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December 15, 2003
Secret Weapons Over Normandy - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
4/12/2003EA GamesLucasArts /
Totally Games
1-2G8+ Medium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
200KBDolby Pro Logic IIYesNoNone No

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Attacking the ship.
Lawrence Holland isn't a name that would be familiar to a lot of people, nor his development studio Totally Games. However his games are legendary, and include monster hits for LucasArts such as Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, X-Wing and Star Wars Tie Fighter. What a reputation to uphold then. While this game isn't likely to attain such lofty praise as those mentioned Secret Weapons Over Normandy still manages to capture some of that brilliance. This game, set during World War II, sees you as a member of a secret squadron of elite pilots, where you will take to the skies in more than 20 realistically modeled fighters and bombers as you progress through the missions, and war.

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Ground detail is also pretty good.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy includes many options and features. During the 15-mission campaign mode you will fly through several theatres of war including France, England, China-Burma-India, the Pacific and Northern Africa. As previously mentioned the game includes 20 flyable aircraft, including the twin engine P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, Me 163 rocket plane, Me 262 turbo jet fighter and, my personal favourite, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk V. During the game there are moments when you will have to take control of an AA (Anti-Aircraft) gun on the ground to defend your air based, or become the tail gunner in a B-17 bomber. Each mission is preceded with a video clip, some from video footage, some from rendered images that detail the storyline, and the upcoming mission. Each of the missions has primary, secondary and bonus goals and at the completion of each mission you earn a ranking, and, if good enough, medals.

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Dogfight in the skies.
Actually playing Secret Weapons Over Normandy is a complete joy. The planes are responsive and the action is fast and frantic. The R1 button acts as your primary weapon (machine guns) while the R2 button acts as the secondary weapon such as bombs. During flight it's also possible to press the L2 button to get a targeting view for dropping these bombs on enemy targets. Prior to the missions you have the ability to upgrade your planes with better armor, air frames, better engines, and larger armaments which allows you to customise the planes to suit to your gameplay preferences. The number of planes in the game also impresses, although due to the limited number of missions (15 in the campaign and 21 challenges) you will hardly have any time to get to grips with one before you're in the seat of another.

Your wingman can also be issued commands. Through the D-Pad you can tell him to "attack my target", "target at will" or "defend me". This works very well as he follows your commands promptly and, more importantly, intelligently. He's not going to stop all the German's attacking you, but he will certainly reduce the likelihood of substantial and continuous damage to your plane. The 2-player split screen mode should also keep you engrossed for days as you dogfight against the enemy, or each other.


Something to note is that this game has possibly the most exciting unlockable feature ever seen in a video game - the ability to unlock the Incom T-65 X-wing and Sienar Fleet Systems TIE Fighter from the Star Wars universe and then use them in the Instant action mode (see picture above left). These can be unlocked by completing the 15-mission campaign and 21 challenges. Sensational stuff.

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Got him... a tie fighter?

With a game stuck in a real world situation as this it is admirable that Totally Games have put so much research and development into historical accuracy. Why then is the main character in the game able to send letter home detailing the mission. It doesn't distract from the gameplay but surely a little more thought should have gone into this. Even a diary entry, or in teh briefing room would have been more acceptable. Another niggle is the wide range of locations in which the missions take place. Sure, it may add a little more variety to the game but it's highly unlikely that any pilots would have been to so many locations during World War II.

Graphically, Secret Weapons Over Normandy is one of the better flight sims on the market, and is certainly another feather in the cap of Criterion's Renderware which is the base graphics platform for this game. It's not quite as flash as Namco's Ace Combat 4: Distant Thunder, but is certainly one of the better titles on the Playstation 2. The frame rate is rock steady even with a large number of enemies on screen and gunfire all round. The detail on the planes deserves special mention as their flaps all move as expected and they are all perfectly modeled to the originals (I have plenty of books here to look them up).

The cut scenes are often presented in black and white documentary style and give a great overview of the changing tides of war. The damage including explosions and bits of plane falling off are impressive and deserve special mention. When something explodes it isn't just a ball of red, but rather a total destruction of the plane with pieces flying off in all directions.

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Planes break up when exploding.
Sound in the game is also impressive with realistic plane noises, from both the engines and weaponry. The developers apparently spent a lot of time recording the sounds in real-life to make the game as authentic as possible. The planes fade in and out beautifully as they fly in close or off into the distance. The voice acting, including the radio chatter while flying, is very good and retains the authenticity of the era perfectly. Will Lyman (from the TV series Frontline) and Japanese legend/actor Mako (Conan The Barbarian, Pearl Harbour) provide the voices in the game. The music also deserves special mention as there were several moments when the score reminded me of Saving Private Ryan's dramatic music.

It looks as if LucasArts decision in recent years to out-source development of their titles is starting to pay off. Secret Weapons Over Normandy is easily the best World War II flight simulation (with some arcade influences admittedly). Fans of the genre, or indeed those getting sick of racing, platform and FPS titles could do a lot worse then check out this title. A joy from start to end.

Review By: David Warner

GRAPHICSThe plane detail is impressive, as are the explosions and land.
SOUNDThe music and sound effects are terrific, the voices are also good.
GAMEPLAYProbably the best World War II flight simulation on any console ever.
VALUEPlenty of missions and some extras to unlock will take some time.
OVERALLSecret Weapons Over Normandy is easily the best World War II flight simulation seen on the PS2, and although it does have some arcade leanings it's an engrossing title. Not a short or overly easy game either which is good to see. Certainly recommended.

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