The idea behind bringing back decades-old franchises tends to be driven by nostalgia. Rather than exploring an old, innovative game mechanic, companies want to reinvigorate old IPs even when everyone else has forgotten them. That certainly seems the case with the mouthful that is Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR. Virtuallyz Gaming saw fit to bring back TAITO’s cult classic arcade game Operation Wolf from 1987, with all of its 80s gungho-ness and now cliched storytelling. As you find out in XR Source’s Operation Wolf Returns review on Quest 2, this recipe hasn’t stood the test of time.
The original Operation Wolf sought to recreate the kind of movie action found in Commando and Rambo, just in computer game form. Thirty-six years later we’ve all played countless games that worked to a similar formula. Heck, even VR went through a wave shooter phase a few years ago. But developers (and players) have mostly moved on to bigger, better and more well-conceived games.
The Wolf Returns
In Operation Wolf Returns you play an elite commando tasked with taking down a new criminal organization led by the mysterious General Viper. The rest of the story is as cheesy as you can imagine, which I suppose fits well with the original DNA. It is also played out through a series of comic book-style 2D frames, whilst also serving as loading screens. The artwork is suitably retro but I’ve never been a big fan of this storytelling style in VR. You lose so much of the game’s vibe sitting in a dark environment with a single animated panel.
Thankfully, all of these can be skipped so you can straight into the action. Operation Wolf Returns is a forward-moving on-rails shooter where you’re given a selection of weaponry to kill everything in sight. Points are awarded for headshots, multi-kills and so on, leading to an overall ranking for each level at the end. This is a classic shooting gallery fair here, standard infantry will pop out from behind buildings or drive in on trucks, whilst helicopters and planes with swoop info extra heavy damage.
Everything can be shot. There’s no having to keep a weapon handy for a particular enemy. Sure, a grenade will take out a truck quicker than a pistol but apart from that go nuts. This did lead me to find a favourite system quite quickly as some of your arsenal is pure trash.
Runnin’ and gunnin’
Available to you at all times is the Shotgun, Uzi, Pistol, and M16 Assault rifle, selectable on the joystick. Reloading is simple, just point the weapon to the ground. And whilst ammo is unlimited only for the pistol, attaining more isn’t difficult. You’ll see gun icons appear from down enemies to replenish stocks. Or you can shoot pigs and chickens running around as they’ll occasionally drop a goodie or two.
When it came to all-round practicality the M16 was the clear winner. You’re forced to hold it with both hands – there’s no dual-wielding anywhere in Operation Wolf Returns – but its range and fire rate are excellent. And the pistol is fun too. However, the Shotgun is woeful with the biggest spread I’ve ever seen in a VR game. There’s no point in waiting for enemies to get close enough to use it, you may as well give them a telling-off instead. In classic Uzi style, the gun is highly erratic which is amusing at first then highly impractical the rest of the time.
This same confusing imbalance permeates other aspects of the game as well. Bonus weapons like the rocket launcher and grenade launcher don’t have the raw power you’d expect them to have in an 80s-inspired game. And then there’s the Survival Mode where you shoot waves of enemies in a 360-degree environment. I liked this, to begin with, but at higher waves, you’d expect each to get tougher. Again, this varied wildly, some waves would feature a whole platoon of men, with some helos and even a jet fighter or two. The next a couple of dudes would poke their heads out from behind a barrel and that’s it!
An 80s afternoon
The campaign is a bit better but it only consists of six levels. Which you can easily get through in a couple of hours. It has that arcade action feel you’d expect, making for a fun mindless shooting experience. You’re not a completely merciless killer, however, you can rescue hostages by shooting open containers to free them. They will, of course, run right through the warzone so be careful not to hit them. Another reason not to use the shotgun.
Operation Wolf Returns also adds another well-used gameplay feature, choosing your route. At certain points, you’ll be given left/right options so that if you do decide on another run through you can add a bit of variety by choosing the other path.
Operation Wolf Returns Review Summary
I get what Virtuallyz Gaming is trying to achieve with Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR. For me, it’s a package that doesn’t entirely deliver on its premise. I was never expecting the game to be clever or innovative, this is Operation Wolf after all. What I did expect was a big, loud and unashamedly brash gameplay experience. One that puts a big smile on my face with huge explosions and ridiculous gunfights. None of which I got. Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR is a short, uncomplicated wave shooter that’ll keep you entertained for a few hours and nothing more.