Developer nDreams offers a unique stealth experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
“Just keep paddling. Don’t look behind you. Just keep paddling.” These are the words I told myself while attempting to escape a barrage of incoming machine gun fire after drawing the attention of nearby enemies by destroying an active missile silo. Whether it be the nerve-wracking stealth missions, unique kayak-based locomotion, or explosive set pieces, there appears to be something for everyone in Phantom: Covert Ops.
Available now on Oculus Rift/Rift S and Oculus Quest, nDreams’ “tactical kayak shooter” is a refreshing change of pace from the mountain of VR wave-based shooters available on the Oculus Store. Just as important, the game makes expert use of Oculus VR technology, resulting in a one-of-a-kind immersive experience impossible to recreate on consoles or PC.
Phantom: Covert Ops has you stepping into the shoes of Phantom 1, an elite covert operative tasked with infiltrating a Cold War naval base located on the coast of the Black Sea. Your assignment? Stop rogue Russian forces from kick-starting WWIII. After deploying into hostile wetlands and making your way into the massive compound, you’ll then need to complete a series of increasingly-difficult objectives as you attempt to sabotage enemy operations and stop General Nikolai Zhurov, a disgraced former-Soviet bent on turning the tides of the Cold War, from launching a deadly attack.
Not everything rides on you, however. Along with a remote command team providing continuous logistical support, players will receive occasional assistance from a friendly Russian agent assigned by his command to thwart the shameful actions of his fellow countrymen. It’s an interesting pairing that adds some additional personality to the experience. Unfortunately, the dynamic is explored very little; as are most of the relationships featured throughout the game. The main baddie himself, General Zhurov, is present very little throughout your adventure, which makes your final encounter a bit anticlimactic. There was one mini-boss that did a commendable job at pissing me off over the course of several levels, though the interactions were brief.
Of course not everything goes according to plan and you soon find yourself cut off from your team and surrounded by enemy forces. It’s then up to you to stealthily navigate around enemies using a series of sprawling water ways and restablish communication with your team. Similar to games such as Metal Gear Solid or Call of Duty, Phantom: Covert Ops is built around nerve-wracking black ops missions accented by explosive set pieces. Coming in at around 6 – 8 hours, the game offers just the right amount of content, satisfying your urge for intense covert warfare while at the same time never overstaying its welcome.
Phantom: Covert Ops takes place entirely from the seat of your tactical kayak. In order to navigate your way through the massive complex, you’ll use your Touch controllers to row your way through a series of narrow waterways. The VR kayak feels incredibly reel, allowing you to lean left or right to change direction, rudder steer, power turn, and push off solid objects with your oars. Along the way you’ll be presented with a variety of obstacles, from enemy guards and patrol boats to night vision security cameras and trained snipers. Thankfully, each environment features a number of environmental elements you can use as cover, including thick water reeds, docks and suspended walkways, hidden tunnel systems, and various other obstructions.
There are also a handful of nonhuman threats, such as automatic turrets and deadly water mines. Each situation can be handled in a variety of ways. One level, for instance, gave me the opportunity to approach a specific objective from several different angles. I could take route A and risk being seen by several armed guards, or opt for route B and take my chances with a large cluster of water mines. You can also distract enemies by shooting certain objects located throughout your environment, such as fire extinguishers, exploding barrels, and alarms. Of course, not all of us can be as silent as Sam Fisher. Whenever you find yourself exposed and under enemy fire, break out your arsenal of weaponry—including your silenced pistol, SMG, and sniper—to even the odds. Remember though, you’re a sitting duck in that kayak, so stick to the shadows whenever you can.
Each mission features a new objective as you make your way deeper into General Zhurov’s complex. Many of these assignments involve sneaking into a secured area and using your blowtorch to break into and then sabotage key power sources. Along the way you can use your binoculars to identify targets and potential distractions. Sometimes you’ll come across extra special bad guys you can take out for additional points. At the end of each mission your performance is rated based on your stealth, kill count, and speed.
One of my favorite aspects of Phantom: Covert Ops is its Challenge Mode. By completing missions with a high enough rating, you unlock additional challenges, maps, and game modifiers which can be used in the main campaign. This includes additional kayaks, more powerful weapons, and other customizations. You’ll also unlock a series of Challenge maps, each of which featuring a different obstacle to overcome. One challenge tasks you with eliminating a set number of enemies in a specific amount of time; another requires you navigate around narrow waterways teeming with water mines. These challenges, while simple, are an excellent compliment to the linear campaign, adding some much needed replayability to the experience.
While the phrase “tactical kayak shooter” had me giggling at first, after spending several hours strapped inside a military canoe I’m happy to say Phantom: Covert Ops is one of the more refreshing VR stealth games I’ve played on the Oculus Rift/Rift S and Oculus Quest. While the story does fall flat a times and the “drama” feels somehwat forced, the realistic kayak locomotion, carefully-crafted environments, and grandiose set pieces makes this a VR game that’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of classic stealth games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell.
*Our review of Phantom: Covert Ops was conducted using the Oculus Rift S.*
Image Credit: nDreams