Developer / Publisher – VIRTUALLYZ GAMING / Microids
Price – US $29.99 / CAN 34.99 / EU €29.99 / UK £22.99
Release Date – July 13th, 2023
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers
Play Area – Seated, Standing
Store Links – PlayStation, Quest 2, Steam
Reviewed on – PSVR 2
This is Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR, the VR re-imagining of the on-the-rails Arcade (and console I suppose?) shooter that’s pits you in a 1-man war against international crime as you take on a new threat terrorizing the world. Operation Wolf is hailed as a classic title so let’s see if bringing it to VR can do this series justice.
First off, I’ll admit that when it comes to Operation Wolf, I don’t really have any nostalgic feelings for the game as I was but a wee lad back when this originally released. For those that are familiar with the game, not too much has changed plot wise as it’s up to you to shoot your way through a terrorist organization responsible for weapons and drug trafficking while freeing hostages along the way. This time around though, you are seeking out The Viper, the groups leader, who is also in control of a super weapon. After receiving intel on a few of their bases, you are sent in to shoot your way to victory and save the day!
This is an on-the-rails VR shooter very similar to games like Dick Wilde 2 or Transformers Beyond Reality and if those titles never excited you then this probably won’t either as the action in here is best described as…typical. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, but it just feels incredibly uninspired offering up EXACTLY what you would think if I said this a standard OTR VR shooter. You may be slowly walking forwards in a level, riding on a boat down a river while facing the shore, on a plane manning a heavy gun or forced to stop to take on a boss with most of the scenarios having you slowly crawl through a stage. Enemies will pop-up from behind buildings, jump from cover, fly in via parachute and generally come from all sides (within 180 degrees or so) while vehicles show up in similar fashion. When the bullets start flying your way, you can shoot many of them out of the air or dodge if you like though I found it easier to do the former than the latter. There are a few moments during the campaign where foes appeared all around me but for the most part, the action occurs largely in front of your default position. Throughout the campaign, you’ll also have to rescue hostages who yell ‘help’ while locked behind a barrier you’ll have to shoot to free them and try not accidentally kill them before they slowly run out of sight.
To take out these terrorists, you’ll be armed with 4 weapons; a pistol, shotgun, machine gun and assault rifle with the pistol carrying infinite ammo, the machine gun behaving in spray and pray type fashion while the shotgun acts like a sort of homing weapon as firing anywhere seems to have the shells target anyone within sight… which is just weird. The assault rifle is easily the best weapon in the game providing the most accurate and deadly fire and unless I was low on ammo, I used this gun as much as possible. Choosing any weapon is handled by pressing a specific direction on your left thumbstick with grenades having the option of being thrown by button press as indicated by a throw arc or by lobbing them yourself which can be quite finicky and to reload, just aim your gun downward. Enemies will drop ammo, shields, grenades, temporary armour and health packs and on medium difficulty, I rarely ran into too much trouble to a point where I forgot about the health packs until the 4th stage, turning the last few levels into an absolute breeze. Each level offers you 3 continues should you die with the more health and continues used affecting your final level score and on my 1st run though the campaign on medium difficulty, I got a A or S ranking on all of the stages. Unfortunately, with no online leaderboards, score chasing is next to pointless unless your chasing trophies or just want to see if you can do better on another go.
With 6 stages to get through, each taking roughly 15 to 20 minutes, there’s not a ton of game here which is probably a good thing as I was bored to tears by the end of the 2nd stage with the action rarely changing up after that as I killed the same guys in the 1st stage as I did in the last…more or less. There is a survival mode in here which turns this into a 360 stationary wave shooter and calling this ‘survival’ is a stretch as it’s more of a ‘see how long you want to play’ type mode with it capping out at 100 waves. The problem here is that after wave 20 or so, you will have seen the extent of what’s on offer as waves seem to randomize from just a few foot soldiers to all out vehicular assaults of varying difficulty but given the amount of ammo, grenades, armour and health pickups available the challenge here is absolutely minimal and a huge waste of time.
With the original Operation Wolf looking quite dated by today’s standards, it only seems right to give the franchise a visual makeover though what’s here honestly looks like a shooter from the Wii days. Everything looks cartoonish with some light cell-shading happening on your weapons and the enemies while the settings are much more static and look kind of washed out thanks to the pastel color palette used in combination with some lacklustre environments. The foes you face come in a large variety and look fine I guess though I was never really impressed by any particular unit though as the goal is to kill guys as fast as possible, I rarely got a good look at them anyways. Vehicles also just look okay though I found the scale of them to be off sometimes, looking more like large toys than weapons of war and once I noticed that the wheels and treads on the tanks and trucks never spun, it was hard to unsee that whenever they rolled up. Pop-in is also quite rampant and on numerous occasions throughout the game I saw enemy combatants spawn in buildings or vehicles appear out of nowhere making this look and feel like it was made without much care. Each stage offers up a different locale whether you are walking in or flying over a jungle, walking though a favela or inside the various bases of the gang with all of these settings helping to mix the action up a little, but not enough to stave back just how boring this can be. The boss battles are definitely the most challenging and most rewarding encounters as they are typically large tanks and aircraft that unleash all manner of assault on you while peons still flood in to take you out with 3rd and 5th stage bosses being quite fun. At the games onset and in between each stage you are treated to brief comic book style cut scenes which flesh out the story a little but feel more tacked on then to actually deliver any sort of narrative that matters.
Said cutscenes are narrated by a general who does a solid job at being cartoonishly dramatic as he breaks down your mission though outside of his performance, like much of the game, the audio design also leaves a lot to be desired. Many of your weapons sound incredibly under powered as do the enemies with most vehicles sounding much beefier. With enemies popping up from all sides, you would think spatial audio would be in place but in my play, it was impossible to tell where vehicles were coming from based upon their audio queues, forcing me to frantically look around for where they may have spawned When enemies die, their grunts all sound like they are right beside you with explosions and any other dramatic effects lacking any sort of ‘oomph’. If you could imagine a stock military style soundtrack for a cartoon shooter, that’s exactly what’s here though I only noticed it during the few sections where I wasn’t shooting my guns or in between stages.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m not impressed by First Mission VR in any way and while I wasn’t sure what to expect from this near 40-year-old franchise coming to our headsets, I know it wasn’t this. It’s honestly just disappointing when these known IP’s come to VR with so little effort as it makes it hard to take these ventures seriously. Gungrave, Colossal Cave, Sam & Max: This Time it’s Virtual and a host more franchises all disappoint when it comes to their VR versions with Operation Wolf now joining those franchises when it comes to poor VR offerings. If you think I’m being too harsh on an old-school rail shooter re imagined for VR, you could be right, but when you factor in just how much content is in here, the quality of said content and the lofty price tag for this, I expect most people to pass on this one unless it’s on a deep sale…and no, you sadly can’t play the original game in here either.
Microids provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!