Secret Weapons over Normandy

-LucasArts (2003)

 

Summary:

Shoot down dirty Nazis (and Japanese Imperialists) wherever they may stick their big fat ugly Nazi (and Imperialist) faces.

My Thoughts:

I'm somewhat of a World War II buff and Iíve always enjoyed flying games so I thought I'd give this game a whirl. A sad fact of life is that there aren't a lot of flying games available for console systems. There are even fewer that aren't Star Wars themed (coincidently Secret Weapons is made by LucasArts). Flying games have been the domain of PCs and most of them are so complicated that Iíve never even bothered attempting them. On the other hand, most flying games for the consoles have been super dumbed-down arcade shooters. Secret Weapons fits perfectly into this category, but that doesnít mean that itís a bad thing.

Secret Weapons Over Normandy follows the story of a young fighter pilot and his exploits on in both theaters of war. The story isnít that unique or interesting, but rather serves as a means to get you fighting in several different types of missions.  The cut scenes where your character reads off a letter are fairly weak, but the real genius is the use of the one of the guys from the History Channel narrating the story. The game employs old film footage look with the "moving" still pictures style of real photos mixed with actual history pictures. In the beginning the story is more broad and historically accurate. As the story progresses these segments become less historical and bend the situations to fit the story, but itís a nice presentation overall. 

Thereís a wide variety of stuff to unlock and do. Most missions have at least a couple of primary objectives and some secondary goals and even bonus goals to complete as well. The primary goal will let you move on to the next mission, whereas the secondary and hidden bonus goals will reward you with more fighters and upgrades for you craft. The upgrades for your craft include bombs, armor, and faster engines, and more that help add a little more depth to the game. You can also unlock documentary films about the aircraft you fly. It's edutainment! The missions are wide and varied and I never got too sick of doing any of them. There are of course the standard escort missions, but thatís one of the roles of fighter aircraft so they make sense.

Speaking of missions, thereís 15 total missions that should take a while to complete on their own and there are quite a few side missions to complete in addition to the main ones. Secret Weapons should take a while to beat for the novice, and was never too frustratingly difficult or too easy. For those who are up for a challenge, they should beat the game in an afternoon, but unlocking everything might take a little longer. 

While there's a wide variety of aircraft for you to unlock, many of the planes seem very similar to each other, except for the biggest difference between slow and heavy bombers and fast and nimble fighters. It's still fun to see what you can get though and you get some really fun ones like the early jets and prototype craft near the end of the game. The coolest two fighters to unlock though are the X-Wing and the TIE fighter. No, your eyes arenít deceiving you. What could make me want to beat the game more than that sweet little bonus? Sadly though, you canít play the X-Wing or TIE fighter in the regular campaign, but you can grab a buddy and do some co-op missions or some of the vs. stuff in two player mode. My dream of liberating POWs from a Nazi prison camp in an X-wing has finally come true.

The music is spectacular and very fitting for the theme and content of the game. The sound effects are truly satisfying, although the engines didn't rumble with enough deep bass as I would have wanted. This is also a game that must be played in surround sound. The 5.1 Dolby mix is amazing. There were plenty of times I could hear planes or ships exploding as I flew by them, or hear bullets hitting my tail. These moments are truly satisfying.     

A neat feature that I'm glad thatís included is the speed up time/slow down time ability. Slowing down time is a sort of Max Payne-ish type of feature that I didn't find too much use for at first, but found myself using it more and more in the later levels to get an edge up on the increasingly difficult enemy pilots and aircraft.  The speed up time feature is useful for when you have to travel a long way across a map for such reasons as rearming bombs or getting back more ďarmor."

Now for the bad stuff. Aside from the obvious unrealistic aspects of radar on a WWII aircraft and targeting reticules that show you exactly where to shoot, the game itself has a couple of flaws. One thing that bothers me is the fact that your plane doesn't rip apart when you bump into other craft. Sure you explode if you hit the ground or ships, but why not other planes?

I also didn't care for the target selection system. One button selects targets on the ground and the other button selects them in the air. The only problem with this system is if you are trying to target a particular enemy on the ground or air you may end up hitting the button a dozen times to get to that particular target. What drove me crazy was when Iíd hit it one too many times and Iíd have to go through a cycle again.

As an added bonus thereís X-Box Live compatibility. Unfortunately, you canít play the game over Live (which would have been awesome), but you can download a few new aircraft and some special bonus missions. 

The two player aspect of the game features plenty of stuff for a couple of players to do, and thereís been even more great stuff thatís unlocked as you play through the first player missions. The two player action is great fun, but X-Box Live play would have been icing on the cake.

Overall the game is great, but would look a little bit better with just a smidge of more polish. Still, this game was surprisingly fun and worth a purchase for a flying enthusiast.

Score:  8.0

-Paul

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