Signal Ops is a fantastic idea for a game hampered by its own ambition. It’s a quirky take on the squad-based tactical shooters of old: Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and their less successful clones. The difference in Signal Ops is that you control the entire squad simultaneously in first-person – and all first-person perspectives remain on the screen at once.
It’s justified by making you play as the man in the control room, rather than the actual boots on the ground. Your screen is actually a screen in base, with the squad members’ perspectives dividing the viewing area and transmitted via radio. There are some great touches surrounding the introduction of this position, as well as little reminders – pulling up the map causes your character in the control room to physically look at his clipboard, in place of the screens themselves.
Your screen is actually a screen in base, with the squad members’ perspectives dividing the viewing area
One-to-one control can only be activated for a single character at a time, though they’re instantly cycled through with the number keys. Movement and aiming is awkward and shaky; the engine feels unstable at the best of times and the art style hurts readability of key items and objectives. A potentially more enjoyable way to play is to pick a character and use the order system to issue movement and follow commands – but this removes the whole point of the multi-perspective setup.
There are different character classes available, each with different abilities. Some, like the Spy’s ability to go visually undetected no matter what, break many of the AI routines and result in players gaming the system rather than thinking tactically. But the most annoying mechanic comes in the form of the radio – a device which must be installed in one of many power junctions scattered throughout the level in order to transmit the first-person feeds back to the player in the control room. Characters who step outside of the radio’s radius will have their feeds scrambled, so a tedious puzzle aspect rears its head as one character essentially spends missions leapfrogging others to move the radio and therefore the limits of the playing field.
So what you have then is a simultaneous multi-first-person perspective tactical stealth action puzzle game. It’s too much; especially for a control scheme that teeters on unwieldy and cumbersome. There are glimpses of mad scientist-like genius, here – especially when it’s found that enemies can essentially arrest a character rather than kill them, causing you to divert another to perform a rescue. Yet it’s impossible to queue up orders, so all diversions feel stilted and a natural part of recuperating from tactics gone wrong. We’re glad that someone attempted to at least make a game like Signal Ops – but this is a noisy, flickering first step.