Phantom: Covert Ops VR hands-on preview: Kayaking with guns

A man, his kayak, his guns, and all the ammo he can carry make this new VR title from nDreams very fun and immersive. Check out our preview from E3 Judges Week.

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Virtual reality games all make a conscious choice regarding locomotion of their players, and there is not one right way to do it. We have seen traditional thumbstick movement used in some games, and others have used teleportation. Neither of these means of traversal are necessarily very immersive, but nDreams is offering a new take on moving around in VR with Phantom: Covert Ops. Shacknews tried out the game at E3 Judges Week running on Oculus Quest. Please take a look at our hands-on preview.

Kayaking has never been so violent

I didn't know I needed kayaking with guns in my life until I played Phantom: Covert Ops in VR.
I didn't know I needed kayaking with guns in my life until I played Phantom: Covert Ops in VR.

The game places players inside a tactical military kayak. The only way to get around is by paddling with your Oculus Touch controllers. There is a one-to-one relationship between your actual movements in real life and how you move in VR. The team at nDreams really nailed the feeling of paddling in a kayak. You can slow your kayak and paddle in reverse to avoid sticky situations. All the movement feels very natural and fits perfectly in a seated VR experience. 

Weapons at your fingertips

The sniper rifle was my weapon of choice in Phantom: Covert Ops.
The sniper rifle was my weapon of choice in Phantom: Covert Ops.

The game is a seated virtual reality experience and players have several weapons at their disposal. Players can choose from a military-grade pistol, semi-automatic rifle, and a sniper rifle. There is also some C4 explosives that can be remotely detonated. Your kayak is a cornucopia of different ways to dispatch your enemies in the flooded environment of the game. One design element that really stuck out was that all of your ammo is right in front of you in a little cubby, and you have to manually reload each weapon when you are out. This leads to some seriously intense moments once things start to heat up. 

Another aspect of the game’s design that really stood out was how when players hold the sniper rifle up to aim, you actually have to close one eye as if it were a real gun. Little details like that really amp up the immersion of the overall virtual reality experience. Every aspect of player movement is one-to-one with the game’s mechanics, so hold your breath if you want to nail the perfect headshot.

Stealth action in VR

Phantom: Covert Ops allows players to choose just how stealthy they will be in the game.
Phantom: Covert Ops allows players to choose just how stealthy they will be in the game.

Phantom: Covert Ops lets players figure out which way they want to attack the game. In the demo I tried out at E3 Judges Week, there were several paths to get past enemies. It definitely paid off to hang back and snipe at enemies, but ammo management is also a concern. I found myself running out of sniper rifle ammo later in the demo, and I had to get even more aggressive with how I took down enemy combatants. There were some moments where stealth was absolutely required, while other times blowing stuff up with C4 to clear a path for your kayak was also prudent. 

Enemies will notice their comrades getting picked off, so it helps to plan your attack instead of running in like Leeroy Jenkins. At the end of the demo, I found myself facing a mission to take down a radio tower with a ton of enemies surrounding it. There were two ways to do this: blow it up with C4 or pull the plug from underneath the tower. After wasting my C4 on what I thought were explosive barrels, I ended up pulling the plug. The game does a great job of balancing the chill of kayaking with fast-paced FPS gameplay. The gunplay feels great, and you really only have yourself to blame when you miss a shot. 

Phantom: Covert Ops will launch later in 2019 on Oculus Rift, Rift S, and Quest. The demo at E3 Judges Week was running on an Oculus Quest standalone VR HMD, and I did not encounter any issues. Players mainly face forward in the game, so the Insight inside-out tracking does the trick most of the time. The folks at nDreams have been working towards this game's release for many years as they released other VR titles and it shows in the polish and overall gameplay experience of Phantom: Covert Ops. This is a title that VR enthusiasts should keep their sights set on as it heads into release this year.

CEO

Asif Khan is the CEO and majority shareholder of Shacknews. He began his career in video game journalism as a freelancer in 2001 for Tendobox.com. Asif is a CPA and was formerly an investment adviser representative. After much success in his own personal investments, he retired from his day job in financial services and is currently focused on new private investments. His favorite PC game of all time is Duke Nukem 3D, and he is an unapologetic fan of most things Nintendo. Asif first frequented the Shack when it was sCary's Shugashack to find all things Quake. When he is not immersed in investments or gaming he is a purveyor of fine electronic music. Asif also has an irrational love of Cleveland sports.

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