Darknet is unassuming in its complexity. This works to its advantage as much as it holds it back, resulting in an intriguing yet flawed experience entirely its own–especially within the VR atmosphere. You are a hacker attempting to breach some of the world’s most secure networks from inside the internet. And that’s…pretty much all you get for a narrative before being thrusted into the wild, digital unknown.
Among Darknet‘s best qualities is the character of its aesthetic. Neither hacking or programming are picturesque in nature, but Darknet presents itself in a vivid and colorful way. Each level surrounds you with a web of colored nodes of various sizes–access points you can hack into. Strategic decisions are required immediately upon entering the internet as each node selected equates to a chess move. If you want to get the bounty reward for hacking into a secure system, you’ll have to hack the level’s giant core before time runs out. And to do that, you’ll have to traverse the web with tactical, deliberate intention.
Once inside a node, you’ll be faced with a grid of hackable entry points. Select a location to implant a virus, select the core in the middle, sit back and watch the virus spread. If your virus–denoted by the spreading color purple–runs into another light blue connection within the web of entry points, the secure system will defend against the cyber attack by turning everything purple back to light blue (uninfected). If the expanding purple virus can reach the core in the middle before this happens, however, then the node is hacked and it’s onto the next one.
Successfully hacking a node turns it purple, making it vulnerable to some pretty devastating power-ups gained along the way. But efficiently navigating towards the core of a level is only seemingly simple.
Anti-virus software and firewalls provide shields and other roadblocks to overcome along your cyber journey. Firewalls will surround the core inside a node with a layer of protective green points. Before the core can be reached, a virus must reach one of these green points to eliminate it. Complications quickly compile depending on how many firewalls guard a node–the more firewalls, the more viruses you’ll need to be able to hack it without wasting too much time. Certain shielded nodes will provide its connecting nodes with a shield, as well, so identifying and eliminating the source of this protection is paramount–and, if unprepared, downright frustrating in difficulty.
Every node has a monetary value associated with it; hack enough nodes and you’ll soon have yourself a cyber arsenal of hacking abilities. Exploits, hydras, worms, and more viruses can be purchased through the in-game menu, each with their own potential for efficacy. Hydras are handy when the smaller nodes are no longer worth the time they take to hack; it infects every unshielded, connected node from a node already hacked and grants you their rewards. But balancing your monetary income from successful hacking attempts with your purchases and your use of them? That alone is an entire stratagem separate from figuring out which nodes to hack before actually hacking them in a timely manner. If you want enough currency from bounties to unlock extra features and game modes, an incredible amount of planning must go into every plan of attack.
After a few hours, however, sitting and waiting becomes more apparent as a primary gameplay element in Darknet. Map out your sequence of actions, watch it happen, fail, repeat, win.
The learning curve here is steep since you’re thrown into the internet without much direction. With each trial and error comes a more hurried, lackadaisical approach to solving the puzzle as you try to complete the level before the timer runs out. If you don’t hack the main core in time, you get no bounty. The only reward in this scenario is your own sense of accomplishment for completing the level, and that alone is not enough to maintain interest for long. Strategy is all too quick to vacate under the stress of tight time constraints—especially when you have to sit there and wait for each hacking attempt to process at its own pace.
Now, this is where Darknet’s vibrant visuals would take over to make fascinating the brilliance of your cyber attack, but the game almost overcompensates for its inactive periods of spectating. The colors are so vivid that prolonged periods of play can really put some strain on the eyes. After an hour or two, you’ll feel like you’ve been staring at a neon sign.
This is a smart game about counting numbers while you wait for colors to change. In Darknet, logic reigns supreme; speedy intellect is almost a requirement to maximize enjoyment. If you’re the type to play chess with a chess clock, this game seems tailored for you. For others, it feels more akin to a point-and-click adventure masked in cyber warfare.
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