A co-op only espionage game, Operation: Tango is asymmetrical multiplayer fun with a few caveats. The Finger Guns Review.
To paraphrase the famous Al Hoffman and Dick Manning song “It takes two to Operation: Tango”. This is an exclusively co-op game which means you’ll need your most trusted wingman/woman to take on this espionage adventure. To get into the spirit and to represent the challenge this title represents, Rossko and I have co-written this review for Operation: Tango. You’ll see my (Sean’s) words in italics and Ross’s in bold. Here’s the Finger Guns review:
Co-op games are having yet another boom in the video game space. With games like It Takes Two, We Were Here Together and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, exclusively co-operative experiences are more prominent than ever. Operation: Tango from Clever Plays is the latest release for the genre and it’s a refreshing take on the espionage thriller. A few other games have attempted to make co-op spy games over the year with various degrees of success, the most notable of which is Hacktag from Piece of Cake Studio. I think it’s fair to say that Operation: Tango – an online only co-op game – stands on the shoulders of these games to provide its own experience. Each player can only see their own environment and the idea is communicate in order to overcome obstacles.
Quite. Operation Tango is something I wasn’t expecting it to be. When Sean had mentioned it’s a co-op exclusive with a ‘man in the chair’ type gameplay, I was expecting a far more focused shooter rather than a puzzler. Very quickly however I discovered this wasn’t the case. And with Sean settled into the role of Simon Pegg dutifully in my ear we were sent to work and almost immediately, Tango is one of the more unique experiences I’ve had on PS5 thus far.
At first I took the role of the Agent, Tom Cruising my way through a rather gorgeous beach side resort whilst Sean was opening doors and acquiring information needed for me to proceed through the level. It’s immediately apparent how crucial it is to work through the game together, as you’ll be trading information back and forth throughout in order to evade enemies, work your way through firewalls, encryption and laser puzzles that are trickier than you might expect on the surface. Every obstacle can be overcome with teamwork and communication – and forget about a guide. The puzzle solutions are procedural so they’ll be different each time you play the game.
The primary issue with Operation: Tango is that the complexity of the puzzles varies regularly. In one section, you’ll have to work together to talk through a series of complex head scratchers before delivering a solution. In the next you’re simply pressing square and then quickly mashing the X button. Because the challenge regularly changes, it’s easy to overthink things that are plane and simple. There’s no natural difficulty curve and sometimes it does feel like the game is simply giving both players something to do. During a mission where the Hacker character is diving into the dark web and the Agent character is running support from the Tango Headquarters, Ross and I were stumped on a puzzle for what felt like an eternity. The explanation provided by the game mentioned ‘timings’ where none could be found. We were analysing codes on doors and trying to think outside the box because that had been the standard of puzzle up until that point. Eventually we saw that the puzzle was basically a Guitar Hero-esque rhythm puzzle which, in hindsight, was much easier than it appeared on the surface. Thankfully, many of the puzzles in Operation: Tango make up for these frustrations.
Without question, one of the highlights is a mission where you’re required to stop a train against a timer. Reminiscent of co-op classic Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, this section requires a fair amount of timing and speedy conversation between the agent and the hacker, with the player on the train running back and forth on a single train coach taking on a variety of puzzles at once.
It was about here that I ‘got’ Operation Tango. Sean mentioned above that there are times where you’re just ‘given things to do’ in any given moment, and he’s right. In this sequence you have to rely on each other to have a chance of stopping the train, as each puzzle will allow you to stabilise the engine’s temperature and unlock the emergency breaking. Why the ’emergency’ breaking is locked behind a puzzle only two people can crack is anyone’s guess, but video games I guess. What follows is a ‘not enjoying it while you’re doing it but when it’s over you feel enormously accomplished’, stressful and frankly obscenely complicated number of tasks that will either make or break your experience with Operation: Tango.
Take the ‘Lateral Compensator’, words I have never once put next to each other and don’t ever plan to again. The hacker will have a list of guidelines to read to the agent, but only one of them is true(!). The hysterical nightmare this weaves is palpable, and also remembering to read the small print that says ‘ONLY ONE OF THESE IS TRUE’ is vitally important to the success of the mission, it turns out. I bet Sean was so happy he was reviewing this one with me.
