Title  : Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation
Publisher  : Activision
ESRB Rating  : Mature
Game Rating  : 8.0
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Russian terrorists known as the "Knights of the Apocalypse" have captured Blue Harvest, a train transporting the French ambassador and his family to France. The only military survivor of the hijack is Lieutenant Jack Morton. While the United Nations commences negotiations, it is up to Morton to save the ambassador and his family and secure the train for a rescue party. 

It's Resident Evil-style gameplay with a Metal Gear Solid theme in Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn, a Sony PlayStation game from Activision. 

Covert Ops is an interesting mix of two game styles, though the mix doesn't always sense. You'll be running through a train shooting soldiers one moment, and the next you'll find a wood carving with a piece missing. It's more like switching between Metal Gear and Resident Evil than experiencing the two simultaneously. 

Covert Ops' puzzles are easy to solve and seem geared to gamers who have never experienced a Resident Evil-type game. In Resident Evil, a hard-to-spot item will occasionally glitter to attract the player's eye. Covert Ops takes it several steps further. When Jack steps into a room, the camera immediately zooms to the crucial item, allows it to sparkle several times, then returns control to the player, while the item continues to shine. Sometimes the focus of a cutscene will not be the interacting characters, but the item Jack should investigate once the cutscene is over. The glaring obviousness of these clues borders on the insulting. 

Most of the puzzles aren't even that difficult. Whenever Jack saves somebody, the reward will most surely be the key to the door of the next train. My favorite puzzle was when someone needed a blood transfusion. Though a Special Police agent reported the infirmary had nothing of use, he apparently missed the machine in the corner labelled "Artificial Blood Generator." Gee. 

The setting is also unusual, though not in so bad a way. Covert Ops takes place entirely on trains, which is unique and interesting. As the game progresses, the train gets closer to its destination, and the story develops. 

On the other hand, you can be sure that the next car will look pretty similar to the last one, with stairs, exits, and bathrooms (for saving your game — really!) in the same place. And there are interminable load times when moving between cars or floors. 

The train looks pixelated, but the detail in some backgrounds, including fallen soldiers, is amazing. Crucial story segments are told in cutscenes, which could be better rendered: people have square jaws and talk with little lip movement. The tight nature of the train results in many poor camera angles, in which Jack cannot see his opponent and must fire blindly. 

The action scenes are accompanied by an average soundtrack that adds a cinematic feel to the game. The music changes after every major event, but stays that way until the next event, becoming repetitive. Voice acting ranges from average to poor. 

Controlling Jack is the same affair it would be in a Resident Evil: push up to make him move forward, left to turn him left, etc. I've always found this method works well in a game of constantly-changing camera angles. Strangely enough, Covert Ops does not support analog control. And only one button is necessary to fire, which makes me finally realize why Resident Evil requires two: it's too easy to accidentally push the wrong button and waste precious ammunition. Jack can also roll to the side and duck, but cannot roll forward from a ducking position, nor fire and move while ducking. 

With a movie-like plot and fair gameplay, Covert Ops is a good game to pick out of a bargain bin. Its individual elements have been done better in other games, but no game has the same strengths — or weaknesses — that this one does. 


This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 10-Jul-00