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Retro Review: Winback

On 01/15/2022 at 08:44 AM by The Last Ninja

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The poor man’s Metal Gear Solid

Developed by Omega Force and published by Koei, Winback: Covert Operations was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999. It was clearly Nintendo’s answer to Metal Gear Solid, which had released for the Playstation the year before. Like that game, this is a third-person shooter. The similarities and differences are quite interesting. Winback was also released on the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack this past October. However, I haven’t seen anyone talking about it. So let’s analyze the game and see if it’s worth playing. 

The story goes like this: a terrorist group has taken over a military installation that has a space-based laser weapon. So the Special Covert Action Team (SCAT) is sent in to stop the terrorists. Simple enough. This is explained during the opening “cutscene” in which all the members are together in a chopper. The chopper is hit, forcing everyone to quickly jump out before it explodes. You play as Jean-Luc, one of the members, and you must infiltrate the base. As you progress, you’ll run into other SCAT members, and the dialog is reminiscent of an 80s movie (at least that’s what they’re going for, I think). However, the lack of voice acting makes the story sections a bit boring. 

pic 1

Winback is much more action-based than MGS. You can automatically lock-on to enemies before shooting, which is great, but the lock-on doesn’t always lock onto the guy you want, which can be frustrating. You can also crouch, hide against walls, change guns, and roll while moving if you’re crouched. You will also have to reload your gun once the ammo is depleted (it’s shown on the left side of the screen). While the game is quite generous with health drops, this isn’t as true for ammo drops. You have a few different guns (handgun, shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher), but you will be using the standard handgun most the time because you won’t have enough ammo for the others. 

The controls take a little getting used to at first, but I learned them pretty quickly, and then I had no problems. Jean-Luc moves kinda slow, so that can be a problem, but there are always things to hide behind. Shooting enemies feels so good, and you’ll shoot a lot of them. You can try to be stealthy, but if you’re seen, enemies will simply shout “Freeze” or “Over here” and you will proceed to hide and then shoot them. When you pause, you can check the map, change guns, look at the different SCAT members (they have bios and also tell their status), and mess with options. It’s a shame that the map can’t be displayed while you’re playing—I was constantly pausing the game to check the map. 

pic 2

The design of the game is fine, but not great. Levels can be very simple: hide behind stuff, shoot enemies, shoot switches to disable lasers, and sometimes find a key to access a door. Certain wooden crates can be destroyed, while other crates (the dark brown ones) cannot, which is stupid, but this is how the game keeps you from going into places where it doesn’t want you to go. To the game’s credit, I never got lost or didn’t know where to go next because there was usually only one way the game allowed me to go. However, when an obstacle blocks your path, you will often have to go around the long way in order to destroy the obstacle and then backtrack to that place. On the way back, there will be new enemies to defeat. This is how the entire game is laid out, and it gets old after awhile. 

The locations you’re exploring are also quite boring. Concrete buildings, small waterways, fences, rooms with crates, a bathroom every now and then—and just about every room will have two or three enemies you have to kill. Bosses are also not very interesting. Instead of fighting attack choppers (like in MGS), you will have to fight “important villain characters” that just shoot at you. So you hide, then come out to shoot them, rinse and repeat. The story doesn’t go in any interesting directions, which gives you just another reason to put the game down. 

pic 3

As for the graphics, the game isn’t bad. The characters look decent, although younger players will probably scoff at the crude polygons on display, but that was how it was back then. The game really lacks color. The levels are dull and gray, and everything looks the same (which means you might get lost walking around). Interestingly, the game was also released on PS2 in 2001, and the graphics are much improved for that version. The music is also completely forgettable. The lower your life gets, the more the music will become tense, which is a neat touch, but the regular music that plays while you’re sneaking around is simply boring. 

Finally, I have to mention that the game has a multiplayer mode. Up to four players can kill each other in either Death Match (see who can get the most kills) or Point Match (see who can get the most points). There are only four characters to choose from at the start, but you can unlock more characters by beating the story mode. There are a few different arenas, although the maps can be pretty small for some (more chaos, right?). I wasn’t able to try the multiplayer, but I’m sure it’s fine. It probably can’t hold a candle to multiplayer in Goldeneye, but not much can. 

pic 4

Final Verdict: 3 Stars—It’s Okay

While it sounds like I didn’t like this game, that’s not true. I think the gameplay worked great. Taking out enemies was really fun and satisfying. The problem here is that the game isn’t interesting. Level design is the same thing over and over, and bosses are simply lame. The story isn’t great either. If you have NSO expansion pack, I would say give it a try. The multiplayer might also be a lot of fun. While it’s not a bad game, Winback is leagues below MGS in just about every way. But then again, that’s true for all the other third-person shooters of this time. MGS was in a class all by itself.



Cary Woodham

01/16/2022 at 09:00 AM

Never touched this one.  Of course, I'm not a big Metal Gear fan so that's why.  I can sum up my history with MGS in a short paragraph.  My friend and I rented the NES ones a few times.  I liked hiding in the box.  Didn't play one again until Metal Gear Solid 3.  I wanted it because there was an Ape Escape mini game in it, but I didnt want to pay full price for it so I waited a few years until it was on sale.  That's the game that got my brother Jeff into Metal Gear games, though.  Also, Ape Escape 3 had a Metal Gear mini game in it.  And that's all I have to say about Metal Gear, except I think it's funny there's a character in the series named Quiet.  The end!

The Last Ninja

01/16/2022 at 09:58 AM

To be honest, the only MG games I've played are the two on NES. I would love to get a copy of MGS for PS1, not sure how I would like the newer ones as many complain about the really long cutscenes. 


01/17/2022 at 03:46 PM

Trying to justify that added Expansion cost, eh? Tongue Out Sounds like the game was ahead of its time. Why, most games wouldn't throw out color in favor of gray till the Xbox 360 days!

But it sounds fine. Not a classic but not essential to play either.

The Last Ninja

01/19/2022 at 12:46 AM

Yeah, it's fine. I was enjoying it, although you do the same thing over and over, so there's that. I think it's one of the few third-person shooters on the 64. 


01/24/2022 at 08:49 PM

I never heard of this one. Seems a theme with me lately. I spied a Xbox 360 game I never heard of last weekend, RAW: Realms of Ancient War. I thought I was familiar with just about every game on that system, N64 too. I guess there's always some game I missed. 

The Last Ninja

01/28/2022 at 09:54 AM

Yeah, I don't remember this game either, and I was a Nintendo Power subscriber during the N64 days, so they must've not pushed it much. It's a decent game, but nothing special. 


01/29/2022 at 06:14 AM

I do remember WinBack getting covered in Nintendo Power, though it didn't get a cover feature. I rented it back in the day. It was an interesting game and I might have bought it a year or two earlier. But after Ocarina of Time and Castlevania came out, I pretty much moved on from the N64.  I was all into the RPG library on PS1. 

I'm playing it on the Switch. Honestly, with Nintendo's close relationship with Koei Tecmo, and all the recent consolidation of the game industry lately (I'm not saying any more), Nintendo ought to consider reviving this series as its own in-house version of Metal Gear. 

The Last Ninja

01/29/2022 at 09:14 AM

Not a bad idea, especially since MGS is basically dead now. 

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