The hacker at this point has all the necessary information then, but the conversation has to flow back and forth in order for the hacker to get through layers of folders to find the solution, adding of course to the timer that’s ticking away without a care in the world. Sean at this point is swearing in my ear and I can’t help but laugh. I knew I would never be a good employee for the MI5 and this sadly proves it with little effort. Still, we manage to make it through the ‘Lateral Compensator’ only to come up against the ‘Charge Regulator’, which needs a Station ID before we can begin. Fortunately Sean has that information to hand and I can tell him what level of charge needs to be applied. It’s perhaps the easier of the puzzles that we have to get through in this sequence, but there’s little here that one could consider a breeze to conquer.
Then there’s ‘Battery Backup’ which requires the agent to make a compound with the available colours. The hacker has the list and the order in which the colours need to be added, though of course it wouldn’t be any fun if it were that easy, apparently. A message will pop up on the screen that indicates – and these are different dependent on the presented compound – the compound mix has become unstable. The agent will need to tell the hacker the current compound status, which will then prompt the game to inform you of how to return to a stability level, normally by adding mixtures quickly – several in less than a second – or with a second between them. Yes, it’s cruel and maddening yet somehow, it just works. In hindsight, when you’re not wanting to throw your controller through the window.
It’s a smart way to get an entire game homage (in this case Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes) in one level of your game, but the aforementioned relief you feel when you’ve saved that damn train is fantastic, and makes you want to carry on to see what else Operation: Tango can throw at you.
Don’t think that by picking the hacker “man in the chair” job that you’ll be simply handing over information to the Agent either. The support role here is like Luther Stickell from the Mission Impossible movies – they are primarily a voice in the Agent’s ear but on occasion they’re the star of the show. A pretty decent balance has been struck for both positions in the team.
Operation: Tango has a very refreshing vibe that’s bright and chipper rather than the gritty and realistic tone most games in the espionage genre take. This is achieved via a colourful art style and an upbeat soundtrack. Sure, it’s all still tense and nail-biting (figuratively, of course – your fingers will be busy trying to solve puzzles) but rather than black shadows, this game uses blue hues and the music would be right at home in a Spy Kids movie.
There’s an overarching narrative to the missions of Operation: Tango too. Delivered via comic strip-esque cut scenes at the start and end of each mission, you face off against a mystery foe that has infiltrated tech companies to sow their own evil scheme. There’s some narration from your agency handler but the art work with staggered animations tell their own story. It’s not the deepest of stories but it’s a nice little framework to tie it all together.
And thankfully, Tango feels cohesive. There’s an awful lot the game throws at you, and it’s taking pieces of various puzzlers and even rhythm games to ensure no level feels the same as what came before it. I’m excited to see if there’s more to come from this game as while the campaign wasn’t terribly long all told, there’s certainly scope for future iterations and if they can live up the standard they’ve set here (and possibly tidy up the UI a little bit), there could be a real franchise here.
I’d easily recommend Operation: Tango even if it wasn’t currently free with PS Plus. Along with the wonders of It Takes Two, 2021 is shaping up to be a banner year for co-op only experiences and Operation: Tango is well worth grabbing a buddy – or that person who you want to play games with all the time, and they say they will, but then they don’t – and living out your wildest spy film fantasies vicariously through an experience that shines brighter than I expected.
Much like the best spy franchises, Operation: Tango leaves space for more adventures. It leaves room to grow in a world I’d happily revisit in a sequel. It’s not perfect but of all the asymmetric co-op games to release recently, it’s one of the better and more inventive ones. I hope we see an Operation: Sigma or Operation: No Man Is An Island in the future. If only to have another game I promise I’ll play with Ross – then don’t.
An asymmetric multiplayer espionage adventure, Operation: Tango is a game that demands co-operation and requires good communication. The non-linear difficulty curve can make some puzzles feel out of place but that doesn’t prevent it from being a gratifying, fun frolic through a charming series of missions.
Operation: Tango is out now on PS5 (reviewed on PS5), PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X and PC.
Developer: Clever Plays
Publisher: Clever Plays
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.