I’m not going to say that this is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written – although it very well may be – but it’s definitely one of the strangest. Signal Ops isn’t a game that’s easy to describe to someone and it’s also not really something that someone should be describing to you. It’s one of those off-the-wall experiences that’s a textbook example of how charming indie games can truly be, but also an example of some of the more frustrating elements that can arise in games.
Signal Ops is a 1950s espionage-inspired stealth-based action game, with a twist. Rather than take on the role of a lone-wolf assassin or thief, as is typical, it deploys a much quirkier approach. You take control of a commander tasked with issuing commands to different operatives in the field. As such, your character is in a command room watching monitors during missions. However, by “issuing commands” you actually just take control of up to four different agents during a mission, simultaneously.
Thankfully Signal Ops slowly builds up to the more intense situations, starting out with fewer agents at once, but it takes a decent amount of time to get the hang of juggling several different first-person perspectives all at the same time. Being a stealth game, you’re encouraged to stay hidden and plan out ways to flank your enemies. This usually involves controlling one unit, while having to keep watch on the other screens out of the corner of your eye so someone doesn’t end up sneaking up on you instead. Each of the different units have their own unique playstyles though, which adds some more flavor and variety to the game.
Out of the different agents, the Bolt class is by far the most annoying. This character is charged with taking care of and moving around the radio and hooking it up to power sources. This is necessary so the commander, “the player’s” primary character, can issue orders, but it frankly just frustrates and limits the game itself. I would have been happy if this entire mechanic was stripped from the game and more time was spent on level and environment design.
The character designs and general art direction really are charming and unique, but they fall flat in a lot of ways. I understand that it’s supposed to convey a certain type of exaggerated style, which it does, but it doesn’t feel fully realized. The voice acting is delivered haphazardly and several of the resources just seem to be unfinished. A bit more polish and color-diversity could have gone a long way to helping the game stand out even more than it already does.
The concept behind the game, controlling several different operatives with their own individual specializations, sounds intriguing in theory, but in practice it runs into some issues that don’t seem to be resolved. Multiplayer, when you can get it to work, helps to ease some of the frustrations as you can have your buddies control different characters, but it’s far from a perfect solution. The entire multiplayer architecture requires a lot of work and lacks any type of easy drop-in, drop-out or even lobby functionality that’s essentially standard for gaming today.
If you’re looking for something extremely unique and fresh, Signal Ops has that in spades. However, expect to endure an experience that’s riddled with hiccups and questionable design decisions that hamper an otherwise intriguing gameplay concept. There really isn’t much else like Signal Ops on the market, but that won’t end up necessarily being a good thing for everybody.
This review is based on a digital download copy of the game for the PC provided by Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation.