Preview: Phantom: Covert Ops – A Sneaky Shoulder Workout

British virtual reality (VR) specialist nDreams has quite the varied roster of titles under its belt, including The Assembly, Danger Goat and Shooty Fruity. The team are currently developing a new first-person shooter (FPS) called Phantom: Covert Ops, a stealthy experience with a rather unique movement mechanic for this style of videogame. And from first impressions, the title is looking very promising.

Depending on the style of gameplay, for a lot of VR experiences movement is one of the core mechanics developers need to get right or it can ruin the entire project. Plenty of consideration has to go into how players move around, with teleportation being the default currently. While there are videogames like Catch & Release which employ a rowing mechanic, nDreams has taken this idea, popped you into a kayak, and based the entire title around staying on the water.

Think of Phantom: Covert Ops kind of like Call of Duty on water, taking out enemies and infiltrating a base to stop some nefarious plot. So to start with Phantom: Covert Ops is an entirely seated experience – as far as the single-level demo goes – with it best to be seated on a swivel chair rather than a sofa. This helps with mobility, not only for paddling the oars but for situations where an enemy may appear to your extreme left or right.

With rowing being such a pivotal mechanic it’s reassuring to see that not only does it work well using the Oculus Touch controllers for Oculus Quest, but the system also enhances the experience. Rather than simply pushing forward on a stick to run, rowing helps to connect you with this virtual world, slowly moving the paddles to glide across the water silently. Also good to see is the lack of a stop/brake button. If you’re going too fast and need to hide in some reeds to avoid being spotted careful use of those oars are needed. Even little things like using an oar to push away from the river bank have been wisely added.

So the rowing is good, what about the rest? As mentioned you don’t get out of the kayak, as such everything you need to be a deadly covert operative is right at hand. There’s a silenced sniper rifle, silenced pistol with a laser pointer, a submachine gun and of course some C4 when you want to have some fun. Because you can approach each challenge however you like. Be a saint and try to sneak through without hurting a soul, or quietly kill a few guards in key positions so you can get through. If that all sounds too much like hard work then some well-placed explosives certainly attract a lot of attention.

Yet Phantom: Covert Ops really is about stealth more than big gun action, and that’s due to the kayak. There’s no strafing, suddenly hiding behind cover with a quick flick of the thumbstick, and that quite honestly is a good thing. Sure you can start rowing like mad which works. However, that also means you can’t fire back, as both hands are needed. Meaning thought has to be put into each scenario and action. Phantom: Covert Ops is a thinking person’s shooter.

One level may be all that nDreams is showcasing at the moment of Phantom: Covert Ops and that’s fine. What’s been shown has great promise and VRFocus can’t wait to see more. Now the main worry is focused towards a variety of levels. As a single-player experience nDreams needs to have a rich campaign in place as well as an assortment of challenges. A launch is expected later this year, so there isn’t too long to wait to find out.

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