- Format: PC
- Unleashed: February 4th
- Publisher: Lace Mamba Global
- Developer: Exosyphen
- Players: 1
- Website: www.exosyphenstudios.com/page_hacker-evolution-collection.html
Hacking in most games is merely a case of sitting back, watching the protagonist make a few confident stabs at a keyboard, and then utter the words “I’m in”. It has always seemed so simple, with the most challenging part of the process being the meat chain of human wreckage you often have to climb over to get to the relevant console. Hacker Evolution is a completely different experience.
The Hacker Evolution games put you behind the eyes of Brian Spencer, a software engineer with a keen insight into the naughty side of computers. No, not that naughty side. We’re talking about the part full of illegally accessing files and servers that are not meant for his prying eyes. This collection of the series contains Hacker Evolution, the expansion pack Reinsertion, and the sequel Hacker Evolution Untold all on one disc for the first time.
Whichever version you set down and fiddle with, gameplay is the same. Type in lines of commands ordering your hardware to scan, crack, decrypt or login to server ports to steal money, download files or to just generally do your bidding. Stripping it down to the simplest level, it is a text adventure puzzle game with a hacking context.
The interface looks like something an analyst from 24 or Spooks might stare at for hours on end when trying to do secret things, and this definitely adds to the charm of it all. We don’t know much about hacking in reality, but it probably isn’t all confined to one helpful window that has an orange tint and the world map handily showing the locations of everything you need to hack into. Exosyphen has captured the fantasy hacking feel perfectly, really nailing imaginary digital espionage.
Avoiding a trace is something that the movie star hackers are usually quite keen to do, and it applies in Hacker Evolution just as much. Every action you perform raises your trace level, and if this level hits 100 you face a game over and level restart. The only way to lower this level is with the ‘killtrace’ command – an action that lowers your level by 10 at the expense of $500. Money is very much a finite resource in Hacker Evolution, used to upgrade your equipment and lower your trace level.
A harsh lesson to learn early on is that upgrades to your equipment should only happen when necessary, as you will need the majority of your money to get the trace level down. This is an infuriating aspect of the game as it means you have to be very sheepish when it comes to upgrading your computer components. Unlike other games where upgrades are usually a good idea to jump at, you need to be ridiculously restrained in Hacker Evolution. We found ourselves having to completely restart the campaign after nudging ourselves into an unrecoverable game situation through reckless spending.
Better gear generally means faster download speeds or slower trace times, but it highlights a flaw for the impatient player. Half of the game is waiting for things to download from a pretend internet or for a fictional processor to spit out a password. It has all the fun of progress bars as a gameplay element.
There’s a note for the uncoordinated and fat fingered amongst us too. Each command needs to be precisely typed out. This is not usually a problem; but when hurtling along at speed to type in a server name, a missed typo will mean that you have to input it all over again.
The major difference between Hacker Evolution and Untold comes as a godsend, with the ‘deletelogs’ command. This helpful ten character string reduces half of the trace you have built up on the server you are connected to, meaning the ‘killtrace’ money drainer can be used slightly less frequently. It is surprising the leap and bound this puts Untold above the original.
Another key difference is that the interface in Untold, as well as being a new colour, now features a different picture of your exact location for your hacking escapades, a feature slightly explored in the Reinsertion expansion. This is opposed to the rather generic world map that shows up for every level in the original, making the visual impact of each mission null and void.
It may only be a very minor graphical change, but for a game that is a throwback to the old fashioned text adventures of e-yore, having the occasional change of scenery is important to maintain the gamer’s attention.
Untold is also a lot more exciting when it comes to mission objectives and structure. The original game sees you hacking into this, uploading a virus there and what not. Untold has you changing traffic light signals to halt pursuing hitmen, breaking into people’s houses electronically and uploading co-ordinates into a military satellite to melt a person from orbit. Of course it is still only represented as a text adventure with nothing highlighting these events other than a mission objective being crossed off, but it makes the whole thing appear that bit more pulse racing.
Calling this series a niche interest product is understating things. Hacker Evolution is like a Rubix cube. The puzzle doesn’t change much as you go along but you need to find the right ways to twist it to win. It is a completely different kind of puzzle game to the mainstream point and click object hunters out there, but it doesn’t seem to target this crowd either. Whilst the experience is unique, it does get tiresome and repetitive – a bit like a unicorn that just watches Deal or No Deal all day
There is a reason the hacker guy is usually just a voice on the end of an earpiece. His contribution doesn’t involve anywhere near the correct amount of neck snaps and explosions that address the excitement to mission progress ratio necessary in games.