PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


In Secret Weapons' last mission, in April'45, you bounce Me-262s when they're at their most vulnerable. Landing or taking off, they were wobbly and unstable (FW-190s were often sent aloft to prevent Me-262s from getting caught with their wheels down at such moments). The Sturmvogels required 10,000-foot concrete runways, which is why, in the last days of the war, when most such runways had been bombed to rubble, Me-262s most often flew from remote stretches of autobahns.

One of Germany's greatest aces, Walter Nowotny (exactly Yeager's age), was shot down and killed during just such an ambush, while his friend and mentor, General Adolph Galland, head of the Luftwaffe's fighter arm, looked on in horror.

Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.

Technically, this game suffers from greedy resource demands. While it is easy on memory requirements (it occupies less than 4 megabytes of disk space—including all four "Tour of Duty" add-ons—and will run fine on 1 meg of RAM and DOS 3.x), the frame rate is jumpy unless you've got a fast 486 (33 MHz or higher). Flight control and target acquisition suffer mightily at slower frame rates.

Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe was the first flight simulation available on CD-ROM. The bad news: disk access is much slower (seek and transfer times for CD-ROMs take much longer than a hard disk's). The good news: you don't have to fiddle with the infuriating copy-protection code wheel. More good news: the CD-ROM comes with all the "Tour of Duty" additions. More bad news: the CD-ROM version comes with a stripped-down version of the disk-based game's instruction manual. The look, feel, and game play of both versions are identical.

The cockpit graphics are first-rate, although the instrument panel seems to occupy too much of the view. The instruments themselves convey more information than in most sims: manifold pressure and temperature, for example. Other planes are distinctly rendered (you can usually differentiate enemy planes by their coloring alone), although ground detail seems excessively stingy.

The flight envelopes are not terribly realistic, although they are accurate relative to each other. That is, a P-47 can dive faster than an FW-190, but down on the deck, the Focke-Wulf can walk away from the Thunderbolt. Or the Me-163: it can outclimb and outrun anything, but anything else can just keep turning inside the Komet's huge radius until the rocket runs out of fuel. And lethality: score a few hits on the fragile He-162 and it drops like a stone, but it takes more ammo than most planes can carry to knock down the sturdy P-47 "Jug."

The interface is reasonable (rudder pedals are supported), the cockpit views—and situational awareness—are okay and the sound effects—with a sound board—are good (sounds can overlap each other, and closer is louder; not something every sim can manage). The VCR-like mission recorder is serviceable and the learning curve—as far as controlling the airplanes—is not unduly steep.

What takes patience and practice are the "Campaign" mode and the mission builder: until you have considerable experience with the game, you have no way of knowing whether you have created a mission that's too difficult to survive or too simple to sustain your interest. Of course, you can skip the tough stuff and stick to single missions, but that would miss the whole point of Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe.

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