"A fantastic game in a genre not traditionally seen on consoles"
Whenever you talk about the genre of flight simulators, you are usually talking about hardcore flight simulations which require months to learn but really give the gamer satisfaction. On the Xbox we've already seen one highly successful and playable game in Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge but Lucasarts have thrown their hat into the ring and have produced one of the most playable console flight games ever.
Secret Weapons over Normandy as you have probably guessed is set in World War II. The main difference between this game and every other Tom, Dick and Harry WW II games on the market is that it is not a first person shooter. You will fly missions in squadrons against the enemy and have various objectives to complete. You play as a pilot named Chase, sent to Europe from America to join the Battlehawk squadron. After Pearl Harbour occurs the Americans are thrust into the war and you will notice enemy fighters picking out your particular plane after taking down their squadron leaders etc.
If you're expecting a highly realistic simulation from this game then look elsewhere. Secret Weapons Over Normandy has taken the arcade standpoint and delivers action and playability in spades. The controls are simple to use and realistic physics have been thrown out the window allowing for some nice manoeuvres and the ability to have complete control of your aircraft at all times. Missions include defending allied units, infiltrating enemy lines or protecting special allied agents as they go behind enemy lines. In one mission you have to actually steal an enemy plane, in another from the Battle of Midway you have to destroy Japanese Aircraft Carriers and then defend your own to win the war of the pacific.
There is a lot of features of Secret Weapons Over Normandy which bring across its arcade roots strongly. First of all to land you can either choose to land or fly towards a marker which will let you land with a button press. The controls as mentioned before also show this aspect of the game and are definitely on the pick up and play side rather then the study the manual and hope for the best mode.
The game is split into two main game modes; campaign and instant action. In instant action you can play a one off mission with settings determined by the player. Settings such as which planes you're going to use, enemy planes, location and timelimit. Once the mission is completed you're back to the main screen and can play again or continue in the campaign. The campaign is where you will spend most of your time playing this game as it is here you will unlock things to use in the other game modes available.
Being a flying game and being a World War II game, you would expect a bunch of planes and the game does not disappoint. It features over twenty planes including the Hurricane, Spitfire, Mosquito, Ju-88 and others just to name a few. These are based off the planes which were actually used to fight the battles in World War II. The Japanese use different planes to the Germans. You unlock more planes as you complete campaign missions, and more are downloadable on Xbox Live.
The planes are fitted with various weapons by default but as you complete missions you are given the opportunity to outfit your plane for each mission. Some missions you will only be able to choose one type of weapon as it is a required object, but in other missions you can choose from bombs, missiles or an extra machine gun to be fitted to your plane. You can also upgrade the armor and engines on planes as you progress through the campaign.
You won't find the first few missions of the game challenging, it's not until about the fourth or fifth where you have to protect an agent. The White Rose from enemy fire that you will get a challenge. On each mission you may have different planes and some missions take quite some time to complete. There are checkpoints in the levels which help but switch off your machine, and you have to start the mission all over again. The AI is quite competent and offer a decent challenge, they will respond to their leader being taken down and sometimes pick you out as the main target. Whilst this is scripted into the storyline, it still can cause some problems for you especially if you're plane has been damaged earlier in the mission.
Throughout the campaign you will fight in two theatres of war; the Pacific and Europe. The game begins in the Pacific and you will fight over vast, huge levels with some nice graphical effects. Sometimes you will have to destroy land units such as tanks, outposts or hangers. In the Pacific theatre, you will also fight over sea and land with a totally different landscape to what you encountered in Europe. The levels are huge, much bigger then those of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, and some large dogfight battles are able to occur.
Visually Secret Weapons Over Normandy is impressive with the aforementioned planes and environments. The planes are highly detailed and can be customised and the storyline is presented in two ways; via a historical movie and also the character you play reading out his diary. The game can be played from two views, above or behind but you can zoom into a first person view but a button must be hed down to do so. Sound effects are good with German and Japanese accents (although they talk in English most of the time and you can hear what their plan of attack is) and the music is a classical score fitting to the World War II theme.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy has a huge missed opportunity where Crimson Skies excelled and probably boosted sales. Unfortunately Secret Weapons Over Normandy on the Xbox does not support online gameplay. The more you play this game, the more you realise that this title would have been perfect and probably knocked Crimson Skies from its perch in the online service. Perhaps for a sequel.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy is a great game that gamers who aren't traditionally fans of the flight simulator genre may enjoy. The arcade physics and fast gameplay add up to a very pick up and play game and with instant action a quick fifteen or thirty minute bash is available once in a while. If you want a flight simulator for your Xbox other then Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge then check this out. The great shame is the lack of Xbox Live support however.