--but Over the Reich takes an entirely different approach to the air war, turning what traditionally would be a chaotic melee into a beautifully choreographed and manageable dogfight.

The Achilles' heel of traditional single-player flight simulators has always been weak wingman AI. Since I can only control a single aircraft, complex aerial tactics are impossible and I frequently find myself going on “lone-wolf” missions or using my wingies as cannon fodder so I can line up a shot--fun, but not very realistic. In Over the Reich, you are your wingman. You have absolute control over every fighter in the squadron through an intuitive and thorough interface. While this sounds like it would make for cookie-cutter duels where you can simply do the same maneuvers over and over again to achieve victory, this is not the case. Every aircraft has different attributes and variables that you must work with, and these variables are dynamic. Pull too many G's trying to squeeze a few more degrees of turn out of that last move? Whoops, there go your wing spars, weakened to the point where they will support only the gentlest of maneuvers. Hold that trigger down a little too long on your last firing pass? Get ready to bug out fast because you've just jammed your guns. These bad breaks can be offset somewhat by the pilots, who add an extra layer of variables with abilities like marksmanship, gifted flyer, better eyesight and varying levels of experience.

The damage system itself in OTR is fascinating. Planes that use cannons tend to score fewer hits, but their explosive shells can down a plane in a single burst. Allied planes tend to use machine guns which eat away at an enemy but rarely cause critical damage. I have watched in horror as my Allied fighters chewed at the tail of a German interceptor with little effect as it easily knocked two or three B-17 bombers down with its cannons. Planes can lose engines, spring leaks, take aileron damage, lose their oxygen systems or fall prey to myriad other system failures. The game will have you frantically clicking away to see if your crippled planes should stay in for a few more shots or turn tail and get out--and frantic isn't a word I normally associate with turn-based combat.

The Wild Blue Yonder
The manual states that there are 22 player-controllable planes, but that is misleading. There are well over 30 craft to fly if you include all of the variants Big Time threw in. Trust me, flying a P-51B is nothing at all like whipping around the sky in a P-51D.

otr2.jpg (10758 bytes)Flying couldn't be easier, thanks to a great interface. Anyone familiar with Flight Commander 2 will be able to jump right in and start blasting. There is an on-screen depiction of a control stick which can be moved using either the mouse or keyboard shortcuts. A line of red arrows on the main display depicts the resulting effects on your flight path. There is also a sliding throttle (with overboost and brakes), and a control that allows you to tweak the bank and pitch angles of your aircraft. An airspeed indicator is also located on the control panel, and you will be referring to it frequently. Altitude is displayed as a number next to the depiction of the aircraft in the main display.

Although it is easy to see what direction your plane is facing in the main display, and the graphics are rendered nicely, there is no visual cue to indicate relative altitudes. An aircraft at 1000 ft. in a screaming power dive looks exactly the same as his wingman leisurely putting around at 25,000 ft. While this was confusing at first, I became accustomed to it with practice.

To make things easier Big Time has incorporated a computer suggested move into the game, although you are advised to use it sparingly. Just sitting there letting the computer move results in having all of your planes at a lower altitude than they should be and usually out of position. Once you get the hang of the game though, you won't let the computer do anything but mop up after a big fight.

All of the above would be for naught if combat wasn't realistic, but Over the Reich does a commendable job of simulating battles. Maneuvers are handled well and the flight model is realistic. You will not find Bf-109s flying circles around Spitfires or Me-262s out-accelerating P-51s. Every plane has a favorable method of attack that must be exploited if you want to win. Big Time has included a nice online encyclopedia that can be used to compare the aircraft's abilities at a variety of altitudes.

Because I was in control of all aircraft I was able to execute tactics like the Thatch Weave--something I have never been able to do in a single-player flight sim. Bomber fire is also modeled well. Stragglers are easy prey, but woe to the bold pilot who screams into a formation of the beasts. To call their combined firepower devastating is understatement.

Once you have an enemy in your sights a red crosshair appears with a number indicating how close you are to having a perfect "100" shot. Firing is done in a combat phase where I was able to easily choose which guns I wanted to fire (great for saving precious cannon ammo while waiting for the perfect angle). Green pilots tend to get nervous in combat and spray bullets everywhere, which usually ends up jamming a gun or two. Experienced pilots can pull off controlled bursts and even snap shots. Once you shoot an enemy down (or get shot down yourself) the pilot attempts to bail out and make it back to friendly territory--the success of both being dependent on a number of factors. Needless to say, combat is a blast; although ground attack missions leave a little to be desired.

There are several difficulty levels to choose from, but I only played General (the highest) because it was the only one that incorporated altitude.

Pick a Mission
Over the Reich has three campaigns and players can fly for England, the United States, or Germany. During the campaigns you choose which pilots from your squadron will fly the missions, set the altitude for your flight, and decide if you want to change your squadron's equipment when upgrades become available. Missions include bomber escort, ground attack (with guns, bombs and rockets) and combat air patrol, among others. I hadn't felt real anger until I was on an important mission and three of my pilots turned back with “engine trouble,” leaving me shorthanded and indirectly causing the death of my best ace. There is also a weird tension that built as I watched my bombers creep toward the target and hoped they wouldn’t get jumped by fighters before we reached the target. There isn't much strategic interaction in the game, but it does add an extra level of depth to an absolutely solid tactical simulation.

In addition to the campaigns there are a variety of single missions--historical and otherwise--and even a roll-your-own dogfight creation system. This latter option is not very powerful and doesn't allow for hypotheticals such as Typhoons vs. P-47s, but it does add a great deal of replay value to the game. Here's hoping Big Time releases a full-blown mission editor a la Flight Commander 2.

Sound and Graphics
I was having so much fun I almost forgot about this category. As stated above, graphics are nice--especially for a wargame from a small developer. The digital sound effects are also well done. Gunfire sounded a bit muffled, but who cares? Music during the game is a good version of "Flight of the Valkyries" but you will probably shut it off after the umpteenth time you hear it. I also shut off most of the black-and-white video clips of World War II footage because they had no sound and bogged the game down. The opening video is cool to watch--once; but Big Time did it right with the big band extravaganza that plays when the Allies win. Do yourself a favor and let the whole tune play out; it lasts for several minutes and sets up a nice mood for the game. Frankly, this could be an ASCII game with PC speaker sound and it would be just as fun.

Final Summary:
If you have the slightest interest in World War II aviation, Over the Reich is a must-buy title. Even traditional flight sim veterans should find the turn-based combat enjoyable. Over the Reich is like chess with attitude--it is easy to get into, hard to master, and no two games play the same. To top it off, if you tire of fighting the computer's AI you can butt heads with a human opponent in Internet play. Despite its minor flaws, Over the Reich is one of the best wargames this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of playing. Like a supermodel with a mole, the faults only serve to enhance the beautiful aspects of the game. If you do buy it, rush over to the Big Time Web site at They have a patch and a FAQ that make the game much more enjoyable. Have a nice flight.

--Tracy Baker