Release Date: April 25, 2006
Games come, and games go. Sometimes, games go much longer than we want them to. Somewhere in history, someone misquoted Benjamin Franklin's original statement of "Fish, visitors, and boring video games stink after three days."
The problem is that it's hard to attack a game like this. Search for flaws in it, and nothing will immediately stand out. From the box art to the story to the gameplay, everything reeks of absolute, flagrant mediocrity from the outset. It's not that it's not in good company. The original Winback: Covert Operations was met with only slightly above-average reviews, many people seeing it as little more than a game made only to cash in on the success of stealth-shooting games like Metal Gear Solid and Syphon Filter. If Winback was a cheap cash-in ploy, however, Winback 2 is the distilled essence of selling out. It's a cash-in ploy sequel to what could be seen as a cash-in ploy game. It's simply coincidence that the word "ploy" no longer looks like a word.
However, whereas the original title was at points reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid – the plot immediately comes to mind, convoluted and twisty – the sequel has much more in common with its other parent: the Time Crisis series of games. You play as members of the three-man Crisis Response Team (yes, the one advantage of this game over its predecessor is that you're no longer an agent of the poorly acronymed SCAT) on a mission to rescue hostages and thwart terrorists. There's little more to it. They could be folks wanting to blow up a subway or leaders of a sprawling drug cartel, but you're going terrorist-hunting no matter what.
Winback 2 is another of those games that has a few awesome ideas, and then tries to smash them together entirely wrong. "Let's have a single 'action' button full of contextual actions for you to take, just like the original Winback!", somebody said. Lo and behold, it turned out just as frustratingly inaccurate as Winback's did – rife with situations where you're trying to press your back against a wall and end up tumbling into it like some sort of amateur gymnast. "You know, we should add in positional aiming, so that you can arrest terrorists by giving them non-lethal shots to the arms and legs!" came another brainstormer's suggestion. This is a good idea, except that aiming anywhere but the fatal chest area is nigh impossible, and enemies don't drop their weapons with killing shots. Somehow, you can confiscate weapons from a guy you arrested, but it's just blasphemy to pry a firearm from someone's cold, dead fingers.
Another good idea that was poorly implemented is a mechanic that's typically known as a "squad system." Each mission allows you use of two of the three essentially identical CRT members, one typically playing backup while the other plays the hero and gets the real work done. What this amounts to is each level having to be played through twice, first from one side, and then from the other. The first route is typically the Assist route – Route A – and involves some minor gunning, unlocking doors, pressing switches, and taking down bad guy reinforcements to help out the other Crisis Response member, who you play afterwards on Route B, probably shorthand for "baloney."
The gunner on Route B is typically the one who has to bear down through heavy fire, rescue hostages, and generally having a bad day. The assists come very minorly into play on the Route B side, as the speed that the Route A member performs tasks means you might get an extra bonus of a health point or two. As there isn't really a "failure" on the assists, however, that means the entire A route is an exercise in tedium, as the only thing you can really do wrong is die.
You might think it's hard to do even that, with the abysmal AI ("Winback" is apparently game-speak for "stand in one spot and shoot," as both the enemies and the player-controlled agent do exactly that), but cheap hits abound as terrorists shoot you as you peek around corners, or in more annoying cases, right through walls. Just remember next time, little Timmy: If you use wallhacks in Counter-Strike, the terrorists have already won.
The graphics are decidedly PlayStation 2 in that they don't look any more realistic than any other polygonal-rendered human. After 2003, all of these graphics kind of blended together, and Winback 2 does nothing to revitalize the appeal of graphics in video games. Everyone looks like some sort of action figure, the rooms are unwaveringly boxy and grey, and as a personal pet peeve, both defeated terrorists and rescued hostages vanish into thin pixels after a few moments. Sound isn't much better; the guns all sound vaguely unrealistic, and the voice acting is horrific to the level of old PlayStation games. A quote taken directly from the beginning of the game: "It's your job to win it back."
Basically, what we have here is the same game as was released in 2001, except it's five years later, near the end of the system's life, the plot has taken a downward turn, and the muddled controls have gotten even more muddled. Winback 2 is not really a recommended purchase unless you were foam-at-the-mouth devoted to the original Winback. Even for the $30 most places are asking for it, Winback 2: Project Poseidon isn't worth it.
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