Winback, Koei's action game for the N64, makes it's way to the PS2 as more or less a straight port of the game with much cleaner graphics and sound, the addition of lots of Hollywood-style voice acting and some new cinemas. On the surface, it's a riff on the Metal Gear/Syphon Filter games, but since it's from Koei, there's a bit of strategy involved in the run and shoot gameplay. The game sold well on the N64 more because it was something the system was lacking rather than it being a great game, and the same is true here. The proper way to enjoy Winback is to not compare it too much to anything else- if you do; you'll find a lot to gripe about. The thing is, the game borrows so much from all over that it's hard not to do just that.
The storyline is pure Hollywood action fare- terrorists, led by a guy who looks a LOT like Sylvester Stallone (a nice part for him, I think), take over a laser armed satellite control system, and threaten to blow stuff up real good if their demands aren't met. Of course, the U.S. of A. doesn't deal with this stuff lightly, and the Security Chief calls in the Man from S.C.A.T. himself, Jean-Luc Cougar (no relation to Mr. Mellencamp, by the way) to take out the trash. What follows are 30+ stages of shooting stuff, key finding, conveyer belt moving, door opening, not necessarily white-knuckle action. The game has its moments, like a couple of really nice plot twists, but you really have to put up with a lot of odd quirks, like the fact that Jean-Luc runs like he's in three feet of snow wearing steel pac boots. Or the level designs are either bland rectangular rooms with square boxes in them, square rooms with rectangular boxes in them, or a combination of the above. Imagine the training stage from Rainbow Six, but a bit more squared-off, and you get the idea. The real fun in the game comes from mastering the unique targeting system, in which you can pop out from behind a wall or crate and take out enemies before they get a bead on you. Since you can't run very well (Jean-Luc may be able to save the world, but he'd never be able to catch a slow-moving bus), this is a necessary skill, so jump into the tutorial the game gives you.
There are indoor and outdoor missions, but again, the environments are more like block and crate filled mazes that you need to negotiate in order to finish the game. There are a lot of wide-open areas as well, but since this isn't a running game, you'll find little use for them, unless you're looking for a box to hide behind in it. The game plays more like a 3D version of the old arcade classic Crackdown, with a lot of Metal Gear for the NES thrown in. The game also has multi-player "bot" modes and a 1 to 4-player deathmatch mode, which made me think of a third-person version of Goldeneye or Half-Life. Again, it's not a bad lineage, but someone was mucking about in the gene pool it seems. Even though you have 3 game hours to complete your task, it seems like it takes a whole lot longer than that to get from one area to the next, thanks to the way Jean-Luc chugs along. Despite all the firepower you acquire and the loads of explosions and bullets fired, the entire pace here ends up being much too relaxed for an action game. The multi-player modes are nicely done, though- once you get used to the silly way everyone runs.
While the graphics are sharper than the N64 version, they're still really bland and lifeless. With the N64 fog machine turned off, you notice that plain look even more. Everything in the game just looks so generic that it'll remind you of one of those cookie-cutter cable action flicks that were made throughout the 90's. Even worse is the character animation in the game- everyone moves extremely stiffly, and except for bosses, enemy AI is similar to shooting at scarecrows or slow-moving blind guys that happened to be armed. The odd thing is that the developer, Omega Force, also did Dynasty Warriors 2 for the PS2, the first Dynasty Warriors, and the underrated fighter Destrega for the PS One, and the animation in these games is excellent- so what happened here? The sounds and music are adequate, but nothing jumps out at you as incredibly memorable.
Strangely enough, despite all it's faults, once you get a feel for the game, it's not bad at all. But on the heels of the playable Metal Gear Solid 2 demo (which smokes this entire game), it's pretty embarrassing to plop down fifty bucks for this and ask for a game on the same level as MGS2. If this game were on the PS One, it would be a bit more, but not entirely acceptable. Hopefully, Koei will put a bit more effort into the sequel, if there is one.
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