I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - videogames truly are the saviour of the Average Joe. Even the puniest, slobbiest gamer can temporarily be transformed into a burly barbarian, fearless pilot or WAG-baiting footballer, without suffering the inconvenience of regular exercise and giving up KFC bargain buckets for lunch.
Hacker for a day
Hacker Evolution Duality, a new indie game from Exosyphen Systems, does a damn good job of putting you in the oversized pants of a ruthless computer hacker. The entire game is played out on a simple GUI, representing either a map of the world or a localised area depending on the level objectives. Various icons represent scattered servers that you can hack into with a click of the mouse, just like in those techno thriller heist films.
Before you hack a server you need to take down its firewall, using EMP attacks and other assorted underhand methods. You may then need to compromise an extra layer of security, such as a voice recognition test or retina scan. Each of these stages is presented as a mini-game, but most are disappointingly basic and a little boring – once you’ve moved a slider to match some numbers for the hundredth time, it becomes less of a fun diversion and more of an annoyance.
Still, Hacker Evolution’s mini-games are definitely intense, as you’re working against the clock the entire time. As soon as you start hacking a server, the disgruntled owners run a trace. You have a mere 20 seconds to bust your way in and cut off the trace, or else your busted-ometer rapidly rises. Drag your heels too long and it’s game over. Thankfully you can boost your hacking time by adding conquered servers to your network, although this takes the urgency out of subsequent hacks.
There's a decent little narrative at the heart of Hacker Evolution, but most of it comes through in the brief mission updates before each level. For the most part, you'll simply be hacking bigger and stronger systems, until you're powerful enough to take down your main target. While objectives are reasonably varied, and Hacker gives you the illusion of being free to pursue your goals any way you like, there's generally only one workable strategy for each mission. We doubt you'd want to play through Hacker more than once, unless your sadistic tendencies draw you to the 'hard' difficulty setting.
Frankly, we're not sure why difficulty settings exist in this game, as even the 'easy' version is cruel enough to make grown men blubber and wail. After a brief tutorial level, which does a commendable job of teaching you the basics of hacking, you're plunged straight into a merciless cyberworld where rival hackers will pound you into oblivion. Break into another dude's server and he'll immediately turn hostile, bombarding you with EMP attacks until you're mincemeat. In the second level you have two of these ubergeeks double-teaming you, and it took us around a dozen attempts before we finally hacked our target server and uploaded a trojan.
We're well up for a challenge, but when the learning curve is this steep and the levels this linear, we soon tire of repeating the same tasks over and over again. We had a real desire to beat the missions, and the satisfaction when you hack a high-profile target is surprisingly strong. However, we couldn't actually say we had 'fun' with Hacker Evolution.
Conclusion and System Requirements
Still, if the concept appeals and you love high-pressure games, we recommend sampling the Hacker Evolution demo, available now through the official website [www.hackerevolutionduality.com]. System requirements are suitably lenient, asking only for a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM to run smoothly. We had no problem running the game on our two-year-old Sony laptop.