About 25 years ago, Operation Wolf (and its sequel, Operation Thunderbolt) took the game arcades by storm. With its cabinet-mounted replica Uzi machine gun, it instantly appealed to teenagers who could live out their dreams of "being" Rambo, without risking mortal injury. Now, it's back, in the form of thinly veiled rip-off (oops, sorry: tribute) Operation Wow.
The game requires you to storm an enemy stronghold to free some prisoners. Obviously, the enemy soldiers are not going to take this lying down and have turned out in force to stop you. Not one for subtlety, your objective is simply to watch the left-to-right scrolling screen and send any enemies that appear to meet their maker. At the same time, you need to avoid shooting innocent civilians who have stupidly wandered onto the battlefield.
The original Operation Wolf went for realistic (at the time) graphics, with serious looking soldiers doing serious damage to your health if you didn't shoot them first. Operation Wow takes a more cartoon -like approach. Enemy soldiers would not look out of place in an episode of South Park and are a little on the chunky and happy side for your standard solider. This might sound weird, but it gives Operation Wow quite a quirky look and feel. Purists may resent their favourite game being reduced to a cartoon, but it somehow works. Graphics are well-scaled, to give a pseudo 3D effect and this has a bearing on the game: soldiers who appear at the front of the screen are large (and so, easier to hit; those in the background are much smaller (and harder to hit). They are animated very smoothly, walking, running and rolling their way across the screen and generally looking very fluid. The scrolling, too, is well-implemented. The screen moves from left to right at just the right pace with no juddering, so that you have a decent chance of hitting your enemies before they disappear off screen.
Sound, too, is excellent. Some superb tunes litter the game (including an excellent rendition of the Funeral March on the Game Over screen) and really add to the atmosphere. Similarly, the sound effects are well-judged. As you would expect, this is a noisy game, full of explosions and bullet noises. A lot of shooting games on the iPhone are let down by weedy explosion noises. Operation Wow shows them how it should be done.
The graphics and sound might have been changed to appear more cartoon-like, but the game retains the spirit and playability of the original. The action is non-stop, at times becoming really frenetic as the number of enemies swamps the screen and the odds suddenly seem overwhelming. There are times when this game induces a real sense of panic and sweaty-palm syndrome as the action really hots up. Although the number of enemies that attack you can seem unfair, you always have a fighting chance and the whole game is dependent on your reaction times.
There's a strong tactical element to the game, too. Some enemies will cause more damage than others, so you have to assess how many enemies on screen and which pose the greatest threat. Tanks, boats and vehicles are all heavily armed and will wipe out huge chunks of your energy bar if they are not taken out quickly. Others pose a slightly smaller risk and so can be left while until you deal with the bigger threats.
As if that wasn't enough, you also need to keep an eye on your ammunition. You start off with 3 grenades and a limited supply of bullets. If you run out, you have to watch helplessly as enemies fire at you and you are defenceless (as with the original, this is the most frustrating part of the game, as there is absolutely nothing you can do except wait to die.) Thankfully, limited help is on hand. Occasionally animals wander across the screen and shooting these will make them cough up some spare grenades or bullets (quite why pigs and geese would have eaten ammunition in the first place or why shooting them would encourage them to hand it over to you remains unexplained!)
It's true that the game is rock hard in terms of its difficulty level. Even on Easy Mode, it's quite a challenge. In Medium difficulty or Hard, your task can at times seem impossible. This will frustrate some gamers, but to be honest, it's old school gaming at its purest. Old arcade games were deliberately meant to be difficult - partly to separate the men from the boys (I always fell firmly in the latter category!) and partly to separate people from their cash! Operation Wolf always had that "one more go" compulsion. You'd die and immediately be reaching for the coin slot to shove your next 30p in so that you could carry on from where you left off. Operation Wow provokes exactly the same reaction - although this time, each new go doesn't cost you anything!
It's also fair to say there's not much variety. Scenery may change and the number of enemies attacking you gradually increases, but the basic gameplay on every level boils down to the same thing. As such, it can become a little dull after a while. On the other hand, the simple gameplay is such good fun and it's a title that you will keep returning to.
When it comes to the controls, Operation Wow actually edges it over its arcade counterpart. The cab-mounted Uzi might have looked cool and appealed to teenage boys but it could be a little unwieldy. In the heat of battle, it was all too easy to lose the crosshairs and be firing at nothing, wasting ammunition. Operation Wow makes full use of the iPhone's touch screen to make such frustrations are a thing of the past. Bullets are fired by simply tapping the screen at the point you want to shoot at; grenades are launched with a swipe of the finger. This is far more intuitive and responsive. Of course, it's still easy to miss, either by tapping the wrong part of the screen or because by the time you have reacted, the enemy has rolled away... but that's because you're a bit rubbish, not because the game has failed to respond to what you've asked it to do!
Operation Wow is a great little game for a great little price. It costs around 69p (although it is often available as a free download as well). In-app purchases are more reasonable than in many games, too. A further outlay of 69p, for example will buy you infinite Retries). When you consider that 20 years ago, the original Operation Wolf would set you back around 30p for around five minutes of game time that shows you what cracking value for money this is. Get it downloaded now!
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012