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Review: Signal Ops

Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation GOG indie PC Signal Ops

Developer: Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation
Publisher: Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation
Platform: PC (GOG)
Release Date: March 28, 2013
ESRB: N/A (T suggested)

A review code was provided by the publisher for this review



When you think of indie games, what are the first things that come to mind? Chances are that “8-bit” or “platformer” were high on the list. Although a great deal of indie games do fall into those categories, there are others that move beyond it too. Such is the case with Signal Ops which was independently published but touts polygon graphics as well as stealth/strategy/puzzle gameplay.

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Starting up Signal Ops with no idea of what it is may likely yield a frustrating experience. This is because, like most stealth games, they aren’t the kind of titles one just jumps into. The genre is full of difficult experiences that require methodical play, which is true here. However, the game never outright reveals itself to be stealth-based. That’s just something you’re going to have to figure out. It’s not hard to discern that firefights are the wrong way of playing, though.

First, let’s take a step back and discuss the whole package. Signal Ops is a game that places you in the shoes of a hook-handed man who works for a covert intelligence organization. Your role tasks you with overseeing various agents as they proceed through missions. However, you rarely play as your officer and instead stand in front of a terminal. From there, you can watch (and control) each of the team members out on the field. The concept is quite cool.

Visuals and sound are a mixed bag. Some may really dig the graphics while others may call them ugly. They have a muddy sort of design principle behind them, unlike more attractively stylized games out there. Still, the theme is applied to the entire game and it looks good. Voice overs are all taken with a goofy flourish that also aids the surrounding world. Some may think the overacting is too much, but it struck me as funny. The same is true of the script, which is full of great jokes and comments.

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Most of the gameplay is comprised of these espionage missions. Before each one, you select the agents best suited to a mission. Of course, the game makes no attempt to tell you which is best, and instead relies entirely on your own wiles. There are six types in all and each has their own features worth checking out. Within a mission you are able to control all of your agents and the way this is carried out leads to some confusion.

From your terminal, you have a handful of screens. Each shows what an agent is seeing from a first person perspective. However, only one broadcast is fairly large (taking up 75% of the screen) while others fight for much smaller margins. It is possible to switch and control characters from the smaller screens, but thankfully it’s also possible to swap out any agent to the big screen on the fly. One could wonder why the active agent wouldn’t just automatically swap to the big video output but the finagling sometimes necessary with agents would make this a hindrance.

All agents must work together to succeed. This means the player must have good spatial awareness to keep track of where he is placing his agents in the world. No, it’s not some sort of strategy board interface but a full on 3D world with enemies, NPCs, and buildings. Goals of missions tend to be easy to understand but much harder to complete. This is because, although your characters can fight, they are severely underpowered. Gunfights lead to supremely long load times which usually result in your character perishing before they can fire a new round. To accompany that, guns don’t have a very long range which means you can’t usually kill inattentive enemies a few paces ahead of you. Instead, you’ve got to get a good feel for the environment and try to sneak up on them unless there's a sniper on your team.

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Enemies aren’t the only thing you have to worry about. You see, one way the game throws a wrench into things is in regards to the signal transmission between agents and the officer. You aren’t just getting this video out of thin air, but instead there is always radio transmitter on the field. In order to see everything going on, one agent must carry it around and keep his teammates in range of it. If players go out of range, their screen goes fuzzy, rendering them almost worthless. I say almost because it is possible to guide them around if another character has their sights set on that far-away agent.

Range is moved by moving the unit itself. However, this is a challenge as the device needs continuous power. There are places to plug it in across levels, but you have to get one agent to lug it to each charging station safely. If there were no danger on levels then this would be a very minor hindrance. Since there is though, you’ve got to be extremely careful. If the device loses power then no one can be seen, although there is a button to order the agent to bring it back to the last known power supply.

Things like this make the game tough, but they’re not the only issues. The control scheme itself is pretty weird, and one that takes getting used to. For me, it was required to go through the tutorial twice because the controls just didn’t “stick” the first time. Considering the game uses some unique mechanics it has a control scheme that isn’t exactly standard. Players can use gamepad or keyboard but then an issue arose where the controller could not be used independently of the keyboard. In that case, there was really no point to try and using it.

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The most pressing issue with Signal Ops is that there are a fair amount of bugs. Many have been fixed via three patches, but that should show that there was really a lot going wrong. Even now, there are still some bugs which crop up from time to time that can cause agents to cease functioning. Other times, they will be unable to reach destinations or take some really awkward paths to get there. Considering you are able to order units via another, it seems that should be a valid option instead of having to take control of each one time and time again. Issues with framerate also seem to plague the game at times on multiple system setups.

So, what we’ve got here is a game that has a great batch of concepts which are marred by its own design. Not entirely, of course, but enough so that many are set to be repelled by the entire experience. Even though bugs are being fixed there are still issues with the control scheme and AI that are unlikely to be changed in the future. Signal Ops is a pretty hardcore title overall and one that only fans of stealth and strategy games will be able to get a kick out of.

 

Pros:

+ Great gameplay concepts
+ Six different agents to command
+ Humorous writing

Cons:

- Strange controls that take a while to become acclimated to
- Difficulty set to repel anyone not invested in stealth/strategy genres
- Various bugs still present


 

Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
Decent


Signal Ops has really great ideas but they come alongside a handful of issues which make the game one best enjoyed by “hardcore” players only.




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