It is unlikely I know, but some of you may not yet have realised that D-Day was almost exactly 50 years ago. In that case, you probably also won't know that the landings were known as Operation Overlord, so you will have no idea what this game is all about. Those of you who have been on the planet for more than a week, however, will have guessed that this is indeed something to do with the D-Day landings. And, my smug friends, you would be right. Overlord is a combat flight simulator, and jolly pretty it looks too.
Okay, so it's not all roses, but allow me to show you the garden before concentrating on the individual flowers. And pricks. Back in the bad old war days of 1944 Mr Hitler was still sitting in France (and most of the rest of Europe, come to think of it) pulling faces at us and saying rude things about our mums. Naturally, being British, we were having none of this, and we invaded France (again), along with a couple of colonials, and stamped on his choc ice. This upset him a lot, and he blew his brains out. Well, that's an abbreviated version of it, anyway. During this time, the raf were knocking seven bells out of pretty well anything that moved and wasn't made in Birmingham. They were doing this with a variety of aeroplanes, but the bulk of ground-attack work was carried out by Typhoons, while the glamorous/exciting jobs went to the Spitfires and, to a lesser extent, the Mustangs.
So what does it do then?
Overlord gives you the chance to fly either the Typhoon, Spitfire ix or Mustang against a mainly surface-based enemy. You may be attacking E-boats, tank convoys, radar installations, bridges or almost any other ground target you can think of, as well as the occasional dogfight or bomber intercept. You have the choice of servicing your target with either cannon, bombs or rockets, depending on your choice of mount, and the enemy will try his best to kill you with a range of flak and fighter attacks. The aeroplanes fly very differently, and the cockpits are beautifully rendered, along with any external details that may be visible from within. Control is fairly conventional, with support for all major sticks as well as the Thrustmaster wcs and separate rudder pedals (Hoorah!). External views are truly stunning, and enemy aircraft appear complete with squadron markings and proper camouflage, as do your wingmen. However, the ground is nothing to write home about, although the targets are quite detailed. Despite this, they do suffer slightly from the "stuck on" look that we first encountered and slagged off in Strike Commander. The real graphical treat for me, though, is the way that other aircraft gradually get bigger and easier to see as they loom out of the haze. They are really difficult to spot until less than two miles away - just like the real thing. Fortunately for you, Virgin have seen fit to include no less than two padlock views to help you find the bad guy and terminate his contract. These padlock views, although not quite as useful as those found in Falcon 3, are pretty damn good, and after you get used to them they work very well, with little danger of disorientation, though the ground does still get in the way at times.
Two padlock views? I hear you say. Yes, you get a choice of padlocking from inside the cockpit or outside. This latter version, although it takes a fair bit of getting used to, is extremely useful when you find yourself caught up in a real tangle, because it allows you to keep an eye on both what's going on around you, and on your target at the same time. However, take warning: the first few times you try to use it, you will find yourself either over controlling massively or, failing that, moving the controls the wrong way altogether.
Tell us about the game, then.
Okay, on to the game itself. Overlord is unusual in that you don't get to create a pilot of your own when you start. Instead, you choose the level at which you wish to fight, and the program then assigns you three personae; one for each aircraft type. Each time one of your pilots goes for a "Burton" (as they used to say), you are treated to a superbly drawn view of the station adjutant reporting your demise to the c.o., accompanied by suitably sombre music. Then, assuming that you haven't goofed up too badly, the same guy, looking a lot happier, tells the c.o. that he has replaced you with the next pilot on the list. Neat, huh? Trouble is, when you die, you don't really die at all, so the whole thing takes on a slightly surreal air as your reincarnation attempts the same mission that killed you earlier. What does happen, though, is that if you really screw up badly, you are advised that operations have been suspended and the invasion, postponed. In other words, you lose. Another option, if you prefer, is to leave the aeroplane at the last second and jump into the next in line. This means that although your original mount has been destroyed, you are now your wingman and you are free to carry on as before. Needless to say, if the aeroplane you jump into is getting the crap knocked out of it, you're going to have to repeat the process soon. So, as you see, all the while you have aircraft in the air you can leap into one at will. Spooky, huh? What this does give you is a fair amount of flexibility in how you want to go about doing things, and it does mean that you can keep a good career running without having to resort to rebooting if you get shot down.
