Don’t you just love it when you rent a game on a whim that you know nothing about and it turns your weekend magical? Wait, hold on, my mind is clearly stuck 20 years in the past. Don’t worry, it’s probably because I just woke up and haven’t had my coffee yet. Let me just…
Okay, now that my morning terrors are over, do you remember when you could rent games (or at least can you imagine it) and every now and then you’d pick a random game that was so good that it turned a boring weekend into a magical one? That’s what happened when I rented ‘Winback’.
I can still remember the day. It was… uh…. Summer? Fall? And I was… 13? 14? Whatever season it was I definitely remember it was when I lived in this small town just outside of Boston, because I played it at my friend’s house which always smelled like moth balls. I walked into the video store which was called… uh… ehhhhh… doesn’t matter, it’s yoga studio or some shit now. Anyway, I walked in, saw this game in the New Release section and realized that I never heard of it. I read about 3 video game magazines a month from cover to cover (outstanding for an ADHD kid like me) so it was weird that I saw a preview for it, or anything for that matter. Chances are that I did, but with heavy hitters coming out in… oh come the fuck on… screw it I’m looking it up. Huh. 1999. Well shit. No wonder why I don’t remember it. Good year.
HERE’S WHAT I REMEMBER:
I mostly remember multiplayer honestly. Whenever I played it, there always seemed to be other people around and no one wanted to be the prick who made everyone watch them while they played single player… for at least an hour anyway. It was the first cover based shooter that I can remember (at least I remember it being a cover based shooter), so the fact that you could be hiding anywhere made it feel like hide and seek but with guns. Besides remembering that multiplayer was fun, a few other notable things stand out.
I don’t remember what guns were available, but I know for a fact that a shotgun was in the game because every other weapon was useless against someone wielding one. It was as accurate as a sniper rifle and as powerful as a bundle of bricks dropped on top of a baby. In fact, I don’t even remember a sniper rifle being in the game. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there, but it just goes to prove how little it mattered.
There was a persistent fog that I remember lingering around. I don’t know why either, though it could have certainly been there due to the limitations of hardware rendering, but that’s not a good enough reason since I remember the levels being small. Not just the multiplayer areas either since those were just sections of the actual level. In fact, I remember being a little bummed when I played the single player campaign since I’d already seen the level layout. As much as I’d love to replay the multiplayer to see if I remembered this part correctly, I’ll be unable to because, and I quote, “Goddamn it man! You’re 34! Why don’t you write for people who will actually pay you?!? What are you doing?!? Stop trying to give my baby a controller and a gin and tonic!”
HOW DOES IT HOLD UP?
Let’s get this out of the way up front; you work for S.C.A.T. Given the Japanese production of the game, I can only assume that if there was a reference they were going for, it was the improvisational Jazz stylings of the early 20th century. If it’s not that… then, well… shit.
As for the gameplay itself, I can see why it would have been a lot of fun playing multiplayer with a bunch of buddies, especially back in the day. For the year leading up to playing ‘Winback’ we all played the hell out of ‘Metal Gear Solid’. Imagine being given the opportunity to play a ‘Metal Gear’ game with a versus mode? Awesome, right? Well, we kind of got that. It was in the ‘knock off G.I. Joes you got at CVS’ kind of way, but we had it.
Maybe it’s because the last game I played was ‘Mission Impossible’, where the controls were as enjoyable as sticking your hands in a blender and turning it on, but I didn’t mind the controls of ‘Winback’ as much as I thought I would. They’re a little stiff, and the manual aiming isn’t as fluid as ‘Resident Evil 4’, but given when it came out and what it was trying to do, they’re not bad. That being said, it’s more akin to appreciating a prototype. It’s like how you can appreciate the stone, tar, and wood dildos from the Upper Palaeolithic period (around 30,000 years ago) but know that it’s nowhere near as good as the vibrating King Fuck 3000.
While there was a little fog used to hide the draw distances in some of what I played, there definitely wasn’t nearly as much as I remember. My brain is filled with images of a spy running through a ‘Silent Hill’ type nightmare where the only thing to help you is the sniper shotgun (which, to be fair, would be an amazing ‘House of the Dead’ style arcade game). Maybe this was the case with multiplayer, again I wasn’t able to play with other people, but it’s far from a haunting landscape. It’s possible that what I remember was the dreary color pallet. It’s so full of grays, dull blues, and browns, it’s as if the ‘Twilight’ vampires became spies and shit themselves.
It’s a fun game though. It didn’t take long before I developed a routine of cover, auto aim, shoot, cover, auto aim, shoot, but at least I enjoyed the shooting gallery. I’ll probably keep going with this game since I kina need to know how this random group of S.C.A.T. plans to take down a space laser. Did I mention that the plot is a little insane? Maybe it eventually takes it’s meds and peters out, but it’s kind of insane. Almost as insane as calling yourself “Covert Operations” and being as discreet as a man with a jackhammer employed as a librarian.