Covert Review – Oculus Rift
+ Brilliant design perfectly balanced for co-op
+ Engaging mission designs and puzzles
+ Genuinely fun to play
- Random disconnects with mobile app
- Limited puzzles/interactions can get repetitive
The concept of Covert sounded cool on paper but nothing could prepare me for the actual experience of playing this wonderful new VR game that can be summed up with a single word – GENIUS. Covert places you in the role of either a master thief or an elite hacker who have teamed up to tackle a series of increasingly challenging heists – think Oceans 11 meets Mission Impossible. The game is designed around co-op play and requires two players – not necessarily in the same room but it certainly helps, as the level of communication between thief and hacker is so integral to the experience something would be lost if you were trying to chat remotely via Skype or Discord. Then again, for ultimate realism, I suppose you might want the hacker talking to you through an earpiece (headphones).
However you decide to pair up, one person plays the thief and will be going into VR to experience these exciting missions from an immersive first-person view while the hacker will be guiding and assisting them using a very clever companion app that you can download to your phone or tablet. When the game first starts the VR player is given a 4-digit code that the mobile player enters into the app to link the players and from there the experience is seamless and unexpectedly unique. I’ve played several games that integrated mobile companion apps but nothing as clever or substantial as this.
As the thief you will wander the levels using smooth forward movement and snap turning. You have a laser-pointer device that you can use to scan items within the 3D world that will transmit data back to your partner who will be monitoring your progress on a slick 2D/3D map of the area. The hacker will have useful info like the position and facing direction of numerous guards. The hacker can also access control panels, monitors, cameras, and security panels once the thief has scanned them in the virtual world. The hacker can then manipulate these items such as disabling camera, unlocking doors, or even generating an electrical pulse that can stun nearby guards.
Companion App Screenshot Gallery
The level of interaction exceeds other games that have tried this like République VR. For instance; the thief might encounter a keypad. He can tell the hacker the model number who will then go through a database of model numbers to provide the access code for that panel; the same for an electrical panel where the model number will reveal clues as to which wire(s) to cut. There are also numerous puzzles that require simultaneous actions between both thief and hacker like synced button presses with little margin for error on the timing.
One of the more ingenious puzzle designs involves these electrified grid floors where the thief is at the mercy of the hacker who can see the safe path and must guide the thief with either voice commands or by placing waypoints on their map view that will then show up in the thief’s augmented display. Other activities include the hacker moving around crates on robotic forklifts to block laser traps or interacting with switches and panels via simple yet fun mini-games to disable traps and surveillance in the thief’s world. But the most crucial role of the hacker is to monitor the position of the guards; some static and others patrolling in patterns that aren’t always visible to the thief.
I was pleased with the balance of gameplay between the thief and the hacker. Often, these experiences can be lopsided, but Covert was just as much fun to play using the companion app as it was to play in VR, making it easy to switch back and forth between the two modes every other mission or so. As the thief you get to sneak around levels, grapple and zip-line to various contact points, dodge spotlights, scan the designated mission items and other fun collectibles, and even engage in a bit of EMP grenade combat with the guards. As the hacker you must constantly monitor the map and keep the thief out of danger while multitasking all the interactive elements of the level. The thief might have just scanned numerous security badges and you need to find the correct one with the correct access code and relay that information to the thief who can type it in. The exchange of info can get surprisingly complex.
There are numerous missions in Covert and they get longer, more complex, and more challenging the further you go. There is a fun hub world to explore between missions and Stacy will keep you up to date on various issues. Expect a solid 8-10 hours of gameplay, and you can double that if you want to go back and replay the game playing as the other member of the team that you didn’t play the first time. The experience is totally different and worth revisiting.
The presentation for Covert is excellent with simplistic yet charming graphics for the VR world that balance the right amount of world detail while keeping the framerate smooth and the interface serviceable. The pop-up elements of the HUD make it easy to identify action objects, and the waypoint system powered by the hacker player is great for guiding the thief around the more complex areas. The audio is excellent with quality voice acting and some surprisingly good sound effects. Spoken dialogue is also played on the mobile app in case that player is remote. The mobile app is fantastic; a bit more high-tech than the visuals in VR, something that looks like you’d expect in a heist movie or TV show. Playing on a tablet will give you a bit more screen space but playing on a phone is perfectly fine as the touch controls and interactive mini-games all scale for perfect execution. I played about half the game on an iPad and the rest on an iPhone 8 – both were great.
I haven’t had this much fun with a VR game this year and as far as a co-op game, Covert might be one of the best I’ve ever played simply for the fact that it was designed entirely around co-op play and not some tacked-on novelty feature. If you have an Oculus Rift and a friend with a supported mobile device then you must play this game. It is truly like nothing you have ever experienced in or out of VR.