Is this Poseidon adventure fun, or a complete disaster? by Vaughn Smith

May 2, 2006 - I stood alone amidst my peers when I professed to liking the original WinBack when it was released on the N64 (1999) and later on the PS2 (2001). The core gameplay is reminiscent of Namco's duck and cover lightgun shooter, Time Crisis, although WinBack is played from a third person perspective. Players cannot shoot while moving and taking cover behind objects is absolutely necessary for survival. While this mechanic may seem limiting by todays action game standards, when WinBack was introduced it brought some innovative concepts to the table that were "borrowed" by other popular games such as Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and kill.Switch, such as the shooting from behind cover and laser sight abilities. WinBack 2 unfortunately doesn't progress much beyond what the series started with and will alienate some players with its arcade-like lack of depth and punishing difficulty level in later levels (there are three difficulty levels to select from).

Fans of the original won't find hero Jean-Luc Cougar anywhere to be found and will now have to rely on three different characters: Craig, Nick and Mia. The constantly evolving storyline will have you chasing down terrorists and drug cartels as you work your way to discovering who is exactly behind the evil deeds. Thankfully the mission briefings can be skipped if you so desire and you can jump right into the action. The story is lightweight enough and doesn't get too bogged down in political intrigue like you'd find in Splinter Cell or the Metal Gear series. In fact, as mentioned WinBack 2 feels as though it would have just as at home in an arcade somewhere. Considering that the later levels will have you screaming in frustration and replaying them over and over again, perhaps paying full price for this game isn't such a bad idea, since you'd most likely blow triple that in tokens down at the local video game palace.

What makes WinBack 2 so inherently frustrating later on, is actually one of the games more innovative and interesting mechanics at the beginning of the game. Each mission requires two characters (which have been previously determined) to complete and players will have to play Route A and then Route B. As the first character goes through Route A he/she will have to complete some objectives which will help the other character when playing Route B. If you successfully complete Route A, you will begin Route B from the same starting time line. As you progress through the level you will meet up with your character from the Route A mission, in a cool Tarantino/Pulp Fiction-esque kind of way. For example, you might need to unlock a door, disable lasers or clear a room full of bad dudes during the first part of the mission. When the second playable character reaches this area during Route B, it will be taken care of already. That's a nice touch.

Unfortunately, Koie decided to make things unnecessarily difficult for you which leads to many replayed levels and increased frustration. Unlike the first WinBack, you won't have unlimited ammo for your standard issued weapon. Running out of ammo is a very real possibility which means you can't waste a shot because you'll rarely get close enough to an enemy to take him down by hand (which is possible). Health is determined by CRT points which can be picked up along the way if you find them or if you earn them by completing objectives. Not only will taking damage cost you CRT points but so will ranking poorly during the games timed objectives (conversely you can earn CRT points if you accomplish a timed objective quickly). The most inane and infuriating aspect of the CRT points is that they are passed from the Route A character to the Route B character which makes absolutely no sense at all in the reality of the game. In fact, it's one of the most ridiculous game mechanics I've ever seen programmed into a video game. If you complete Route A by the skin of your teeth, you'll start Route B with minimum CRT points, which means you'll most likely have to either start Route B again or replay Route A again entirely so that you end with more points for the second part of the mission. In certain cases you may have to start the next mission Route A with what you had left over from the previous mission's Route B. Toss in a constantly diminishing time limit for each level and you'll be brushing up on your obscenities.

WinBack 2 suffers from a lack of interaction and imagination. The enemy AI borders on moronic as they will often just stand their ground, waiting for you to kill them and the game design is based entirely on memorization of rooms, enemy placements, item locations and so on. To arrest someone you simply need to shoot them in the arm or leg at which time they will "assume the position" and blink and disappear. This was partially acceptable back in early days of 3D action genre, but games have come a long way since then. Some boxes and crates can be destroyed in your attempt to look inside them for evidence, but it's all trial and error, causing you to waste precious ammo. What you can do is hide behind walls and objects, aim the cursor behind your character to target an enemy and then pop out and shoot them while running from one room to the next. You can also activate doors, disable bombs and deactivate lasers...and that's pretty much the entire game, over and over. That's not to say it's all drudgery - some parts of the game can be quite entertaining - but after you finish the first level, you will have seen almost everything WinBack 2 has to offer.

Visually the game is uninspired. Each level (made up of 3 missions) takes place in a new environment setting, but you'll see the same types of traps, doors and control panels recycled throughout. The episode environments range in size, but most of the rooms you'll be fighting in will be either small or hallways. The character models look good but arent exactly up to 2006 standards for what can be accomplished on the PS2 at this point in its life cycle. Controlling your character for the most part is quite intuitive although the camera control is a little sluggish in places. A quick tap of the R analog stick will jam it back into position behind your character, but looking around with it feels awkward.

There is a decent amount of voice-acting in the game which comes in the form of either HQ babble or teammate communication. The usage of the two timelines is put into good use in dialogue form as the non-playable character or HQ will always foreshadow what you'll be doing in Route B as you will hear your partner run into trouble. The main character voice acting is a few notches above the standard set by Sega's The House of the Dead series, which is to say, it's simply all right. The enemy voices will often repeat phrases such as "Are you hiding? You wussie!" In a few cases the voice choices seemed a tad askew as the drug cartel dudes sounded black, but were clearly white bald guys. Hmmm....

The game offers multiplayer shenanigans in the way of splitscreen, and while that will elongate the play value somewhat, I wouldn't consider it to be anything more than a mild extra.

For the reasons I've outlined above, WinBack 2 just loses something in the translation. I went back and played a couple of levels of WinBack for a comparison and found it to be far superior in terms of excitement. Had WinBack 2 been released in 2002/2003, it would have been far better received but as a full-priced game released in 2006 it has to be held to the same standards as other top notch software and it falls short. If WinBack 2 was a budget priced title at $19.99 I could definitely get behind a recommendation for purchase as the game does have its moments. As it is, WinBack 2 is a weekend rental if there ever was one and it pains me to say that after loving the first game so much.

By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director

Rating out of 5
WinBack 2: Project Poseidon (PS2)
Not as impressive as they could be.
The control is quite good but the camera will fight you due to the confined spaces.
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Not bad. A little too white bread for my liking - like the first game, could have used a better sense of drama.
Play Value
If replaying large sections of a mission is your idea of play value, then consider yourself a happy man.
Overall Rating - Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: Xbox (shown), PS2
Dev: Koei
Pub: Koei
Release: Apr 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Vaughn

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best