Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn Review

Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn can be written off as a survival-horror game sans the horror: In place of unholy biological mutations, you have fanatical terrorists crawling around a cramped bullet train.

Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn, released in Japan under the title Chase the Express, is a unique strain of game set in front of a backdrop of military intrigue that bears elements usually reserved for survival-horror adventure games. You take the role of Jack Morton, a NATO soldier whose orders are to rescue an ambassador being held hostage aboard the Blue Harvest - a high-speed military train trekking through Europe under the control of a band of terrorists. The surviving member of a unit aboard a downed chopper, Jack must thwart the Knights of the Apocalypse, the terrorist group in control of the train, and deactivate the nuclear warheads they're using to induce their brand of terror.

All the action takes place in a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective, identical to what you'd find in a typical Resident Evil-style game. The controls are essentially the same: The right and left rotate your character, while pressing up lets you move in the direction you're facing. Anyone familiar with the survival-horror genre will feel right at home. Some minor deviations exist, though: Jack Morton is able to roll right or left for evasive purposes, a la Syphon Filter, and his weapons are always in the ready position. The shoulder buttons let you roll, which is quite useful for dodging enemy gunfire. Also mapped to the shoulder buttons are crouching and quick-turnaround commands. Very similar to Winback's, the crouch function allows you to duck behind crates or other obstacles and enact lengthy gunfights with enemies. The turnaround function is much more speedy and responsive than what Capcom has ever offered in a survival-horror title, adding an invaluable feature for the times when the air gets thick with terrorists. Also present are the obligatory action button, which is used to examine objects, open doors and hatches, and climb stairs; and the odd camera function, which allows you to examine rooms from an arbitrarily determined angle - but not necessarily from your character's position or the room's center, since the camera's location is different in every room. While the camera is effective (rooms, indeed, can be exhaustively examined), it's a bit disconcerting to examine rooms from a different position each time.

Nuclear Dawn's interface is downright derivative of Resident Evil not only in looks, but also in functionality. Items can be used, equipped, examined, or combined. Even the fonts were lifted. It's functional, though, and it can be argued that the interface has become a staple of the genre, so it can perhaps be forgiven. Again, veterans of the genre have been well accommodated.

When it comes down to the action - arguably the meat of such a game - Nuclear Dawn often fails to provide. In truth, most of the terrorists you'll encounter are as smart as your average zombie, though notably less challenging. Since your gun is always drawn, you merely have to point Jack in the general direction of the enemy and wait for the crosshairs to appear. The aiming reticule's color will tell you how much of a chance you have to hit, and one or two shots will generally do in the average Apocalypse Knight. While stealth kills, in the traditional sense, are largely absent, shooting an enemy from behind generally does the trick more efficiently. Whether this is just a coincidence or an arbitrary factor within the game is yet to determined - there is no indication of the existence of stealth kills, so we can only assume that they aren't a factor. The small meter that alerts you to the presence of guards seems like a throwaway feature, except during occasions when the uncooperative cameras obscure most of the action.

In many cases, actually, the camera seems to be working against you. Many times, the reticule will be in an area where guards aren't visible. You'll hear the guards reacting to your presence and see their bullets flying through the background, but since the environment obscures them, it's impossible to effectively target them (barring blind luck) until you progress to their area. Oftentimes, you need to travel through more than two screens to get them in your sights. This would be downright horrible if it weren't for their generally poor aiming skills. In effect, it's merely more of an annoyance, since you have to blindly charge through a few areas in order to engage in some decent gunplay.

Graphically, Nuclear Dawn is actually pretty impressive. The character models seem large and full-bodied, boasting colorful, detailed textures. They animate halfway decently in-game, in that none of their movements seem especially jerky or disconcerting. The environments are rendered in real time, and they look pretty impressive. Electric doors open as Jack approaches, and many animated elements in the environments are earnestly relevant to the actual game: poisonous gases whiz, electrically charged doors buzz, and mechanisms act appropriately. Visually, it is very impressive. The FMV, though, is best ignored, as it's largely composed of horribly disfigured, disturbingly animated models that seem like vile mockeries of the human figures they're supposedly simulating. In-game cutscenes would have been infinitely more modest and classy.

Nuclear Dawn's sound work is merely adequate. Music is largely minimal, only present during the questionable cutscenes and during particularly stirring moments in-game - nothing to complain about, really, though there isn't anything to get particularly excited about. The sound effects are similarly functional, effective in their re-creation of gunfire, death throes, and mechanical noises. The voice work during the cutscenes, though, is particularly questionable - reminding you of the worst that Resident Evil has to offer.

In the end, Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn can be written off as a survival-horror game sans the horror: In place of unholy biological mutations, you have fanatical terrorists crawling around a cramped bullet train. The confining camera angles are just what you'd expect, and the pacing is right on with the genre. Several interesting minigames are included in the mix to provide a decent diversion from the often trite gameplay, but they don't seem to come frequently enough. The puzzles are fairly simple when compared with Capcom's offerings, which focus on fetching many items. Nuclear Dawn is, basically, Resident Evil in Metal Gear's clothing - effectively deriving elements from the former while failing to deliver the depth of experience of the latter.

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    Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn More Info

  • First Released May 31, 2000
    • PlayStation
    Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn can be written off as a survival-horror game sans the horror: In place of unholy biological mutations, you have fanatical terrorists crawling around a cramped bullet train.
    Average Rating126 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Sugar & Rockets
    Published by:
    Activision, SCEE, SCEI
    Action, Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Animated Blood and Gore, Animated Violence