This review of 868-HACK originally ran in our Paste.com digital edition in September.
868-HACK is the first game to fully utilize the cyberpunk aesthetic of Number Munchers. It’s a hacking simulation in that it’s nothing at all like real hacking, but EXACTLY what hacking should be like, if the cyberpunk dystopia we now live in had arrived in the era of dial-up modems and dark green circuitboards. It is completely unfair that real hacking involves typing a lot of words and not playing a videogame.
Edutainment cyberpunk visuals aside, 868-HACK is really a game about risk, greed and very careful plotting in hopelessly disastrous situations. As a hacker, you pick up data siphons that let you steal credits and energy from floors, and programs and points from walls. This is the reward. The risk is that while every wall contains elusive points or powerful programs, it also has a firewall with a number of how many enemies will be transmitted in if you siphon it. Enemies also transmit in at the beginning of the level equal to the level number (up to eight, the final level) and they arrive every few turns with increasing frequency. 868-HACK quickly becomes a mess, but it is as tightly scripted and logical as a machine. In order to solve these traps, you need to siphon programs, but siphoning programs alerts enemies. Hacking is resolving this catch-22, and there’s no room for error as the run ends when you take three hits. And of course there is no saving or reloading in hacking.
The enemies never change or get stronger, but there are a huge number of programs, each with their own quirky interactions with each other and all extremely specific in their use. The enemies are simple, but each creates a unique frustration—it’s possible to hide forever in a dead end and blast all enemies that come your way, but Glitches can walk right through the walls you hide in. Unless you count your turns carefully, invisible Cryptogs will sneak up on you, and Viruses are so fast they require a completely different strategy than the rest. It’s about finding new and better solutions to the same problems, eventually getting good enough to beat the game, good enough to play for high scores and finally good enough to get winning streaks, in which your score climbs for as long as you can complete games without dying.
868-HACK is a turn based trainwreck—a meticulously ordered, predictably random and nearly always solvable trainwreck of exploding and overwhelming complexity. On its own, each individual element of 868-HACK is deceptively simple. When everything is combined, though, playing 868-HACK is like slowly managing every single particle flying about in a tornado, one turn at a time.
Developer: Michael Brough
Release Date: 08/30/13