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You may be stuck behind a PC terminal, but The Operator is my dream FBI fantasy


A close-up of a computer desktop with a pale blue and navy blue colour scheme. It's in some kind of dark mode and there are a few windows open showing a recording sound file, a picture of a floppy disk, and a folder with file and folder icons in. In the corner is a photograph with a bullet hole in it. And over the top of that is our Wishlisted cute face logo.
Image credit: Bureau 81

You know the fantasy already. An FBI agent calls their office to have someone run a check on a piece of information. It might be a person's name, a car licence plate, or some surveillance footage. Whatever it is, the person on the other end of the line has to do some invisible wizardry and then return the pertinent facts to the agent, fast. The agent then hangs up and the story moves on, and that invisible voice on the phoneline who did all the hard work is forgotten forever. But not any more.

The Operator is a game about being that invisible person on the other end of the line. Which, I know, sounds unglamorous. But what's so special about the Steam Next Fest demo for The Operator is how exciting it makes that job feel in the moment. Yes, you might be operating an in-game computer terminal to comb through CCTV footage, interview transcripts and images and so on, but you're also pivotal to the case. You're the one joining the dots. And right from the off, developer Bureau 81 breathes maximum life and energy into it.

Case in point: you're thrown right into the thick of things from the moment the demo begins. A blinding overhead light sears your vision in a dark room, and a voice asks - in a lie detector kind of way - who you are and what you know. It's menacing and unsettling. You're being interrogated, but do you know who you are? Do you know about [REDACTED]? But before you can figure out what any of it means, the game whizzes on and you're now a new FDI recruit sitting down at a computer for your first day on the job. Your computer's calling system is ringing with both your co-worker and supervisor on the line wanting to talk about your first case, but instead of easing you in, you find out it's a homicide, and there's CCTV footage to review. Erk. It's one thing after another in quick succession. There's never any time to get bored and I love that. Things are always moving, even if you're only looking at a computer screen.

It actually reminds me a lot of Her Story, in a very good way.Watch on YouTube

It helps that conversations are voiced and there's music accompanying everything, tensely pulsing in the background, providing a background sense of urgency. There's also a fantastic attention to detail in the tools you use. I yelped in delight when the login-password box automatically typed the correct letters when I touched my keyboard. What a great idea! And I chuckled when I heard the hard-drive spinning when I called up the FDI database for the first time. The game is set in 1992, after all, and The Operator's computer is a brilliantly observed toy to poke around with.

Plus, there's the underlying sense of palpable excitement of being in this position at all - in the classified seat of an operator who gets to meddle with top-secret things. It's all the stuff you might imagine from FBI dramas over the years: homicides, alien sightings, potential internal corruption and cover-ups... and there's definitely a sense something bigger is going on, as strange things keep happening. But even when you're just doing the routine CCTV footage tasks, The Operator still does that brilliant thing from films and TV where agents enhance a grainy image of someone's face, and it magically gains 10 times the detail. You comb through confidential interview transcripts, examine suspect's digital cameras, and you can even cross-check against phone tower data, and of course the incredibly intrusive FDI database, which knows an awful lot about an awful lot of people. It's the stuff of my true crime dreams.

A screenshot of an old-school operating system on a PC, showing a neat black background with some windows open in the foreground. They show a written document and then a graph-like presentation. It's supposed to look like an FBI computer terminal.
A screenshot of a neat and organised computer desktop with a dark navy blue colour scheme. Open in windows on the desktop are images of a burned wedding photo, a wedding ring, and an email missive.
A log-in screen for a computer terminal, with a logo that looks a lot like the FBI's. Ulp.
I haven't seen the missions mentioned above but they make for better screenshots than the misions I've played. It seems as though there's always an interesting array of evidence to sift through to find your answers in. | Image credit: Bureau 81

It's zippy, it makes you feel smug when you find the answers. I tell you, of all the computer-based detective games I've played, none have made a first impression quite as strong as The Operator. It's brilliantly put together and it thrums with a sense of vitality these games often lack. Granted, it's only a demo, so there's a lot of the experience left to make good on, but if it's anywhere near the quality of this initial opening, we could be in for a [REDACTED].

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