The heart feels a slight flutter every time a new FPS hits the eShop. Is this it? Could this be the game that firmly cements the genre on Nintendo Switch? We’ve had some impressive attempts thus far (Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and DOOM), some decent offerings (Payday 2 and Paladins) and some average at best results (Modern Combat Blackout). Predictably, Beyond Enemy Lines: Covert Operations is not the upper echelon that’s going to lead handheld shooters into a bright new dawn. Instead, it manages to dig a new basement in quality that’s more likely to make your ticker tick its last tock than flutter with anything resembling hope.
Beyond Enemy Lines: Covert Operations is the gaming equivalent of the ‘hold my beer’ meme. A single-player-only shooter so inexplicably bad it makes you long for the days when Nintendo was far more stringent with what appeared on its hardware. It’s so poor it’s surprising it doesn’t turn its silenced pistol on itself the moment a new mission begins, performing a killing blow of mercy that would be far more satisfying than what actually follows. But alas it doesn’t, leaving those brave enough to accept said mission quite the experience to endure. Question is, are you brave enough to pull said trigger?
Simply put, Beyond Enemy Lines: Covert Operations is a sandbox FPS where you need to tactically infiltrate a series of locations, extract certain items or data, then proceed to complete a further objective before making your hasty exit. Sneaking into Russian bases to steal key cards, secrets plans and more? It’s nigh on impossible not to think of the shooter that nailed this formula back in 1997. In some ways it’s a little unfair to compare the work of Rare – one of the greatest studios the UK has ever produced – to the creation of a single indie developer, but even the 22-year-old GoldenEye 007 can still pull off the balance of applicable stealth rules, balanced weapon performance and player movement better than this.
Beyond Enemy Lines: Covert Operations is just a mess. A hot mess of old ideas poorly executed. While you can sprint without end, you're forced to move your reticule with all the haste of a heavily-medicated octogenarian. Want to adjust that those settings? Well, let’s just say there aren’t any settings for you adjust to you’d better get used to aiming in slow-mo. Mercifully, there is an auto lock-on (which you can’t switch off, obviously) and you can still aim down your iron sights – kind of. In reality, the screen just zooms in a fraction and your gun never actually moves.
This is a game inspired by the classic days of Rainbow Six, Delta Force and SWAT. The open-ended nature of each map, the selection of weapons on offer and the ‘choice’ of how to approach each mission and its multiple objectives. But Beyond Enemy Lines: Covert Operations doesn’t possess any of the qualities that made these series so timeless. You can’t customise your loadout before a mission. Gun physics are so vague you can snipe enemies across the map with a pistol. And, if you’re far enough away, enemies being shot simply won’t move as it’s your proximity that activates their AI. Even recoil will systematically cause your aim to shift higher and higher with every shot, unless you’re aiming down your ‘sights’, in which there is no recoil.
Perhaps it’s possible to ‘control the recoil’ with a mouse, but there’s simply no support for this when you’re forced to use the analog sticks. There are no settings in place for motion controls either, but then again, there are no ‘settings’ in general so that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. There’s very little room for saves, either. Taking notes from forgotten tactical shooters such as Project IGI, you’ll need to learn enemy positions and use map knowledge to complete objectives with a minimum of confrontation.
The problem is when you combine a stealth system you can’t predict, a range of weapons that feel and perform in too similar a fashion and an aiming model that’s so slow you’ll never win a gunfight coming from anywhere other than directly in front of you, you’re left with a shooter that simply isn’t stable enough to warrant any form of tactics. Games such as Delta Force punished you for poor decision making, but the mechanics and physics it employed were solid. Mission failures were the product of human error, not gaming imperfection.
From a visual standpoint, Beyond Enemy Lines: Covert Operations pulls of the homage to early 2000s era PC shooters by looking as primitive as an early 2000s era PC shooter. Guns clip into the side of buildings while balaclavas clip on the faces of your enemies. Something as simple as blades of grass pop in on the ground in environments that would make early Farming Simulators hang their heads in shame. Draw distances are surprisingly decent, but the framerate is so choppy you'll barely notice.
Beyond Enemy Lines: Covert Operations is an Early Access game that’s come out of the oven less than half-baked. The good intentions of the developer are clear to see in the open-ended nature of each map and the way you approach each objective in your way by opening locked doors and hacking computers rather than shooting your way into a facility, but none of the mechanics in place ever make these conditions feel reliable or rewarding. It’s a purely single-player experience that really needed more time to work out its considerable number of kinks before enlisting on the eShop.