Review - Overlord (DOS, 1994)


A lot of games – and multimedia products – and books, and TV specials, and knickknacks and (for all I know) socks and lunch-boxes and Saturday morning cartoons are being produced to celebrate the anniversary of D-Day . . . Overlord, the massive new flight sim from Virgin, goes one step backward in time, bringing us Eisenhower's operation to PREPARE for D-Day, with a series of Allied flight missions into Nazi-occupied France. Not only is this a stellar-quality flight sim, it's a full campaign game and even manages to simulate (if crudely) some of the back-at-the-field existence of a fighter pilot during the period. It also adds an element of strategy gaming, by allowing you to plan your own missions to further the D-Day campaign.

Coming into the game, you're immediately given the opportunity to "Scramble" – jump immediately into flight and combat. I did so, and was immediately impressed by the graphics, sound, and fluidity of motion. As I took my spitfire into a shallow dive, the air was filled with flak . . . a feature I haven't seen enough of in recent sims. I was hooked. I still am.

The designers would probably like me to go on about how it's more than just a flight sim, and on that count I can give them points but not victory. The campaign game IS a nice feature – each battle achieves (or fails to achieve) certain objectives that lead to the erosion of the Nazi defenses in France. Since the game allows you the option of plotting your own missions, Overlord becomes a strategy game in which you fight out the battles from sim-standpoint.

The other addition mainly consists of your home base, Tangmere station. Here, rendered-graphic officers will give you information in many varieties – and you can even retire to your bedroom to sleep through the rainy days and update your diary. When Tangmere comes under attack, you can leap into the skies, or head for the bunker. All of this is really just nice window-dressing to the various menus of the game – the gatehouse is where you quit or save, the tower is where you define the parameters of your scramble missions, and so on. The occasional planes flying over Tangmere (and the accompanying sounds) help complete the illusion. Again, it's just window-dressing and FAR from any kind of real "out of the plane simulation," but it's NICE window dressing. It shows that Virgin has a flair for atmosphere, which I consider essential to wartime-sims.

All dressing and even strategy aside, the strength of a flight sim is still tested in the air. Overlord comes through as one of the best historical flight sims ever released.

First of all, it doesn't lack features; it's packed with everything that a modern flight-sim is expected to have, from recorded in-flight video playback to more in- and out-of-plane viewpoints than ANYONE is likely to need or find useful.

One of those features, is, unfortunately, one of the game's minor disappointments. The Inside Combat Lock is a floating viewpoint – it keeps your eye on the enemy instead of locked forward. The IDEA of such a viewpoint is to correct the "out of sight, out of mind" problem with many flight combat sims. The manual claims that Overlord's floating viewpoint is better than previous attempts at the concept because it doesn't disorient you – constant visual referents are provided. Perhaps it is my own failing as a sim-pilot, but I can only report failure on this feature. In a real airplane, we're provided with three types of information to keep oriented – the first and most important is the planetary referent – in the form of gravity. Naturally, ANY PC-flight-sim lacks this one. The sophisticated military units have tilting seats and cockpits to recreate it. The second referent is tactile – knowledge of our position in the seat, of our OWN orientation relative to the plane. The Combat Lock robs us of this one by sending us into virtual free-fall. The final, and really LEAST important, is the simple visual referent – in the Combat Lock, we have that and ONLY that – and I got lost and nearly space-sick from the zero-gee sensation that it gave.

So the innovation that I was most looking forward to failed – I found PLENTY of consolation in the excellent AI, varied missions, and beautiful simulation of flight physics, and of the characteristics of the three aircraft that the game offers – the Spitfire, Typhoon, and Mustang.

There's nothing quite like the pleasure of combat flight – and Overlord offers it in spades. The most complicated tactics you can imagine can be put into play here, and the response of the enemy will be realistic and very likely deadly – until you put a LOT of time into your dogfighting skills. Both sound and graphics beat ANY historical flight sim to date, and the engine lives up to the flash. If you're looking for a fun and realistic slice of combat history, Overlord is worth a look.