If you’re old enough to have frequented arcades in the late eighties and nineties, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Operation Wolf. You might have played its two sequels, too. Being one of the first lightgun games, you couldn’t miss it, especially as the cabinet came equipped with a large submachine gun protruding out of it. And that was perhaps the best thing about Operation Wolf: even your standard weapon was something fantastically destructive.
It’s a shame that the same can’t be said about Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR, a reboot of the series made to capitalise on virtual reality. While there is a submachine gun here, it has limited ammo. And so if you run out, you have to revert to using your unlimited ammo pistol, or make use of one of the other limited-ammo weapons at your disposal. Boo! Ultimately, though, that’s the least of the problems you’re likely to have with this game.
Tasking you with taking down a new criminal organisation that’s said to be developing a new super weapon as well as engaging in other unscrupulous activities, Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR sends you on a variety of missions throughout its main campaign. Each mission is split into numerous stages, and laying in wait at the end is a boss fight. So far, so predictable. For the most part, the gameplay remains faithful to the original: you move through areas automatically, and when enemies rear their heads, you try to shoot them as fast as you can. All the while, there are civilians to save, and if you happen to shoot one, you’ll be penalised.
Spicing this new version up somewhat is the introduction of a range of weapons. In addition to being able to throw highly destructive grenades, there are pickups that allow you to wield an automatic rifle and a shotgun, both of which you have to aim realistically with both hands versus just the one hand required for your pistol and the SMG. Sometimes you can get your hands on special weapons, too, such as rocket and grenade launchers. Needless to say, you have a veritable arsenal at your disposal.
Making effective use of them all during gameplay can be a bit awkward, though. Even on its easiest setting, Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR can be overwhelming. Enemies are often thrown at you en masse, and keeping track of them all can be very hard indeed. While you’re dealing with some at one side of an area, those out of view at the other side might be firing at you – and bullets that you can’t see you can’t dodge. Throw in having to adapt between firing one-handed and two-handed guns into the mix, and you have a game that leaves you feeling like you’re trying to spin multiple plates at times.
In fact, Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR can simply feel unfair, constantly throwing enemies at you instead of finding other ways to be fun and challenging. And then there are the bosses, some of which can only be described as bullet sponges. You’re left with a pretty uneven experience: it’s genuinely entertaining in parts but also utterly frustrating in others, especially when things don’t work quite like they should. In one section that involves taking control of a mounted turret, for example, the game decided that it would suddenly make it nearly impossible to aim, cuing us to to struggle through a lengthy standoff – while making use of multiple continues – so we didn’t have to start the stage again from scratch.
Technically, Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR isn’t all that impressive. It’s disappointing that when you shoot down a helicopter, for example – there’s no feeling of destruction. It’s saved, however, by a charming art style that at least gives it some humour and character. Performance remains solid, too. Add in lightning fast loading times and haptic feedback, and you have a game that makes decent use of the power of PS5 and PSVR 2 at least.
It won’t take you long to complete all of the missions in Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR – perhaps a couple of hours. But thanks to a scoring system you might return to beat your high score and get a better rank. There are multiple difficulty levels, too, and there’s a survival mode that allows you to see how far you can get. All in all, you can’t grumble too much considering the game’s nature and its asking price.
We’d be lying if we said we weren’t disappointed by Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR. Our expectations weren’t outlandish; we just wanted another Operation Wolf game where the guns were our Sense controllers. While Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR somewhat fulfills that wish, it adds in needless complications and needs a little more fine-tuning and polish to really shine. If you have some love for the series this will serve up some entertainment, but it won’t replace the feelings you have for the classics.