Matthew Broderick simulator
“Hacking” is a gaming term that almost always initiates a series of groans from players. Usually forced in as a ham-handed minigame, I don’t have many fond memories of hacking outside of a few clever uses of the mechanic like in Axiom Verge, but every so often an entire experience focused around it comes along and makes that pill easier to swallow.
Darknet, which just hit the Oculus Rift, is a great example.
Darknet (PC [reviewed with an Oculus Rift])
Developer: E McNeill
Publisher: E McNeill
Released: March 28, 2016
Immediately, players are thrust into the unique position of sitting inside of the Internet, viewing various connection points around them as nodes, denoted by spherical shapes, that are sometimes protected by shields (firewalls). It’s unclear as to why, but your job is to black hat your way into each security point, steal its cash, and use it to further your own system.
Think of each node as a level, or a miniature puzzle. Solving those puzzles in Darknet is intuitive, as every board is placed on a grid of sorts, with various blue defense nodes and at least one core. Your job is to strategically choose which nodes to hack (one or more), which triggers a purple color cascading animation. Once players initiate a sequence, nodes will travel in every direction along the path until they either come in contact with the core (in which case, you win) or another defense node (blue), which shuts it down. Things get even more complicated once the concept of sending out viruses in waves makes an appearance.
The map is deliciously open-ended, but the ultimate end goal is to hack the “root node” to beat the game. Players can open up any node they can see, which is a practical feature in terms of planning out attacks — it’s also daunting, especially when opening up the root. In a refreshing change of pace that was no doubt sparked by the decision to make it a VR game in the first place, it was fun to just…look around and see where I wanted to go next.
Some might say that “more money equals more problems,” but in Darknet, the upgrades are actually substantial, leading to a real sense of progression. Buying hacks essentially grants players access to cheat codes, which are explained in-game to a degree and make sense. Exploits make tougher levels easier, Hydras automatically complete lesser stages, and buying more viruses grants players more possible moves.
As is the case with a few games on the launch Oculus Store, I had some light technical issues with the current build. During several playthroughs Darknet wouldn’t accept inputs, but I was able to restart the app with no loss of progress and it was by no means a common occurrence. The upgrade/hacking UI can get a bit clunky though, as switching to different power-ups (or canceling them) requires a full shop visit — it would be helpful if it was easy to flip between them with a trigger.
Darknet is something that could technically work in a traditional, non-VR environment, but the immersive nature of the game does feel justified. Even though it was daunting, I loved looking around the world and figuring out where to go next, and for the price, I’d consider it one of the Oculus’ must-have games.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]