Hacker Evolution – or ‘how I made a mistake’

Alright, I’m more than willing to admit when I’ve been wrong and/or talking out of my arse.

So my last post railed on the evils of the Hacker Evolution series, and how the new game wouldn’t be any good. I was slightly more subtle than that, but I think you got the message. Well with almost clairvoyant skill, Steam decided to put the two preceeding games on sale for a stupidly low price. Despite not really having any cash, how could I decline when Fate obviously wanted me to play the games? Sadly, it seems that rather than giving me ammunition to support my last post, Fate decided to kick me in the bollocks instead.

The games are actually pretty good. Cringe.

Hacker Evolution is not as adrenaline-fueled and paranoid as Uplink; you aren’t constantly wiping logs and watching the trace at the bottom corner of the screen. But it still has its own charm. It takes a more sedate pace that still awards speed, but doesn’t require that you be fast in order to pass the levels. Yes there’s a good amount of clicking on boxes, as I feared from watching the trailer, but the fact that the game uses a command prompt-style interface gives it a more authentic hacking atmosphere. Whilst Uplink required you to use programs from a GUI, Hacker Evolution has you looking through servers for files, finding extra servers from those files, and then using both to complete the objectives. It actually feels like you’re using a computer and your own ingenuity to hack, rather than a sophisticated program that simply followed the right steps.

It’s not as free-form as Uplink either; each level has its objectives and a timer, and to get to the next level you clear the objectives. Pretty simple, but next to Uplink‘s do-anything approach, it’s still a little lacking. Certain servers aren’t available during certain missions, like the massively helpful dot-hackers.net server in mission five, and this wounds the immersion. But despite this, there’s enough challenge that you really won’t mind.

It’s also a complete bitch. Uplink was too, but in a different way. Uplink forced you to save money to get the right upgrades at the right time, so you could keep progressing. Hacker Evolution is very similar, but unlike Uplink, reducing your trace percentage requires money, so it can be a delicate balance between reducing your trace and getting new equipment. Money is a finite resource in Hacker Evolution, and if you intend to play the game keep that in mind. If you get your balancing too wrong, you must either downgrade your equipment, retry the mission, or go back to earlier levels in order to improve it and reduce your opening trace level and/or increase your cash.

Bouncing works differently too. For those without ‘hacking’ experience, bouncing involves sending your connection through different hacked computers to make it harder to trace the original machine. In Uplink bouncing was essential, and killing the logs in at least one part of the chain was even more so to avoid the hack being passively traced back to you. In Hacker Evolution the only reason to bounce is to slow down the active trace, and there are no consequences after that, except a 15% increase to your overall trace level. If you can do something without bouncing, don’t bounce. Bouncing can only happens off a server three times, after which the server is permanently locked for the remainder of that level. Choosing when you need to bounce, and correctly gauging the capabilities of your hardware is the key and finishing a hack with 0.2s is possible and nerve-wracking.

My point is that I may have been a little hasty in condemning Hacker Evolution Duality without at least trying the series. Whilst it lacks the fast-pace and paranioa that make Uplink a real classic, it’s still a clever exercise that’s really good fun. Don’t go into this expecting Uplink. I did and I was shocked. But I’ve exjoyed myself and I’ve changed my mind about the series. I might not go straight out and get Hacker Evolution Duality the moment it releases, but I’ll keep an eye out for sales.

Consider me chastised, Fate.

Hacker Evolution can be found here on Steam, whilst Uplink can be found here. It’s actually on sale at the moment! Why not get the pack that has both that and Darwinia?Both are good games.

Hacker Evolution Duality

I’m a fan of hacking games, and I have been since before Uplink was released. I think a lot of the pull of hacking is the nerd-glamour in being someone who can slip through cyberspace like a ninja. Never disturbing anything and taking whatever he/she wants. Considering the furore that LulzSec have inspired over this past month, I’m glad I’ve never looked at it beyond a brief daydream and the fascination with Neo’s hacking in the Matrix.

But I digress. Video games about hacking have always been my only option – law keeping paragon that I am. So when I found Uplink, I was overjoyed. Uplink was the kind of game that I needed; complex, yet simple enough to get in to. The later jobs required you to know exactly what you were doing, but I never considered it cheating to look at Google. It was never metagaming, as I could imagine a ‘real’ hacker doing the same. Uplink was an amazing game.

But like all games, it got boring. Uplink got boring around the time it asked me to either save or destroy the internet by siding with one of two corporations. I chose to bury my head in the sand and hope the problem went away. It didn’t, and my game ended with the internet being destroyed by a virus. Shit. Never let it be said that my neutral outlook on life has never gotten me into trouble. My options in further games were to get a lot better a lot quicker, in order to actually do stuff for one of the two corporations. And that just seemed like hard work I couldn’t be bothered with.

So when I saw a Steam advert for Hacker Evolution Duality, I was excited. I checked out the page and it looked good. In fact, the GUI looks awesome. Something like the interface Boris uses in GoldenEye, but swankier. It was coming out soon, but I had little cash, so I dismissed it for later. Today, I decided to take another look, and decide if it was worth buying or not. So I watched a video I found on YouTube.

Doesn’t it look exciting?

I know it’s Alpha footage, but I still expect something that the developers themselves show on their website to be something that actually excites me. Frankly, that looks about as compelling as clicking on a menu screen. A menu screen that takes 17 seconds to register each click. I really hope that there’s more to the game than that, and I cannot afford to spend £11.96 finding out. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like any major gaming websites have even looked at it, and that’s a shame, because this could be big. Granted, it might not be the best time to release a hacking game, for obvious reasons, but it could at least try to ride the controversy wave.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this one, but I’m not hopeful. I assume that Hacker Evolution was the preceeding game to this one, and that didn’t fare very well. Perhaps they can learn from their mistakes and pull an Uplink-beater from the bag. But they’ll need a lot more than was shown in this video, and it needs to be more than just clicking. I expect my hacking games to have much more involvement than that. Even if it’s just a screen that says TYPE VERY FAST NOW.

I’m sure I could beat that.

Uplink is available on Steam for £5.99. Hacker Evolution Duality is currently 20% off at £11.96 and is released on the 30th of June. Preordering gets you into the Beta, so if you buy it, let me know how it is.