Stealth is a genre of virtual reality games that I’m happy to see more of. Physically hiding behind that corner and peeking out or sneaking up on that enemy to slit their throat – it takes on a whole new feeling in VR. With that said, Phantom: Covert Ops is a more unique take on the stealth genre.
On both the Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest, you play as an elite covert operative using weapons and distractions to sneak your way to various targets. The unique spin to this; You’re doing it from a kayak. You’ll be Row, row, rowing your boat to preventing an all-out-war.
Save the World
As an elite covert operative, you are on an infiltration mission. Sneaking into a compound, you find traces of an old enemy presumed dead years ago. Traces of a project thought bombed into dust. It’s up to you to find out more over a total of seven campaign missions.
On the side of NATO and put up against a vaguely Eastern European enemy, it does feel a bit stereotypical. Then again, multiple AAA games do exactly the same. Phantom: Covert Ops is still doing better than many other virtual reality games by having a story and dialogue rather than a minimal setting, so although it’s not exactly breaking ground, I won’t hold that against it. It helped to keep me immersed in the game.
While I don’t think the story would win any awards, I did like how character dialogue was used to keep the world alive. As you passed characters, they would sometimes talk. One that stuck out to me was a father bragging about his children to an exasperated-sounding woman who had heard it all before. Another was the radio talking about one of the soldiers being punished in an upbeat voice. This helped to keep the tone light, despite some rather serious moments and topics. Considering that much of the gameplay is trying to be slow and quiet, having an active world around you to keep you interested is certainly a positive point. This paired well with gameplay that always had me doing something, despite being slow and sneaky.
Rowing your kayak along, you need to sneak past guards to take photographs for evidence, disable important equipment, and more. This involves actual rowing from a seated position.
The first thing that you learn in Phantom: Covert Ops is physically moving the kayak around by moving the oars with your controllers. I personally found this very immersive as it felt very real. Leaning forward in my seat and rotating the oar slowly at times to avoid detection, or quickly to get past while a camera is facing the other way or a guard is distracted kept me quite engaged. When I’d accidentally gone too far it was a sudden scramble to row myself back into the reeds to hide or even occasionally to just make a break for it if I’d been spotted.
Breaking into a secure area means guards. Fortunately for you, they’re not too bright and can be dealt with in a number of ways. You come equipped with a silenced pistol, a sniper rifle, and a machine gun. While you can certainly use those in the direct way to avoid detection, you are encouraged to avoid killing guards.
The kinder way to deal with them is to avoid and distract them. Using your binoculars, you can mark guards and potential distractions. A common example is fire extinguishers – a silent shot to blow one of those will have the lackadaisical guards take a walk over to check it out. In the meantime, you can row your kayak straight past them.
The guards not being particularly alert is good for you as an infiltrator but did break immersion a bit. Seeing a guard looking right towards me while I was in a hidden area on occasion or rowing past them where they should have seen me out the corner of their eye or heard me makes me wonder if they’ve all been hitting the drink to stave off the boredom.
As well as guards, you have to deal with other ways you may get detected. Cameras are the most common example here. There may be an off switch that you have to sneak around to or a power source to knock out. Or you could just shoot it until it stops working – that’s an option.
On options, one thing I have to particularly praise about Phantom: Covert Ops is that it does give you choices. Not just in how to deal with guards, but in other areas too. There are sometimes multiple paths to choose from. Objectives often have more than one way to deal with them too. Whether you sneak under the equipment and pull the power or you shoot out the stations around it is up to you and either can lead you to success. There are even optional objectives to assassinate high-value targets and destroy extra equipment, some of which you could row straight past if you’re not carefully checking.
Having different ways to complete the missions is appreciated in the first run through as it made me carefully consider the best option. More importantly, it adds to the replayability. There are also rankings given at the end of each level based on factors such as how few enemies you killed and times you died.
Missions and More
I mentioned that there are seven campaign missions. While you can replay these on various difficulties, that’s still only a few hours content by itself. Luckily some extras have been added in to extend things further.
As you progress through the campaign, you unlock challenges. These actually give you a reason to replay missions at times, as you need to get certain ranks as a minimum to unlock many of them.
There are twenty-four challenges in total. Fourteen of these unlock through the campaign, while an additional ten are unlocked by default in a DLC section. These give you a chance to play in a different way at times. Row as fast as you can while navigating between explosive mines in one challenge and shoot anything that even twitches in another. The challenges don’t have you on a stealth mission, but let you enjoy the world in a variety of other ways. It was quite a fun way to take a break between campaign levels.
For all of the modes, there are leaderboards. If you’re the competitive type, this will let you compete with your friends and the wider world. I do like when a game includes these, if just so I can see where I stand.
While Phantom: Covert Ops only contains several hours of content and the guards may need training, I enjoyed replaying missions and completing the short challenges. The rowing felt great and trying to completely avoid detection and figure out the best routes kept me interested in the campaign, along with the active world. This is no Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, but it is a unique virtual reality experience.
PHANTOM: CONVERT OPS IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to the PR company on behalf of Oculus/nDreams for a review copy. This was played on Oculus Quest 2 and is an Oculus Quest 2 enhanced title.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.