Release Date: April 25, 2006
Some games simply beg for sequels; with cliffhanger endings or amazing gameplay, those experiences needed to be expanded into another full-featured title. The original Winback was not one of those games. Featuring average gameplay and lackluster graphics, no one playing the original game expected to see a sequel six years later. Yet here we are, with Winback 2: Project Poseidon.
As you follow a team of three counter-terrorists led by fearless leader Craig, you will quickly realize that the story is inconsequential. Craig is the most average character you've ever met … until approximately five minutes later, when you meet Nick, the tough-as-nails veteran with a heart of gold. Nick is also African-American, yet another stereotype following in the hallowed footsteps of Final Fantasy's Barret or the A-Team's B.A. Barracus. Rounding out the crew is Mia, the female rookie who's so fresh from the academy that you can still smell the starch on her uniform. You are supposed to feel for her, but the story is so lacking that at no point will you care, and as the story progressed, I found myself fascinated more by her voice actor's strange lisp.
The original Winback's gameplay was an attempt at blending Syphon Filter's action with Metal Gear Solid's realism. The big twist, however, was that players spent the majority of their time hiding behind boxes; this "twist" is still employed in the sequel, but at this late date, that feature is no longer seen as very inventive. While crouched up against walls, you use an auto-aiming system to sporadically pop out and fire shots at the ridiculous A.I. as they stand in place, waiting to die. Your character's movement doesn't seem very extensive and feels more like an on-the-rails light-gun shooter, such as Time Crisis. To be fair, this would be a far more novel experience if the auto-aim were reliable or if your character wouldn't push away from the walls after a kill and stand out in the open, completely exposed to enemy fire.
The story follows your team through a series of bland areas, each looking strangely similar to the last. Because of the gameplay conventions, all levels are blocky and lined with crates, which allow you to hide. This leads to incredibly boring and unoriginal design, with the repeated textures being the only real difference between levels. Graphically, the main characters are quite detailed, but that positive is offset by the bad collision detection between the characters and the environment.
Project Poseidon's split-mission system is actually rather effective. Each mission is split into two parts, with the "A" route featuring your first character unlocking various gates and laser barriers, which will then be opened for your "B" route. After you complete the first route, your health points carry over, so even if you don't want to, it's far more prudent to retry the "A" route to improve your progress in the second course. On a train in the beginning levels, your first character will spot a hostage, and you must take out his captors as you try to save the hostage's life. During the second pass, you arrive at the hostage situation from the other side, and you take out the final terrorist and actually save the hostage. At times, this gimmick does feel kind of cheesy, but it's rewarding to see the after-effects of your previous actions, which makes this one of the title's best features.
Unfortunately, this silver lining is marred by the severely limited selection of weapons, which might not have been on a problem about a decade ago, but at the cusp of the next generation of consoles, this constraint just spells monotonous gameplay. With so little is offered in the way of gameplay, story, and innovation, it would have been nice to have a few more options to cause mindless destruction. Project Poseidon is not horrible, and at times, it can be fairly enjoyable, but every time I began to think that things are starting to look up for the game, I would run out of ammo at a critical juncture, or something equally inopportune. The reload animation seemed excessively long, which would cause me to die quite often towards the end as four or five enemies bombarded me while I was fumbling with the magazine. Perhaps throwing the bullets would have been more effective.
Additionally, the computer A.I. is seriously lacking, and the only thing worse is the inaccuracy of their weapons. I can run in front of them without them seeing me, but when I fire at them and miss because of the auto-aiming system, they seem to have no trouble finding me. It's really the luck of the draw; at some points, I am like Solid Snake, and at other points, I'm more like Louie Anderson.
Sound, as it turns out, is one of Winback 2's biggest problems. The voice acting is terrible, the music is expressionless, and there are moments that seem to convey that even the composers could have cared less. As for the voice work, the static lines could not have been read with less emotion. I am not one to pick on voice actors or their work, but the game contains a "special feature," similar to those found on a DVD, which directs your focus onto the voice actors, showing them working in the recording studio and explaining their characters. More of a good thing is always welcome, but zeroing in on a problem area isn't the best idea. Dialog is overly used, and you hear the same lines repeated through both missions. Even the commander's attempt at the classic "Snake" death lines from Metal Gear Solid are cheesy and emotionless. ("You can't stop now; you have been doing this for too long!")
Multiplayer is present and works well enough, and it features a series of standard modes, such as death match. It's difficult to muster the excitement necessary for multiple sessions because each time you play, it feels exactly the same as the last. The lack of weapons and the absurd auto-aiming system combine to make it extremely difficult to engage in Winback 2 multiplayer bouts.
At times, Winback 2: Project Poseidon can be a fairly entertaining game. Even with all of its pitfalls, there was a strange need for me to beat the levels to see what kind of silly ending would be thrown at me. For better or worse, there is a certain draw to this game, and I occasionally enjoyed myself, when I wasn't getting headaches from all the crate-ducking, getting killed again due to the excessively long reload animation, or exposing myself to enemy fire after a successful kill. If you played the original Winback and liked it, or if want some mindless action, give Winback 2 a try. In the long run, this game will probably leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled, but at least for a few short hours, you'll have bland textures, stereotypical characters and hilariously bad voice acting to keep you company during the last few days of summer.
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