Operation: WinBack: TAKE COVER! In Ambitious N64 Shooter

WinBack on the Nintendo 64

Here’s a Nintendo 64 curiosity—Operation: WinBack (or WinBack: Covert Operations in North America). Launched in September 1999 across Japan and NA (but only July 2000 in Europe!), it was an ambitious third-person shooter.

Japanese developer Omega Force was behind the title, which also launched on the PlayStation 2 in 2000. The game featured an innovative few ideas picked up by similar future titles, but was otherwise obscured by the might of Rare’s Goldeneye 007.

But let’s revisit WinBack here and see if we can win it back some praise. Yeah?

Operation: WinBack and its Cover System

Operation: WinBack was an ambitious title for its day, featuring a lock-on system with a free aiming mode.

But the big deal was its use of a cover system. This was revolutionary for the time—the idea you’re player could wait for the right moment behind a box or some such. Here it is in action.

Some gamers have classified this as the “birth” of the cover system, which is used in most games like WinBack these days.

You name it and most big AAA blockbusters use some sort of covering, stealth system like this now. Yet the game was also innovative in other ways, such as throwing in multiple endings (a good and bad one) depending on how you play the game.

Plus, there’s a kind of cinematic plot going on. There’s an intro reminiscent of macho ’90s blockbusters. It hints at James Cameron’s Aliens a bit, too.

What follows is just lots of painfully slow snappy dialogue shifts, although no voice acting (sadly), as we feel this would have been PlayStation Resident Evil (1996) levels of bad awesome.

WinBack is about a terrorist group called Crying Lions, who take control of a space laser weapon (hell yeah!). They use it to attack a military installation called the GULF system. However, as part of the Special Covert Action Team (SCAT), you’ve got to enter the GULF complex and take out those pesky SOBs!

Lots of taking cover and shooting takes place thereafter with scenes such as this (ratta tatta tatta tatt).

Omega Force must be commended for introducing this now crucial gaming mechanic of taking cover, but WinBack wasn’t exactly great (unfortunately).

It was a middling affair back in 1999 and the mediocre review in our beloved N64 Magazine put us off ever going near the thing.

Most reviews were average for the N64 version, with rather basic shooting action and bland environments.

The PlayStation 2 version launched in late 2000 in Japan, following across North America in March 2001, then Europe in November 2001. Yes, back 20 years ago the EU got a raw deal with all these game releases (hell, we didn’t get Super Mario RPG until 20 years after launch).

As you’d expect, because the console was more powerful, the PS2 version of WinBack looks a bit more appealing to the modern gaming eye.

And it also threw in dodgy video game voice acting! Hooray!

Despite the graphical improvements (and this just another example that cutting-edge graphics don’t automatically make for a better game), the PS2 version wasn’t well received either.

In fact, Edge magazine here in the UK gave it a lower score than the N64 one (4/10 over 6/10). Although Japan’s legendary Famitsu magazine (famous for its harsh reviews) actually handed the PS2 one a highly respectable 30/40. Opinions, eh?

What is clear is by modern standards WinBack doesn’t hold up well.

It’s available on the Nintendo Switch’s N64 library and we finally gave it a whirl (only 23 years too late). And… it’s ok. It’s plodding and and unsophisticated by modern standards, but probably would have dragged back in 2000 for its EU release then anyway.

The controls are awkward and action flows in this stunted, jerky way.

What Operation WinBack (or WinBack: Covert Operations… ) does now stand for is its landmark introduction of the iconic taking cover gaming trope. We’ll take cover behind out nearest box, right now, in honour of that achievement.

Dispense with some gibberish!

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