Winback? Is that another new OS?
When you hear "secret agent," which is the first supercop to come to mind? Gabriel Logan? James Bond? Solid Snake, perhaps? But how many of you remembered Jean-Luc Cougar, the star of Koei's espionage action game Winback: Covert Operations? He may not have the suave demeanor of Mr. Bond or the mullet of video game's most popular Snake, but if you tilt your head to the left and squint, he vaguely resembles one of the N'Sync boys.
Way back in 1999, Winback became Koei's first title released for the N64. Now for the next generation in video game consoles, the game has received a massive spit-shine. Though its core remains virtually unchanged from the original N64 game, the PS2 version looks better than ever.
The short version of the story has a group of terrorists hijacking a super weapon that can cause massive destruction on an unprecedented scale. Naturally, this is a bad thing, so an "independent government agency" calls in their best agents. While en route to the target, the team's chopper explodes, scattering the entire team. What a bad way to start off the day.
As Jean-Luc, your mission is to find the rest of the team and stop the terrorists at all costs. Not the most original plot line, but it'll do.
The game kicks in with the actions of Jean-Luc. By now, many of you have seen the demo for Metal Gear Solid 2 where Snake pops out from behind corners to surprise the enemy. Well, the original Winback is where it all got started, being the first espionage style game to feature this type of gameplay. Like any semi-realistic one-man army game, running out into the open against six machine-gun-toting enemies will get you killed, so lots of time will be spent rolling, ducking and covering.
But unlike Metal Gear, Winback is not really stealth-based. You won't be going out of your way to keep things quiet. In fact, things can get pretty loud. Explosive crates, canisters, and your stash of C4 all tend to make things go boom.
Unfortunately, the selection of other weapons is pretty slim. You start off with three common guns that seem to be in every super spy's arsenal - the average pistol with unlimited ammo, a machine gun and a shotgun. From there, you'll work your way up to a rocket launcher, but there's really not much in between. It would have been nice to see a little more creativity in the weaponry, as the most useful weapon by far is the basic pistol.
The act of shooting the enemies is actually a lot easier than it looks. The press of a single button can "lock on" to a target and make life a lot easier. At first, the movement controls seem a bit daunting, but after just a little practice it shouldn't be a problem. However, you might as well raise the white flag when enemies rush you. If several of them are able to get in close, it's really hard to get a bead on them all before someone puts a bullet in you. Retreating is pretty much the best solution in this case.
The camera also causes the occasional snafu. There are a few instances where the camera gets locked in a precarious position or just plain freaks out, which is irritating and can screw up your game.
You'll definitely need all the help you can get due to the abundance of terrorists, who would love to make you have a very, very bad day. The AI running these guys is mixed. Some enemies will dodge your bullets and duck behind boxes. Others will stand by as you blast their buddies around the corner. I guess those were the guys who fell asleep in terrorist school.
Also falling asleep in terrorist school is the sound team. It's easy to tell that the voice actors are trying hard to make it into the "B" movie leagues, with fake emotion dripping from every line. But the end result is just dorky. All your base are belong to us!
Sound effects are also a bust with the ratta-tat of a machine gun coming out like the plink of a BB gun. Stop, or my kid brother will shoot!
The visual effects department did a much better job. The graphics in Winback are a vast improvement over the original. It's nice to see that Jean-Luc's move to the PS2 included a face-lift. Movement is also pretty good, with accurate animations for all of Jean-Luc's actions.
Interestingly enough, Koei has decided to bestow us with a few multiplayer games in addition to the main story driven mode. Whether it's cooperative or versus, you and up to three friends can share in all the gun battle glory.
And if that wasn't enough, you'll be pleased to learn that Winback contains three different endings. Three cheers for replay value!
When all is said and done, Winback: Covert Operations turns out to be a decent game. Neat gameplay is marred by a tough camera system and the lack of interesting toys is a letdown, but the game is a solid appetizer for another certain espionage game that's on the way.