In development since 1996, Koei's WinBack: Covert Operations has been around for quite some time. The game saw a long string of delays before it was released to mixed reviews on the Nintendo 64 back in 1999. Koei promoted WinBack as the Metal Gear Solid of the N64, but the gameplay was more reminiscent of Time Crisis, Capcom's duck-and-shoot light gun series. After disappointing sales of the N64 version, WinBack has returned for a second go--this time on the PlayStation 2.
WinBack follows the Department of Defense's secret SWAT team, SCAT, as it attempts to "win back" a powerful satellite weapon from a terrorist group called the Crying Lions. The Lions have already detonated the weapon once, and as the SCAT team is being flown in to infiltrate the installation, its helicopter is shot down. With the team scattered about the complex, you take up the role of the shy Jean-Luc Cougar. As he comes into contact with various SCAT team members--some alive and some dead--hidden agendas are exposed, betrayal occurs, and love interests are established. The story, WinBack's strongest trait, often changes depending upon Jean-Luc's performance. While it borrows heavily from the Metal Gear series, there are enough twists and turns in WinBack's plot to keep things interesting.
The control scheme used in WinBack is both innovative and frustrating. The majority of the controls are handled with the case-sensitive action button. The action button does a lot more than just flip switches and pick up objects. Pressing the action button while Jean-Luc is near a wall makes him place his back against it. Once he's locked on the wall, using the analog stick makes him slide from one side of the wall to the other. If you approach the edge of a wall, pressing and holding R1 makes him pop out around the corner and lock onto an enemy. Releasing R1 causes him to recoil into his stealthy back-against-the-wall position. In similar fashion, holding the L1 button makes him duck behind obstacles. You may run while crouched down, and while doing so, the action button will make him perform an evasive roll. Using these hide-and-shoot tactics is the key to progressing at WinBack, and for the first half of the game, it's quite cool. While the ideas behind it are admirable, it's just not executed tightly enough. The autolock is finicky, the manual aiming is worthless thanks to the lack of an aiming reticle, and Jean-Luc will often lose his lock on the wall for no apparent reason. Another gripe is that it's impossible to shoot while moving, so leaving cover is the equivalent to suicide. Watching Jean-Luc try haplessly to lock onto enemies while getting pelted with bullets and kicked in the head is a real gas.
The story mode is broken down into 31 levels, with checkpoints located in the middle of each one. The mundane objectives consist of finding and shooting laser-generating boxes, locating and flipping switches, and obtaining keys to open doors. In between, there's an exorbitant amount of duck-and-shoot gameplay when you use the game's limited arsenal, which is absent of all gadgetry. You get the basics: a pistol, shotgun, C4 explosive, machine gun, flamethrower, and rocket launcher. Ammunition is scarce, and if you don't save the ammo for your most powerful weapons, you'll get your tail kicked in the numerous boss fights. Jean-Luc's bottomless clip of a pistol quickly and reluctantly becomes the weapon of choice. The enemy AI is a complete joke, but if the enemies were to act intelligently and rush in, the unwieldy control scheme would make the game impossible. Members of the Crying Lions, who were supposedly intelligent enough to take control of a satellite weapon, will stand on the other side of a small crate and play hide-and-seek with you until you're dead. But that's not to say that you won't die. The enemies are deadeyes, and on the higher difficulty settings, succeeding at WinBack boils down to enemy placement memorization and health management.