Release Date: April 18, 2006
This spring, Koei hopes to appease action gamers with the release of Winback 2: Project Poseidon, sequel to the Nintendo 64 and subsequent PS2 port, Winback: Covert Operations. Sporting a new game system, prettier graphics, and a new cast of anti-terrorist operatives, Winback 2 hopes to attract a whole new audience while still catering to fans of the original game.
The best way to describe Winback 2's gameplay is by emphasizing the “arcade” in arcade-action. From the very beginning of the game you are racing against the clock, attempting to take down terrorists in a subway tunnel before your time expires. By time I mean a pre-set clock which demands you meet certain goals in speedy fashion. If you fail to do so, the mission could be lost or, in more forgiving areas, you may be merely penalized by your overall score and performance. Either way, you don't have time to stop and smell the roses: the world of anti-terrorism is not one of sloth.
Each level in Winback 2 is introduced with a small briefing before you are thrust into the mission at hand. The new Route System is one that lets you see missions from two different sets of eyes; you will start each level as one character and progress until your objectives are met. Then, the game will start over from the very beginning of the area and you'll play through it again, this time as another operative at the scene. The idea is to experience the action and story from two vantage points, and though you don't control both characters on the fly, the actions of both operatives are happening simultaneously. It's not real-time to you, but in the context of the game, it is.
The problem with this system is that you are forced to play each mission twice. That means listening to the opening dialogue again (thankfully this can be skipped) and even acting out some battles once more, though controlling a different character with new objectives to accomplish. Had you been required to act out the game in real-time, controlling two characters strategically to meet their goals, the Route System would be more rewarding, but instead it feels like you are being told a story in the worst way possible, playing through the same level multiple times so that the story in each chapter is changed just slightly to reflect your new vantage point.
The graphics are obviously much better from the Nintendo 64 original and even the PlayStation 2 version. However, they are devoid of flash and compared to many of this generation's action titles, the game's visuals are merely functional, rather than exceptional.
Combat requires a bit more strategy, such as leaning around corners or diving behind cover. Also, you have the ability to target different areas of an enemy's body, so when you shoot them in the legs they drop to their knees; shoot them in the arms and they'll drop their weapon. Many times you are pressed for time by the in-game clock and have to rely on shooting your enemies in close quarters, not having the leisure of targeting specific areas, but the inclusion for responsive damage zones is a neat little feature.
Though you are not acting out the two characters' actions on the fly, once you complete one's objectives you begin on the second's. However, your first run-through better be a good one because health points carry over to the second character. This means if you have one bar of health left after completing Craig's missions (the main character) Nick Bruno's secondary mission will be that much harder by starting out with nearly no life. If you accomplish certain goals in a timely fashion in the first quest you can be rewarded extra health points, called CRT points, that will carry over to the second. Thus, it is always important to prepare for the second mission while playing through the first.
A fun addition to the arcade-style gameplay are boss battles. At the end of each chapter, with about 3 or so separate missions occurring per chapter, you are subject to boss characters, enemies that are much more powerful than your standard grunt, each requiring an important technique to exploit to bring them down. For instance, the first boss in the game comes at you with a powerful gun, but after each shot he is left vulnerable for a counter-attack. The boss fights fit very nicely into the overall feel of the game, and the best part of this is that if you die during a boss encounter you can restart from where you left off, instead of having to play through the entire mission again.
There is a tutorial mode at the game's onset, but the motions this warm-up puts you through will be nothing new to people who have played action games before. The controls are fairly easy, with a crouch button, D-Pad support for changing guns and secondary weapons like grenades or C4, and the Metal Gear-esque wall hug. In fact, the game reminded me of Metal Gear so much during the tutorial that I was surprised when the real game resembled nothing of the sort. The controls are all there, but the gameplay is vastly different.
Though my preview focused on only a handful of levels and one boss battle, the gameplay and overall style of the game are already very prominent. The mechanics are in play for an interesting arcade experience, though I've already encountered multiple problems that siphon away any abundance of fun I'd normally have. The levels all appear very uninspired and generic, the graphics are nothing to write home about, and the Route System just isn't as appealing as it could be. Racing against the clock is the nature of the game, as is repetition of story elements and areas by way of the Route System's forced restart of each level in order to accomplish your goals. This is terribly discouraging for a game that is so near finalization, but hopefully the final game will incorporate a much needed boost of substance before going off to press.
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