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Winback – Nintendo 64

Winback – Nintendo 64

The missing link of the modern 3rd person shooter.

Platform:  Nintendo 64
Developer:  Omega Force
Publisher:  Koei
Release Date (NA):  September 23, 1999
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Nerd Rating:  7.5/10

Reviewed by Gunsavior

WinBack - Covert OperationsIn the 5th generation of consoles, few games were more earth shattering than Metal Gear Solid (PSX). From its cinematic presentation to its innovative stealth gameplay, MGS blew console gamers away and cast a huge shadow over the rest of the gaming landscape. Unfortunately for Nintendo, the N64 was left out of the stealth action game party. Sure, GoldenEye incorporated some stealth elements and the highly cinematic Perfect Dark was on the horizon, but they needed a tactical strike to go toe to toe with the PlayStation exclusive. As luck would have it, Koei (the makers of Dynasty Warriors) had a little game in development called Project: Winback and Nintendo wasted no time throwing support behind it in hopes of putting a horse in the race. Rather than delivering a 64-bit MGS clone, Koei unknowingly created the progenitor of the modern 3rd person shooter.

You play as the awesomely named Jean Luc Cougar, a member of S.C.A.T. who must stop a terrorist group called the Crying Lions from taking the world hostage with a devastating space laser.  You have 72 hours to retake the laser control before the terrorists destroy their next target.  Along the way, you’ll run into your odd assortment of teammates ranging from the chubby tech nerd, honorable native american, and the black guy who conveniently dies first.  At its heart, Winback is a direct-to-video action movie for your Nintendo 64.

winback2

Upon its release, Winback was written off as a cheap knockoff of Metal Gear Solid and rightfully so.  MGS was like a Hollywood blockbuster, Winback was the cheaper looking production that compensated for its shortcomings with outlandishness.  The characters were more flamboyant looking. The military installation looks more like a dull warehouse district and the high-tech labs look like cheap movie sets.  Even the dialogue is pure cheese with characters delivering long, needless character-building monologues at wildly inappropriate times. The fact that this game remains so sincere and ernest in the face of its own goofiness makes it that much more charming.

Where Winback would stand ahead of its contemporaries in 1999 was the simple yet forward-thinking gameplay it was built on. It’s hard to imagine a time when a cover-based shooter could be considered novel, but back then there was nothing else like it unless you count Time Crisis (which we won’t), making Winback the first of its kind.  For a game of its vintage, Winback’s mechanics were surprisingly solid.  Controls were very tight and precise, as was hit detection.  The camera often required some babysitting but was miles ahead of most other 3D action games of the time.  While there are a few bygone era quirks that bring down the experience (you can’t vault over anything, lots of back-tracking, odd difficulty spikes) it’s never enough to make the game unenjoyable.

NINTENDO64--WinBack  Covert Operations_Aug11 12_26_46

Winback’s shooting mechanics are almost a dead match for Resident Evil 4’s in that you press a button to draw your gun, use the analog stick to aim up your shots, and can’t move while doing so. While this may sound unplayable in a game that is built around intense gunfights, Winback’s gameplay lent itself more to strategic firefights than run-and-gun craziness. Situations later in the game become very tense when you’re horribly outnumbered by highly aggressive enemies who can kill you almost as easily as you can kill them.

Not all evolutionary steps get their dues and Winback is a perfect example.  Despite solid reviews, the game hit during the N64’s decline and was overlooked by gamers more interested in the PSX and recently released Dreamcast. The fact that some of its cover based shooting mechanics were later adopted by Metal Gear Solid 2 (which eclipsed Winback’s own PS2 port) just helped to rub salt in the wound. In some ways, this game plays more smoothly than the early MGS games (at least when the action kicked up) but it lacked the variety of gameplay, high production values, and general sense of importance that Kojima’s had in spades. Winback faded into obscurity long before cover-based shooters became the major genre they are today.

MGS_screen_psx 1823886-winback_image1

Despite superior gunfights and solid gameplay,
Winback didn’t have the visual punch or hype to contend with Metal Gear Solid.

By today’s standards, Winback is more of a CURIO (a curiosity for it’s evolutionary relevance) than a worthwhile gaming experience. 3rd person shooters have come a long way in 15 years and many of today’s gamers wouldn’t put up with the game’s 5th generation quirks. If you’re curious about this missing link or just have a thing for retro 3D shooters, then Winback will be quite enjoyable (just don’t waste your time with the multiplayer mode). For all of its sins (backtracking, repetitiveness, drab environments) it comes back with plenty of virtues (strategic action, responsive controls, excellent character models, late 90s silliness).  If nothing else, it’s a game that never got the credit it deserved the first time around and perhaps its 15th anniversary would be a good time to revisit it and pay Winback it’s dues.

 

Written by Nerd Bacon

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One Comment

  1. Excellent review. Being a big N64 fan, i might have to get myhands on this

     

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