As a new pilot, you are given a choice of aeroplanes, mission preferences, difficulty and reality levels. Then, after a briefing which certainly looks good, although it doesn't always tell you much, it's off to bash the baddies. You can choose to start on the field or in the air near the enemy. Either way, you'll receive a constant stream of information from both ground control and your fellow fliers, advising you of enemy air and surface vessels, along with their range and bearing. You will have been advised of your mission prior to take off, so after administering to whatever target you have been allocated and then nailing anything else convenient, you should head for home, debriefing and a welcome pint in the bar.
Nothing really out of the ordinary so far then. As usual for games of this genre, you will be carrying either bombs or rockets, along with the ubiquitous 20mm cannon (except the Mustang, which only has weedy machine guns). Targets vary, but will usually be either boats, bridges or buildings. You can, if you wish, choose to specialise in trains, airfields, radar sites, v-i launch sites etc. What you will find, whatever your chosen target type, is that air resistance is pretty minimal. This is fair, because at this stage in the proceedings the Luftwaffe were pushed to muster many planes anyway. Be advised, though, that when you do come up against an enemy aircraft you'll have a seriously hard time. The enemy pilots have been gifted with a high level of intelligence and are often able to guess your next move. Indeed, even the gunners of the bombers will often be able to anticipate your next move, resulting in your untimely and fairly messy demise (unless, of course, you first remember that you can bail out by rolling inverted and pressing cntrl-q, and second, that you remain in control of the aeroplane). Then it's back to the sombre music and the adjutant reporting your loss....
Does it look any good?
The main thing that makes this game stand out from the others is the quality of the between-missions graphics which, assuming you have the hardware, are beautifully drawn in svga. Actually, it's fair to say that, visually, this game is stunning. Nevertheless, there is a catch, and that catch is that Overlord is very demanding on hardware. However, it is very smart and configures itself to the ideal levels of detail and the like for your processor. It also has an adaptable viewing screen which shrinks as there are more demands to try and cope with the levels of info being pumped through it. Actually, although the idea of a continually shrinking and expanding screen is pretty wacky, in practice it is barely noticeable, although it makes a noticeable difference to refresh rates. You can also force the program to turn off haze, graduate horizons and reduce the detail level. Be warned, though, that although the higher graphic levels look superb, if you push the machine into giving you more detail than it can cope with, the aeroplane will be uncontrollable as it lurches from one control input to the next between screen refreshes. I suppose that what I'm saying here is that you do not know better than the program. Unlike some alleged self-configuring games, Overlord has been designed properly and it does actually work. So leave it alone and you shouldn't have any problems.
But is it any good?
Well, to summarise. Overlord is a very well presented and historically, fairly accurate, flight simulator, which, despite the limited world area and fairly restricted range of missions, is challenging enough to stay interesting for a reasonable length of time. Combat is excellent and the padlock views help in dispatching the fast, manoeuvrable and heavily-armed opponents that you will encounter, although surface targets seem to be a little soft and can often be frayed with a good burst of cannon. The graphics and sounds are both superb, with the important proviso that you will need at least a 486DX/33 vlb to get even nearly the best out of it. The manual is so comprehensive that even a confirmed prophead like me can learn something from it. What can I say? So long as you have the hardware to use it, you can buy this game in the almost certain knowledge that you have one of the best simulators in its field (and probably the most powerful pc on the block, as well). There are sims which fly better but look crap. There are sims which look better but fly like trains. Overlord combines nice looks with an acceptable flight model, without expecting you to do a Mavis Beacon touchtyping course just to stay alive in the sky. Sure, all the controls you need are there, along with the obligatory pointless couple, but the interface is pretty intuitive all in all, and basic flight and combat can be dealt with using the minimum of keys. Yes, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the quirks built in, I like this game a lot.
Time to remember
On a serious note... yes, I know I was pretty flippant about D-Day and the background to it earlier on, but joking aside, the success of the Overlord landings was the real turning point in the war. It cost the lives of thousands of people; both combatants and civilians, from both sides, but those same people saved countless more lives by bringing hostilities to an earlier end.
Download Overlord (1994)
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP