Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn is unique. Unique in that it's not everyday you see a title thrust its figurative fist into the air to bellow a resounding cry of "Me too!" with such admirable vigor and authority. Describing the game is all too simple: think Resident Evil with a bit of Syphon Filter thrown in for good measure, and you won't be far off the mark. Everything from Resident Evil's love-it-or-hate-it control scheme to the menu setup is shamelessly mimicked here. Covert Ops may boast a few elements to differentiate it from its obvious inspirations, but these are countable on a single hand.

   Of course, desirable though it may be, originality doesn't necessarily make or break a game. There have been a number of titles that simply built upon previously-outlined gameplay facets with enjoyable results. And to be sure, were Covert Ops merely uninspired it may have still come out ahead. Alas, such is not the case.

 The menu.
Does this look familiar to anyone else?

   Upon starting up a new game, players are met with this hackneyed scenario: the military train Blue Harvest has been hijacked by a terrorist group calling itself the Knights of the Apocalypse. Players assume the role of Jack Morton, the sole survivor of the NATO security detail meant to protect the train from attack. It now rests upon Jack's shoulders to save the French ambassador and his family as well as to prevent the terrorists from detonating the nuclear missiles on board, even if that means taking out every one of the terrorists himself.

   It all sounds pretty action-packed, and in fact the title is billed as being "action/adventure" on the back slip. Ironic, as the battle system proves to be Covert Op's most glaring fault. Like Syphon Filter, aiming consists of a targeting icon that encircles any opponent within Jack's field of vision. The problem is that the targeting icon never locks on to the enemy, so the slightest twitch drops you out of targeting mode. You can try to fire blindly at this point, but the odds of making a successful shot are virtually nil. Battles quickly become a lesson in frustration when you're attempting to negotiate with the finicky targeting system while being shot at by multiple enemies. And don't think that you can silently creep up on terrorists to make the kill: getting Jack to register a foe's presence to bring up the targeting icon requires that you all but run up and give him a big hug.

"I wonder where I can get a burger when this is all over?"

   However, this tactical defiency doesn't just affect Jack: think of the terrorists themselves as a form of counterbalance. They may not be zombies, but they display all of the strategic savvy of your average mobile carcass. Terrorists will ingeniously hide behind a crate for a few brief seconds before sticking their heads out into plain view, knock on the door outside of the room you're in and then patiently wait until you step out, or run up and duck down a few feet in front of Jack where they apparently feel they'll be out of the line of fire. This stupidity extends also to the boss characters, all of whom are essentially standard terrorists with different outfits and bigger weapons.

   When not in battle, Resident Evil-style exploration is the order of the day. Unfortunately, this is crippled by the bland environment that is Blue Harvest. It's a train -- a group of similar, interlocked compartments. What made developer Sugar and Rockets feel this would make for an adequate backdrop remains a mystery, but the inherent dilemma seems painfully apparent. Although there are a couple of locales that may stand out, the majority of the cars are so uniform that frequent consultation of the map is necessary just to keep track of what direction you're heading in. And while exploring Blue Harvest, the game often stutters in load as you travel from screen to screen without providing any segue. (This loading quirk is in addition to a fairly drawn out loading screen that pops up when traversing between cars.)

 A waste of such pretty visuals.
The outdoor visuals, in particular, are impressive.

   During the course of exploration, you'll also run into Covert Ops' collection of uninspired puzzles. Manipulate and, yes, even combine objects collected along the way and your ingenuity will be rewarded with either a key of some fashion, or another item to be used in solving another puzzle. Resident Evil was at least successful in convincing players that the puzzles found within were creative; Covert Ops makes no such pretense.

   Finally, there's a less tangible aspect conspicuously absent from Covert Ops. Although the game goes out of its way to ape so many of the salient aspects of Resident Evil, it completely overlooks that which made the Resident Evil series such a joy to play in the first place. That smothering feeling of tension; the fear of what may be waiting around that next corner to take a piece out of your skull; this is simply not there. As Capcom's own Dino Crisis has shown, you don't need undead creatures to instill a sense of fear in the player. After all, being the lone survivor on a train overrun with deadly terrorists is a perfectly frightening situation. Blame it on the joke-worthy AI, the uninspired environments, or even the instantly forgettable soundtrack, but the conclusion is still the same: Covert Ops is not very threatening at all.

Jack Woo.
Who wants some?

   Covert Ops is, however, not without its redeeming qualities. Visually, the 3D graphical engine is quite good. As uninteresting as they may be, the title's locales are all well-textured and appropriately lit. Character models are also detailed and high in polygon count, each with a unique facial texture making them stand out. Activision is also to be commended for some of the better voice acting heard in a game of late. It's just a shame that the voice acting centers around dialogue and a storyline that's laughable at best.

   It's said that familiarity breeds contempt, and although contempt may be too strong a word in this case, the spirit of the axiom holds true. So many of Covert Ops' elements feel as though they exist to fulfil perceived adventure game criteria rather than because they'd be genuinely interesting. Were mediocrity Covert Ops' only shortcoming, it may have still gotten a 3; as it stands, the game is both insipid and poorly executed. If you have cash burning a hole in your pocket and you simply can't get enough of Resident Evil, Covert Ops may do well to hold you over. Otherwise, there are definitely better ways to waste your money.

Review by Drew Cosner, GIA.
Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn
Developer Sugar and Rockets
Publisher Activision
Genre Adventure
Medium CD (2)
Platform Sony PlayStation
Release Date  01.27.00
Chase The Express U.S. title announced
228 screenshots
12 character renders
North American box art