If movies have ever taught me one thing it’s this: hackers use virtual reality. That’s just obvious. So now I finally have a game that lets me live my virtual reality hacking dream. Darknet provides interesting puzzle gameplay allowing me to hack into systems to uncover e-mails and corporate plans. Is it worth hacking into these systems, or is virtual reality still waiting for another hacking simulator?
At the start of Darknet you’ll be able to read some text files about the state of the world and how it reached its current point of virtual reality hacking. Every time you finish a level you’ll unlock more files, news reports, e-mails, chat logs, and other texts for you to read. It’s a very specific kind of world building that doesn’t tell much of a central story, but instead sets up an interesting world that you can learn about. If you’re not interested it can totally be ignored, but for those who like this kind of world building they should find Darknet a real treat.
The real draw to Darknet is its hacking puzzles. You’ll start each level in a web of nodes, with many different starting areas open and available to hacking. Once you pick the node you want to start with, you’ll zoom in to a grid with a core in the middle. Each grid has several anti-viruses that you can infect with a virus, and once you do, your virus starts to spread out from that spot. Your goal is to have your virus hit the core without hitting any other anti-viruses. Hitting one isn’t an instant loss, it’ll just start erasing your virus at a slightly faster speed than it spreads, so you still have a chance to win, but if it overtakes your virus, then you’ll lose that virus for this node.
That’s not a bad thing though. As you get more viruses, you can get creative in how you attack nodes, purposely triggering anti-viruses to open up more ways to attack the core. Every node you capture gets you money that you can spend on more viruses to go after bigger and higher valued nodes. You can also nab a few new types of viruses, like hydras that instantly capture all unshielded nodes, exploits that destroy shields, and worms that take out firewalls. Using these tools, you’ll keep dismantling the web until you can successfully hack the central node.
At times it almost makes Darknet feel like a puzzle RTS hybrid. You’ll be looking for the most effective viruses to capture nodes for more money to purchase more effective viruses. Figuring out when you need to partake directly and manually hack with your viruses, or when you can dismantle a few shields with exploits and then use a single hydra to destroy a large swath of nodes, is an important strategy. More than once I sat back and considered the best way to advance, smiling when everything came together and I captured a particularly tough area of the map.
The harder puzzles you take the more new elements are introduced. Firewalls serve as extra barricades against your hacks, instantly deleting an entire hack if you hit one. Grids will gain new elements like lines that, if hit by a virus, all immediately turn into virus squares, which can either help you by getting you closer to the core or hinder you by putting you closer to an anti-virus. Corrupted spaces can permanently destroy sections of the grid, creating areas where absolutely nothing can go. Eventually you may even run into white hat hackers who will slowly erase your progress and force you to recapture nodes.
Your goal is going to be to complete the hacks in a time limit so you gain a higher skill rank and can take on the harder hacks. Each hack you complete gives you upgrade points that you can spend on permanent boosts, like more starting money or faster hacks. You’re going to need these boosts to complete the harder levels, as Darknet continues to ramp up the difficulty and find new and creative ways to challenge you.
All of this is wrapped around a brilliantly simple presentation. The game’s servers look like spider webs with how the nodes are positioned and linked, while the way 0’s and 1’s float around in the background gives a sense that you’re really inside the computer. I also have to applaud Darknet for including a VR Comfort mode that dials down the turning and zooming animations for those that find that it makes them queasy. Little touches like this help make the game more accessible for the general audience.
Darknet is not a killer app for VR. It doesn’t do anything special that I honestly sat back and said “VR was absolutely necessary for that moment.” It is, however, a masterclass puzzle game. With well-crafted gameplay elements that continue to improve in new and unique ways the longer you play, it’s well worth diving into this virtual hacking space.
Darknet was reviewed on a PlayStation VR using a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on Gear VR and Oculus Rift.
Darknet is an extremely well made puzzle game that continued to build upon its simple elements in smart and creative ways. If you own a VR headset then you'll want to dive into this.
- Puzzles Elements are Fantastic
- Builds Up New Elements Slowly and Smartly
- Great Style
- VR Accessability Options are Smart
- Story Doesn't Really Matter
- Doesn't Make Great Use of VR