Operation Warcade review (PSVR)

A throwback to the classic arcade shooter, Operation Warcade both embraces and moves beyond the limitations of classics like Operation Wolf. It’s out for Rift, Vive and Playstation VR headsets – we reviewed the Sony version.

It’s a great week for VR-owning shooter fans, because next to Operation Warcade you also have Time Carnage coming out this week. While Time Carnage is a wave shooter, Operation Warcade is an homage to the classic on-rails shooter that was so popular in the arcades twenty to thirty years ago. Most younger gamers will remember these through titles like Virtua Cop, Time Crisis and House of the Dead (most of which have gotten releases on modern systems like the PS3), but older gamers might actually remember the likes of Operation Wolf and Operation Thunderbolt.

Predating the House of the Dead games by about ten years, Operation Wolf and Operation Thunderbolt weren’t 3D shooters, but rather 2D shooters with a sideways-scrolling first person perspective. A large part of their appeal was also the cabinet-mounted submachine gun that came with the arcade version of the game, which made for a new kind of immersion when playing. Home computer conversions (I first played Operation Wolf on an Atari ST or C64 I think) lost that appeal by using joystick or mouse controls, but now Operation Warcade brings it back through virtual reality and a few different control options.

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You can still use a gamepad, although camera tracking is used to make it appear as though it’s actually a gun you’re holding. Slightly more comfortable options are Move controllers (one acts as a gun, the other as a hand for throwing grenades) and the Aim controller, which is of course the closest thing to the classic arcade controls and instantly familiar as such.

Speaking of which, the game has both a classic mode and an ‘immersion’ mode. Classic mode is pretty much like playing Operation Wolf in virtual reality, and even gives you the option to stand right in front of a virtual arcade cabinet with a mounted gun and play it that way. It’s great and nostalgic and even features the limited ammo dynamic that the original games had, though perhaps some of its charm is lost on the younger generation that never got to see and play these games in the arcades.

For them, immersion mode is a great mix between the classic 2D on-rails shooter and the modern 3D shooter. Hitting certain targets in the game transports you “into” the action – as if you’re no longer playing an arcade cabinet but rather have been teleported inside of it. For many of these moments you’re stationary and have to fight off hordes of enemies while ducking for cover, but you’ll also experience plenty of instances where you’ll board a boat, plane or car for more frantic ‘on the move’ action. In some cases, it helps to play with Move controllers during these sections, as they allow you to split the controls between controlling your movements with one hand while shooting with the other.

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Progression isn’t just based on beating the level you’re currently playing – to unlock everything the game has to offer you also have to meet certain objectives for each level that earn you stars. Most levels aren’t that tough to beat, and most of these objectives just require you to replay them with a slightly different approach – going for a certain kind of kill or protecting civilians, for example. These objectives are obviously trickier than just beating the level any way you want to, and sometimes it helps to (not) make use of certain weapons – you’re not just limited to your cabinet-mounted gun.

Operation Warcade is a ton of fun in a nostalgic sense, but realized that the classic gameplay formula likely won’t appeal to a wide audience (for too long) – so its creators have added objectives and an ‘immersive’ mode, both of which greatly increase the appeal for the game. There’s also a diverse choice of soundtrack options available, as well as different control schemes. It’s definitely not the best looking VR shooter out there (Time Carnage looks better, and Rush of Blood is in a completely different league), but it emphasizes fun and does a good job at it. If you’re even just a tiny bit nostalgic for the rail shooters of the past, this fits the bill nicely.

Score: 7.2/10

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