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E3 2019 Hands-on: Phantom: Covert Ops

29 Jun 2019

VR has come a long way over the past years – and at E3 we are always on the lookout for a few of these to demo. And the VR spy genre just seems to work. This year we were able to get our VR spy hands dirty with nDream’s Phantom: Covert Ops.

According to the press release for Phantom: Covert Ops:

You are a Phantom: an elite and deadly covert operative with a single night to prevent all-out war. Dispatched into remote, hostile wetlands in your tactical kayak, utilize military-grade weapons and equipment to evade and neutralize the enemy threat. Immerse yourself in a gritty and authentic arena of war across an intense campaign in VR. Engage your targets lethally or infiltrate unnoticed from within the shadows: it’s your mission to execute your own way.

Um… “tactical kayak” did you say? Yes, yes they did. Well, they work for the U.S. Navy Seals, and and they work surprisingly well in this VR setting.

VR games always struggle with movement in the virtual space. We’ve seen games “on-rails” where your forward movement is entirely controlled by the game, games where movement is controlled by the thumb sticks on the hand controllers, and games where we had to stand on a platform that moved beneath our feet. All of those games were dealing with the same thing – how to control feet in VR. Phantom: Covert Ops smartly removes the issue by putting us in a kayak – where movement is controlled 1:1 with your hands.

Pick up your kayak paddle and swiftly and silently move through the environment analyzing the enemies, static targets, lighting, etc. The movement and control of the kayak is smooth. You can paddle forward or backward, turn sharply or in a wide circle, paddle faster or slower to control speed. The choice is yours and there were no apparent limitations.

From this point, the game plays as you would expect from a VR stealth game. Hide in the reeds, pick off guards, shoot out spotlights, destroy enemy installations. In the level provided at E3, we had at our disposal a silenced pistol, a silenced rifle with a scope, and a machine gun. Each came with limited ammo and naturally each provided different pros and cons. The most unique and useful was the scoped rifle, which entered into scope mode when you grabbed the gun from the side of the kayak and then brought it up to your eyes.

With explosives at your disposal and various ways to complete your objectives, the game is open ended enough (given the limitation of the river) that you can explore different areas and different techniques. The level ended In this level, for example, the end came by destroying a radio beacon – which could be done with explosives or by navigating to an area below the beacon and removing some cabling.

Overall, Phantom: Covert Ops has a lot of promise. Those who are looking for spy/stealth VR games should certainly keep an eye on this one. It is currently set for release later in 2019 on Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift.