A year after nDreams released the first teasing details of its next virtual reality (VR) title Phantom: Covert Ops, the project is nearing launch, set to arrive in June. VRFocus got its hands on an early demo showcasing some of the first area during the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2019 and was suitably impressed by what was shown. Now, nDreams has been kind enough too expanded upon that initial demo so VRFocus can delve a little deeper, continuing the positive trend for this watery stealth experience.
Time for a bit of a catch-up. Phantom: Covert Ops is a first-person shooter with all the military trademarks you’d expect, a wayward Russian general, deadly toxic nerve agent, a secret installation and of course a variety of weapons and tools to bring the whole showdown. The one major twist is that as most of the base is waterlogged, you’re not running around hiding behind crates; instead, you’re completely constrained to a kayak with everything you need within arm’s reach.
The whole kayak idea was born out of VR comfort, as not everybody can handle smooth locomotion controls and some titles don’t always suit teleportation. The kayak is an ingenious idea as it forces you to think about stealth and combat completely differently, there’s no quick strafe into cover or hastily avoiding a spotlight. You’re in a kayak and need to paddle, therefore everything needs to be planned and thought out. Wade in brazenly and you’ll quickly become a floating target.
Thankfully, the paddle controls are up to the job and feel more refined. When the locations permit you can pick up a reasonable speed as you time each stoke, plunging one side into the water to break if needed. By holding one of the face buttons down on the Oculus Touch controller you can perform tight turns to help you navigate some of the narrower waterways. The mechanic also means you can sit down for the entire experience, great for when you don’t have the energy for a full roomscale videogame.
For this preview, the first two areas of Phantom: Covert Ops were available highlighting more than ever that this is a stealth title first and foremost. There are two ways you can attack the levels, loud or quiet but it’s the latter which shows the experience at its best. Slowly paddling through the water into a set of reeds, pulling out the sniper rifle to shoot a fire extinguisher, thus creating a distraction and then carefully manoeuvring under a bridge while an enemy has their back turned provides nailing biting excitement.
You don’t have to do this, of course, grab the MP5 and take a less subtle approach mowing down anyone who dares raise the alarm. But Phantom: Covert Ops doesn’t exude action, in fact, it actively encourages quiet as once a level is complete you’re given a ranking based on how many times you’ve been spotted, if you’ve killed anyone and other variables. Getting an S rank came down to mostly being a ninja pacifist.
And that’s an important point to consider, options. Phantom: Covert Ops does have a core linear strategy to completing the campaign yet certain areas do offer route variation, take the quicker more hostile laden path or go for the longer journey which is less exciting. There’s little exploration to do, however, caches of ammo and grenades which extend out the water do require a keen eye, especially if the louder approach is being taken.
What’s also nice about Phantom: Covert Ops is that it still manages to remain very interactive as much as possible. From paddling and grabbing the binoculars to scout ahead to pulling apart power relays which operate the CCTV cameras, as a VR developer nDreams is very aware that an immersive experience needs to be just that, doing so through as many physical connections as possible.
As a sales tool, any demo should leave you wanting more and from this extended look at Phantom: Covert Ops nDreams has done just that. The menu revealed that replay will be a core factor of the videogame, with a free play mode allowing you to go back and try a completed campaign level differently. Plus there was a Challenge Mode – which wasn’t available. All in all, VRFocus is still very much looking forward to playing Phantom: Covert Ops when it arrives next month.