As is the case for essentially every big event this year, PAX has moved to the virtual world to spread the good word of video games over a whole week-long extravaganza in PAX Online. You can find numerous demos available to the public on Steam if you fancy trying anything out, but I’ll also be providing impressions of titles I’ve been getting hands-on with as well throughout the week.
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, and Steam
Release: Early 2021
I’m a sucker for any game that has been made from the ground-up exclusively for cooperative play and Operation: Tango seems to be ticking all the boxes of just why that is. This is an asynchronous, coop heist game where you and a friend take control of either the Infiltrator or the Hacker to break through security systems and claim your prize.
I took control of the Infiltrator in my first run through, making me the boots on the ground breaking into a CEO’s office while he was away. I started in an elevator with nothing to interact with besides the ability to change the ambient music. I had to wait for my Hacker buddy to first become accommodated with his setup (whose screen I could not see, mind you) then start the elevator for me.
Once I reached the penthouse I was able to investigate a terminal that initiated a simple hacking mini-game with my partner; he was able to control the latitudinal directions of a dot while I was the longitude and we had to guide the dot to a goal while avoiding various obstacles. This sort of teamwork was constantly prevalent throughout the demo.
After infiltrating the vault — my partner guiding me with the correct directions as he observed me through security camera footage — we encountered the most interesting of hacking puzzles in the demo. This time I was shown a grid view while my Hacker partner was in a 3D virtual space. I had to place virtual tiles down for my partner to traverse across gaps to the goal. The catch was that my partner could see incoming firewalls while I was not, so he had to clearly direct me where to lead him and I had to react in time to avoid annihilation. Getting through the obstacle course was nothing short of exhilarating and both my partner and I were riding high at the end.
Another simple hacking minigame later and I had retrieved my target thus completing the mission. Throughout the entirety of the 15 minute demo we were constantly impressed by the ingenuity Operation: Tango displayed that forces cooperative play. At no point after the initial elevator was I or my partner idle just waiting for the other to do something; there was a constant back-and-forth of information.
The game is very forgiving, with no ranking system of performance and a fail state just putting you right back where you were. That allows for some delightful mistakes like when my friend realized too late that he had activated a laser security system, eliciting an uncharacteristic yelp from myself when I was suddenly fried. It also leaves room for trolling, like me calling security on my friend when we had swapped roles just because I was curious what would happen.
I do wonder if that level of creativity will carry on throughout the entirety of the full game, however. If subsequent levels feature similar hacking minigames in different flavors it could lead to a sense of repetition. Evidence of this was when my buddy and I replayed the mission with swapped roles. While the solutions to the puzzles had changed, it took no time at all to crack them since we already knew how to get to the solutions.
If every level is as delightfully surprising as this one was, though, then Operation: Tango will certainly turn out to be one of the greatest coop games out there. This is one to keep and eye on, and my friend and I were hungry for more when we were done.
Alien Hominid Invasion
Platforms: Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
My gaming time as a kid was pretty limited, which was probably for the best. I do distinctly remember, though, trotting off to my middle school’s computer lab during recess to play the infinitesimal flash games available online at the time. The original Alien Hominid was one of those games and one of the few that I have memories of to this day. Now The Behemoth, the studio behind the beloved beat ’em up Castle Crashers, is bringing the little yellow ant to the age of modernity with Alien Hominid Invasion.
True to the original, this is a frenetic run ‘n gun where standing still means a swift death. Your alien comes equipped with a blaster that you can charge up for a more powerful shot as well as one secondary weapon on a cooldown, a grenade in the demo’s case. You also have a dodge roll, long-distance vault, and the ability to bury underground — useful for evading enemy attacks.
Every stage involves gunning down the FBI’s goons to collect intel that you then send to a mothership which then provides you with an objective such as killing a certain number of a specified enemy or taking a bomb and detonating it at a specific location. You need to complete a certain number of these objectives before the mothership will extract you to clear the stage, but you can stick around longer to clear additional objectives for more loot and money. This is a risk vs. reward proposition, however, as the longer you linger around a stage, the more plentiful, varied, and aggressive enemies become.
It took me a stage or two to become accustomed to the controls, but once I did I was smoothly ducking and weaving through enemy fire like some sort of cosmic sea slug. When things got especially hairy I mounted an enemy’s head and used them as a glorified mount and meat shield while I regenerated some lost health.
It was all well and good fun for a time, but it didn’t take long for repetition to set in as every stage of the demo more or less featured the same enemy types and the same objectives, save for the final boss fight which did give me a run for my money. I obtained a handful of upgrades along the way that gave me incremental stat boosts and new blaster types, but they weren’t enough to really shake things up. It is pretty clear, however, that there will be a ton of different upgrades throughout the game so this might not be an issue in the long-run.
It cannot be understated just how well Alien Hominid Invasion nails its aesthetics, though. It pays faithful homage to older Newgrounds animations from the off-kilter humor to the striking character models. FBI agents explode and discombobulate in the same over-the-top, comedic fashion that brought a smile to middle-school self’s face (a sentence I have mixed feelings of putting on paper). I have my concerns on the longevity of the game but if nothing else this nostalgia is enough for me to keep a close eye on it in hopes that it overcomes those concerns in the complete version.
It’s also worth noting this game will include online and local coop but only local was available for this demo and I was unable to try it out.