Consider, if you will, the humble grappling hook. It's an integral yet oft-overlooked part of vertical platforming in gaming. When it's used well, it adds a sense of momentum and joyful abandon to leaping around a game world. Bad grappling hook mechanics are little more than "press button to continue jumping", a momentary gimmick that never feels as free as it should. So, into which camp does Blazing Stick's first-person parkour-platformer Cyber Hook fall? As names go, it's pretty descriptive; Cyber Hook is a game set in an abstract 80s vaporwave cyberspace and offers platforming based entirely around a grappling hook. There's no threat of false advertising here.
In many ways, that core ethos of simplicity is Cyber Hook's mission statement. Just as its name is a straightforward evocation of its core loop, so does the gameplay itself offer few frills and distractions. At its worst, that makes Cyber Hook feel repetitive and bare-bones. At its best, it's a dizzying thrill ride with no extraneous diversions to get between you and pure skill expression. For better or worse - often both - Cyber Hook is totally uninterested in evolving, iterating, or modifying its central ideas. If you don't like Cyber Hook at first glance, there'll be little to tempt you later, but if you do, there's plenty of fun to be had.
Cyber Hook's Core Gameplay Is Ridiculous Fun
At its core, Cyber Hook plays like a cross between Mirror's Edge, Super Monkey Ball, and masocore platformers like Super Meat Boy. Stages are littered with grapple-friendly objects to help you traverse vast cyberpunk chasms, and it's down to you to find the fastest possible way to get through each stage. Each piece of level geometry has its own rules; some can be grappled, others will kill you if you collide with them, and still others possess both properties. Cyber Hook is all about figuring out optimal paths, maintaining momentum, and reacting quickly to hazards.
Let's not beat around the bush: Cyber Hook is, at its best, insanely fun. Leaping through sparse neon landscapes, swinging wildly past entire obstacle courses and skidding handily into the finish gate without touching the ground gives a feeling rarely matched in platformers. The sense of freedom is dizzying; levels feel designed around multiple approaches and routes, so although there's almost certainly an optimal way to complete each one, your path is valid if it gets you to the goal. There's also a powerful sense of speed and momentum that feels at once chaotically terrifying and viscerally satisfying.
In brief, Cyber Hook has mastered its core gameplay loop. The visual language is clear, meaning you'll never collide with something you weren't sure was going to kill you. If you're expected to react to a hazard quickly, it'll be telegraphed ahead of time or shown during the pre-level flyover, so it's almost never Cyber Hook's fault if you die. This is a game that gives you absolute control over your movement and asks you to master its environments. When you zip through a level in record time, knowing it was because you exhibited all the skills Cyber Hook asked of you, the adrenaline high is remarkable.
Repetition Sets In Quickly In Cyber Hook
Unfortunately, it's not a high Cyber Hook can entirely sustain. It's not a long experience; you'll likely be done with it in just a handful of hours. There are challenge and marathon modes to enjoy, but they don't offer new levels, instead asking you to beat times or chain together strings of existing levels in new arrangements. As a means to enable the sheer rush of the core gameplay, that's fine, but it won't take long before cyberpunk fatigue sets in and you'll be wishing for any environment other than Far Cry: Blood Dragon-esque digital landscapes.
Grappling around levels never feels like it gets tiresome, but it is the only thing you'll do in Cyber Hook. The stages make the most of this concept, but they don't ask you to use the skills you've learned in any interesting or creative ways. Instead, most of the challenges are simply "figure out where the hook goes, et voila". Occasionally, a unique and gimmicky geometric arrangement will ask you to think outside the box - one memorable level is set inside a number of pyramids, for example - but "weird geometric shapes" is about as far as the innovation in Cyber Hook goes.
This isn't helped by the fact that the presentation is relentlessly monotonous. There's a good reason Valve's masterpiece Portal wasn't entirely set within the claustrophobic white rooms of Aperture Science. Eventually, a single type of environment - no matter how pretty - is going to become tiresome. The music, too, is irritatingly repetitive, with only one or two tracks to accompany your sojourns into vaporwave land. Cyber Hook's core gameplay loop is so ridiculously satisfying that these issues merely grate instead of severely damaging the experience, but more music and level design ideas wouldn't have gone amiss.
