We’ve all done a bit of ‘hacking’ in video games at one point or another, with the whole process typically generalised as a small mini-game that despite being competent would never work on its own as a stand-alone title. Darknet breaks the mould though – from the outside it deceivingly looks a lot like another one of these mini-games, but once you spend a bit of time with all of the hacking elements and their intricacies, you’ll realise there’s a ton of depth to the experience. Most importantly though is that all of this hacking will keep you entertained for hours on end.
The bulk of Darknet is spent solving the intricate puzzles that come with hacking different Nodes (more on that later). Accessing a Node will open up a grid made up of hexagons, with each grid not only varying in size but design too – there’ll be plenty of head movement on the player’s part to simply keep track of everything in front of them, especially in the more complicated grid designs. Each grid has a Main Core as well as a series of Defense Nodes that act as protection.
Your goal on each grid is to take over the Main Core by injecting a virus in the Defense Nodes. Once your virus is activated, it’ll release a burst of colour that emits from the Defense Node in a circular motion, slowly expanding until it either reaches the Main Core, or it hits one of the many uninfected Defense Nodes littered around. If it hits a Defense Node then it’ll activate the anti-virus which will attempt to destroy your virus; it’s possible for your virus to still reach the Main Core if it’s quick enough, but nine times out of ten it’ll mean you have to try again. It’s often just a case of trial and error until you work out the best way to take over a grid, but other times you may just need access to additional viruses to succeed – you start off with just one, but as you progress through a network you’re able to purchase more.
It’s incredibly difficult to summarise just how the puzzling of Darknet works, but once you’ve got through the opening tutorial you’ll find it easy to get to grips with. The tricky difficulty and varying challenges it’ll throw your way keeps things varied though, with the more complicated Nodes taking a good few attempts before you’ll manage to complete them. The extra addition of time-limits keeps things tense too, adding a real sense of urgency to the puzzle solving that’ll keep you on your toes. It’s exciting and the game does a good job of representing hacking in a way that’s not only believable but fun too.
Darknet’s main interface is a network of Nodes that are made up of different sizes. The size represents the difficulty of the hack required to take it over, with the larger Nodes providing a tougher challenge than the smaller ones. Each of the Nodes are inter-connected with all of them leading to one huge Root Node – your main goal is to hack this Root Node.
This Root Node is not only surrounded by a plethora of smaller Nodes, but also has firewalls protecting it too. Taking out these smaller Nodes, destroying these firewalls, and earning the cash to purchase new hacking tools is essential if you’re going to find success. It’s a surprisingly long process to get access to the Root Node so you’ll always want to be prepared if you want to succeed in hacking it.
Taking over each Node and slowly seeing your grip on the network tighten is incredibly satisfying. There’s a real sense of progression to be found as each Node comes under your control, whilst seeing your funds increase and your inventory of hacking tools expand is great too. It keeps the game fun; whilst you’re doing a lot of the same thing, the progressive nature of the game ensures that it never loses its enjoyability. The game keeps throwing plenty of different obstacles in your way too, so there’s always a fresh challenge to take on that keeps things tense and exciting.
Purchasing hacking tools is vital to succeed in Darknet and plays out as a big part of the game. These tools include the Viruses which you need to infect the Defense Nodes, Hydras which automatically hack any un-shielded Nodes in the network, Exploits that dispose of a Node’s firewall, and the Worms which will corrupt a Node but in an unpredictable manner. You’ll earn the cash to purchase these tools by hacking Nodes, though each time you purchase an item they have an increase in price. You need to keep control of your spending and constantly replenishing your funds if you’re going to have any chance of taking over the Root Core.
Whilst I generally found Darknet a pleasure to play, there were a few issues I came across such as the fact that switching between hacking tools requires you to go back to the shop menu and specifically choose each item. I don’t know why there wasn’t a shortcut assigned to selecting an item, especially since there are plenty of unused buttons on the Playstation 4 controller. It might seem like a petty complaint, but when you’re on a time-limit those seconds you waste going to the shop menu can be the difference between success and failure.
The turning mechanics of the game felt a little clunky too, with the screen fading to black and then opening again at a different location of the network. I felt like it not only broke the immersion but made it difficult to navigate the network given that the game’s aesthetic made it hard to differentiate things. This can be countered by the fact there’s 360 degree movement though; it looks really neat in-game with the network essentially wrapping itself around the player. Those who don’t have the ability to turn around freely will find it a little difficult though, whilst the fact the camera needs to see the Playstation 4 controller’s light bar means you always have to be facing the front in order to actually play the game anyway. This again is a minor complaint that doesn’t take anything away from the experience, but was something I noticed nonetheless.
The virtual reality aspects of Darknet work really well, not only in providing an immersive experience but also in a contextual sense too. You are some super hacker after all, so the fact you’re doing it all within the confines of a headset is a nice additional touch to the whole ‘cyber’ vibe the game has going on.
Whilst I think Darknet could work outside of a virtual reality headset, the immersion that it offers makes it a great puzzler as opposed to just a good one. Seeing all of these complicated networks directly in front of you was compelling, even if there isn’t a whole lot of interaction on offer outside of solving the puzzles. It utilises virtual reality in the most simplest of ways, but it just works and feels incredibly fitting. The stationary set up of the game keeps the whole game nausea-free too; Darknet offers a comfortable virtual reality puzzling experience that’s easy to lose hours in without feeling a single discomfort.
Darknet is another great addition to the Playstation VR catalogue, with the game offering hours of enjoyment hacking your way through countless networks. Whilst it doesn’t really utilise virtual reality in an overly complicated way, the immersion it offers by simply corresponding with the theme of the game is fantastic; the ‘cyber’ vibe is perfectly portrayed when you’ve got this whole network feeling like it’s actually spread out around you.
Whether you’re a fan of puzzling or you just want to try something a bit fresh on Playstation VR, I’d definitely recommend giving Darknet a purchase.
Developer: E McNeill
Publisher: Archiact VR
Release Date: 07/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), Oculus Rift