From its bland, generic premise to its one-note gameplay, WinBack 2 does nothing that another third-person shooter hasn't already done better.
- Not quite as bad as the first WinBack.
- Antiquated visuals
- Voice acting just shy of laughable
- Enemy artificial intelligence is rather bad
- Overlapping contextual use of X button is frustrating
- Hiding behind boxes and shooting stuff gets tedious quickly.
WinBack 2: Project Poseidon is a third-person shooter that has the uncanny feel of a mid-90s arcade game that never was. The matchbook-sized levels and the simple, often mechanical visuals do little to push the hardware of either the PS2 or the Xbox, and much of the gameplay can be easily summed up as Time Crisis without the light gun. It's a mostly inoffensive title that brings a certain focus to its somewhat sloppy predecessor, but it quickly becomes monotonous, and the whole experience feels too generic and nonessential to warrant much excitement.
Rather than choking itself with a story that no one cares about, WinBack 2 opts for premise over narrative, putting you in control of a team of three special operatives taking on a string of assignments that require you to run through corridors and shoot basically everyone you see--they could be international terrorists, they could be drug cartel thugs, but in the end, all that really matters is that they're shooting at you. In most scenarios, your life bar is limited enough that a few hits will take you down permanently, and playing the game as a run-and-gun shooter won't get you past the first level. Instead, the game opts for a more methodical stop-and-pop style of gameplay that puts the emphasis on firing from a cover position and waiting to take your shots.
The familiar, intuitive cover system makes it easy to take shelter, line up your shots, and then lean out and fire. You can also toss grenades and flashbangs from the cover position, though there's no blind-fire option--not that you really need one, since the AI has a tendency to simply fire from an established position, and will rarely advance on your position. Firing from an exposed location isn't recommendable, though these situations are made somewhat less lethal by the implementation of some decent auto-targeting. If the opportunity presents itself, you can run up to an enemy and subdue him without firing a shot, which can be quite useful since the game is pretty stingy with ammunition. You would think that making the most of what you've got and aiming for headshots would be the best plan of action, but oddly you can only recoup weapons from enemies if they are taken down with non-lethal force, which is done by aiming for the extremities rather than the head or torso.
The individual mechanics are functional enough, but WinBack 2 makes the mistake of mapping a surplus of contextual actions to the X button, and it's frustrating when you're trying to activate a door lock or take cover behind an object and your character just keeps performing a dive-and-roll maneuver over and over again. Each scenario is also split up into two parts, one after the other, with each part putting you in control of a different team member in a different area. There are not many discernable performance differences between the characters, but there are specific action points when you have to help out the other team member by unlocking doors or clearing out a room full of bad guys before a countdown timer runs out. These sequences could have led to a really dynamic experience, but their net effect is that you'll gain an extra dot on your life bar if you go through them with notable expediency.
Poor performance in the first half of a stage will come back to haunt you, though, as both characters in a scenario inexplicably share the same life bar, which will inevitably force you to double back and retry the first parts of many scenarios. The most significant problem in WinBack 2, though, is the plain fact that the core gameplay isn't as great as the game seems to think it is, and the action never really changes. It treats the cover-fire mechanic as though it were still fresh and innovative enough to carry an entire game, a concept that kill.switch proved wrong when it came out almost three years ago.
Incidentally, WinBack 2 includes multiplayer functionality for up to four players via split-screen, but the already clunky gameplay translates even more poorly into a multiplayer experience. The fact that all the maps are all teensy and that there's no proper multiplayer tutorial to be found in the game or in the manual to explain some of the ancillary modes doesn't help.
There's not much in terms of presentation to dazzle you, either. The Metal Gear Solid-baiting box art for Winback 2 is unusually portentous--you will play as three different characters, there will be bullets, and basically everything will be navy blue and gray. The drab environments and the army of blocky clones you'll fight look dated, and the sound design doesn't fare much better, loaded with some seriously overenunciated and wrongly inflected voice acting, shallow weapon reports, and generic "action" music. And if you should choose to jump into the split-screen multiplayer, the frame rate and resolution both take a gigantic hit.
The original WinBack had the benefit of hitting the PlayStation 2 not long after it had launched, before there was a surplus of options. Five years later, there's such a great selection of truly exceptional games that cover the exact same ground with so much more aptitude than WinBack 2 that the game is basically irrelevant.