Cyber Hook Is A Game Of Two Halves
Despite the limited number of different challenges, there are two conflicting level design ideas at play in Cyber Hook. The first is where the game excels: lengthy, open-ended arenas full of objects to grapple onto and no distinct path to help you get through them. The second is unfortunately far more frustrating, consisting entirely of narrow corridors and specific arrangements of obstacles requiring a single chain of jumps and grapples completely free of mistakes. This kind of level just doesn't play into Cyber Hook's strengths, so when I was confronted with another difficulty spike-inducing corridor stage, I heaved a heavy sigh.
Sometimes, these stages come together and feel like clever inversions of the core concept. There were times when figuring out which route to take turned Cyber Hook into a pseudo-puzzle game, but those levels are few and far between. For the most part, the tighter, less free levels are betrayals of one of Cyber Hook's core tenets: momentum. If you can't build up speed in Cyber Hook, the core mechanics reveal themselves to be clunky and annoying. Jumping and navigating levels without the use of the hook to help you go faster simply doesn't feel good.
Thankfully, Cyber Hook spends most of its time iterating on and reinforcing its core concepts of speed, freedom, and movement. Without a wider narrative, though, or any real changes to its core loop, it's clear Cyber Hook is in want of something more substantial to wrap its gameplay concepts around. There is a story, but in the build I played, Cyber Hook glitched out and failed to advance its narrative beyond around the halfway mark. It wouldn't really have mattered if it had, though, because the story is barely there and basically exists to justify the levels' existence.
Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit In Cyber Hook
Given these flaws, it's a good thing Cyber Hook doesn't stick around too long. It simply shows off its core loop, does as much as can be done with it in a short space of time, and takes its leave. This means none of its flaws ever have time to settle and start causing issues. If a level is giving you grief thanks to poor design, it'll be over in a handful of seconds and you can move onto the next one. Wonky physics? Only important until you get another crack at the jump, at which point you'll have mastered the controls and won't struggle.
It's becoming something of a mantra in indie gaming, but Cyber Hook feels more like a proof of concept than a full game. The concept is electrifying - first-person vaporwave parkour platforming - but there's no reason Cyber Hook couldn't have branched out into more visually distinct areas or introduced more obstacle and enemy types. As it stands, though, it's so short that despite these issues you'll still feel like you want more. The central hub is a massive playground full of training obstacles, and just swinging around in that hub can take up a large chunk of your time with Cyber Hook, so fulfilling is the platforming.
The levels themselves sadly feel empty and bare. There are three diamonds to collect for each level, but they're tied into your best time, so they're not in-game collectibles. More things to do in each stage - individual challenges, collectibles to hunt down, variations in layout - would have gone a long way towards increasing Cyber Hook's replayability. It's a pared-down experience that feels more like an Early Access promise than a fully-fledged release. If you're a leaderboard fiend, you might find more longevity here, but for those who like full-fat single-player experiences, Cyber Hook disappoints.
Cyber Hook | Final Thoughts
Cyber Hook is a ludicrously addictive core gameplay loop with very little meat on its bones. The sheer joy of its platforming sustains it through a lot of quibbles, but even across a short running time, it won't take long before repetition and frustration set in. If Cyber Hook wants to compete in the big leagues, it really needs more content. A handful of levels, all of which feel very similar, just isn't enough. Competition and replaying levels to beat earlier times may sustain the experience for you, but it's too repetitive and shallow to truly feel like a must-play.
TechRaptor reviewed Cyber Hook on PC via Steam using a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch.
- Extremely Fun Core Platforming
- Intuitive Visual Design
- Dizzying Sense Of Momentum
- Nowhere Near Enough Content
- Some Levels Feel Frustrating
- Repetition Sets In Quickly