Secret Weapons Over Normandy, published by Lucasarts, was created by Totally Games and the same team who gave us Tie Fighter and the X-Wing series. Having fond memories of countless hours in front of my PC hacking away at "the Empire" was enough to generate a great deal of excitement in me for this new title. The story, ease of control and musical score hooked me quickly, but in the end I was left pining for something better. This is not a bad game, but sadly, that is the best description I could muster, "not bad."
The basic story of Secret Weapons Over Normandy places you in the role of American pilot James Chase and you are being recruited by the British to assist in the air war in Europe. As you progress you are invited to join a secret organization, thus the game’s title. The game’s missions progress chronologically, offering a plausible though somewhat patchwork series of missions loosely based on historical events. The story, however, never drew me in enough to really care about any of the characters I encountered.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy offers a few types of gameplay including campaign mode, instant action and 2 players versus; unfortunately there is no online option beyond downloadable content. Campaign mode is the meat of the game and will consume most of your time and fortunately there is both depth and replay incentive to this mode. After completing an individual mission you accrue upgrade points and you are given the option to move on to the next mission or you may play through challenges that mirror events encountered within the mission you just completed. Completion of these challenges offers you additional points that can be used to upgrade the aircraft accumulated throughout the game. The only downside I found to the point system was that planes are earned so frequently there is almost no incentive to spend any upgrades on your current aircraft because you know you will be earning a newer and better plane soon.
The campaign missions range from very easy to extremely difficult and I was quite frustrated at some points. The mission goals are clear enough, but I felt misguided in a few instances, trying to achieve a goal without any real idea of how to do this. One would assume a mission briefing would direct you in that area, but I did not find that to be the case.
As previously stated, throughout the course of the game you will fly many different WWII era aircraft, some familiar and few that are surprises. In addition to the variety of aircraft you will uses a plethora of weapons from the mundane to the incredible. You are not limited to pilot duties, but you will always fight in some type of vehicle or stationery weapon, including AA guns and bomber ball turrets. I found these variations to be a welcome break from the frenetic flying and shooting within each mission.
The AI in the game is well done. Enemy aircraft will attack in groups of 3 generally and they work very well together. You will usually have wingmen you can issue orders to using the d-pad, but I found the AI of my partners to be sketchy at times, ignoring what I told them to do which left me feeling that I was alone most of the time.
The control in Secret Weapons Over Normandy was set up well. The left analog stick controls the plane’s movement and the right stick offers the throttle in the vertical axis and rudder control in the horizontal (only if you select advanced control). The black button is listed as "reflex time" which sounds like "bullet time" to me, but is essentially a time compression toggle slowing time with a tap and accelerating time with a full hold. The right shoulder button fires primary weapons, Y fires secondary weapons and if you hold it down you will ride on the "nose" of the weapon you fire. X and A show the closest ground and air targets respectively and holding either down displays all targets so you can select something specific if you so desire.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy seems to be flawed in a few areas. The save option is only available after completing a mission. This is not necessarily a bad thing in some games, but when you spend 15 minutes "almost" completing a segment of a mission and you have a splinter of life left it would be nice to have an option to save, perhaps during re-supply stops at your airfields. The game does offer "checkpoints" throughout he mission but, again, they are not always well thought out. On several occasions I was given a checkpoint with virtually no damage left before I lost my plane and immediately following the checkpoint I was thrown into a huge dogfight or flak infested sky. Maybe it is just me, but I think a logical place for a checkpoint is at an air field! I like challenging games, but the sort of mindless difficulty inherent to this title had me, at times, swearing I would not finish the game.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy does not offer much beyond the campaign mode. The instant action becomes boring quickly and the multiplayer is limited to 2 player split screen. I feel this is due to the multi-platform development of this title. I really think this is probably exactly the same game on PS2 and PC, but I have not compared the versions. There is an option for downloadable content, and perhaps they will deliver in that area, but only time will tell.
Technically, Secret Weapons Over Normandy is a good game, but it is far from one of the best looking titles on the Xbox. Each plane is reasonably well modeled and all feature movable control surfaces, but you will probably not have much time to notice. I have seen better graphics on PS2 (Ace Combat), and feel the look in this title is dull. On a positive note, there is a lot going on during the game and I did not notice any pop-up or slowdown. The Sound is excellent and the musical score that was composed for the game was one of which I never grew tired.
I was initially excited about Secret Weapons Over Normandy, drawn in by the story and action offered by the title, but ultimately I was just relieved to complete all the missions. I feel it was a title with potential, but in a market offering so many options to gamers, there are better games to spend your time playing. If you love WWII aircraft and storylines this may be worth a look, but if you want a fun and long lasting aerial combat game you may want to look elsewhere, perhaps to Crimson Skies.