Solving puzzles as a spy duo in Operation: Tango is fun, but it needs to up the suspense

Operation: Tango
(Image credit: Clever Plays)

Why is the computer guy always the annoying one? You know how it goes—the cool operative goes into the vault, slithers through a laser grid and avoids the pressure-sensitive floor while the sarcastic nerd sits at a computer hacking into the cameras and ragging on the poor cybersecurity. Operation: Tango offers an opportunity to reverse that movie stereotype or live it yourself. It's a two-player spy game where one person controls a special agent and the other controls a hacker, and you have to use voice chat to crack puzzles (and vaults) as a team.

It's a fun concept, but can Operation: Tango hack it? (Sorry—annoying computer guy here, remember.) We sent two operatives into a preview of Operation: Tango's first two levels to see if the globetrotting spy life is exciting as it sounds.

Wes: A friend of mine used to joke that all of us PC Gamer writers get excited anytime we hear the word "asymmetrical," and I hate to say it, but he was right. About me, anyway. I really like the idea of Operation: Tango, with each player having access to a limited amount of information and having to communicate that to their partner. I started out as the hacker and got to jack into cyberspace to watch Chris make his way to a vault room via security cameras. I didn't actually have much to do at first, other than pressing a button to start up an elevator. But then we had to work together to decrypt the vault password by navigating a ball through a little maze. Well, I say maze, but we really just had to avoid a couple obstacles, me controlling the ball with W and S and Chris controlling it with A and D.

My next challenge was guiding Chris to certain secret "trigger" spots on the floor that he needed to stand on, which was a good test of the communication you need in Operation: Tango, but was pretty simplistic? I think a lot of the time I spent as the hacker was kinda just waiting for things to happen, which I guess is true to the movies, but not exactly thrilling.

Chris: There is something inherently cool about communication not just being useful but essential in a game, and it's interesting to be solving puzzles that both of us see in a different way. I think most of the enjoyment here, though, was in figuring out how we were supposed to solve the puzzle, not necessarily the part where we actually solved them. Realizing we both controlled the little dot in the maze was cool. Then driving the dot through the maze four times? Not really that rewarding.

Being the person breaking into places doesn't feel particularly dangerous or stealthy, either, and I never felt much like a secret agent. Even with drones patrolling in one of the levels, and a death ray in another, it's got a puzzle-game feel more than a stealth-game feel. Rather than feeling like an infiltrator, it mostly felt like I was just walking (occasionally sprinting) from one puzzle to another.

Wes: Agreed. The moment Operation: Tango sort of fizzled for me was when I hacked into the server and got to walk around in blocky first-person cyberspace. Chris had to use a terminal to draw a virtual floor for me to walk on, but when I got caught by a roving red "security" energy field, it just knocked us back a few seconds to try again. Another time Chris got caught by a laser grid while trying to break into the vault, and the same thing—just a minor setback. 

Operation: Tango focused on the gimmicks of heist scenes—the cool stuff like the pressure-sensitive floor in Mission: Impossible—but those aren't what actually make heist scenes so fun. The most important thing is tension.

Chris: Something else I wanted to do while completing this demo mission was to root around in the locations more. There were some desks with computers I walked over to, but they were just scenery. It would have been nice if there were some side-objectives apart from our main goal. Some little mini-goals, like hacking one of those computers, or gathering a little extra intel along the way. But maybe that would only be interesting for the person playing the agent inside, since the person playing the hacker usually can't see what you're seeing.

Wes: The demo level didn't make a really strong first impression, but I have to say the second level we played was a lot better. It involved more problem solving rather than just solving traditional puzzles. I felt a moment of true hacker skill when I deduced that I needed to copy an employee's ID to get you in the building, then set up an appointment for you so you'd be clear to access the floor we needed. The puzzles were more involved, too, and as the hacker I got to watch some really fun cyberspace visualizations. Wooooo, hacking!

I'd play more Operation: Tango levels like that one, for sure, but it does feel like something's missing here. Like you said, the levels are pretty empty—figuring out what to do feels overly simple because there aren't many red herrings around to distract us or complicate our path to the solution. Without those, would you have any interest in playing through these levels more than once, swapping roles?

Chris: The second level was definitely more fun and elaborate. But there's still something lost when you switch roles and run through the levels again, which we did, even though portions of the puzzles are randomized. It's interesting to see the puzzles from the other player's perspective, but once you know what's expected there's not much replay value there.

I feel like all I've done is complain! I still had fun, and the puzzles aren't bad, it's just none of it left me feeling like a high-tech hacker or stealthy infiltration agent. Hopefully the full game will have a bit more to it.

Wes: The aesthetic is really nice, especially as the secret agent running around the building. The hacker spends a lot of time looking at menus, though. I think the theming maybe set my expectations too high, because this really isn't a spy game with the danger and excitement that entails. It's a puzzle game with a spy skin. Despite Operation: Tango being a lot more involved, I never felt the urgency I did in Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. But maybe the lower stakes here make it an ideal game to play with a non-gamer partner?

Chris: Yeah, and I think it could definitely be a good entry into co-op games for people who don't play a ton of them. And it sounds like it'll be easy to get someone into the game with you: it's cross-platform, and only one player actually needs to own Operation: Tango. The person they invite doesn't need to buy it themselves, they just need to download a friend pass to be able to play. Pretty cool! 

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).