Tonight I spent a couple hours playing Black Ice, a “hack and slash” early access game in development by Super Duper Garret Cooper, quite possibly the best-named company on the planet. It’s a game that smacks heavily of Tron and Neuromancer, where you either build your way up to the title of Console Cowboy by jacking in and derezzing virtual enemies or you get iced by the defenses of the programs that you’re hacking.
This game has a lot of fun stuff going for it while still remaining very user friendly. Playing (and winning) the game consists simply of dropping in, selecting a building, and shooting the hell out of whatever happens to pop up. But it offers a wide degree of customization by throwing a plethora of equippable trinkets, abilities, weapons and minions at you.
Basically, you jack into the network, and you’re dropped in the middle of a multitude of virtual buildings, each with brief descriptions of the company that they represent. It’s your job to hack these buildings, dispatching any defenses (in the form of spiders, scorpions, “Ghost in the Shellfish” and aimbots) as you do. Your ultimate goal is to hack Finality, Incorporated, which has a ridiculously high difficulty. The only way to do that is start at the bottom, sludging through the 1 and 2 difficulty programs until you find a couple big guns and drop a few points into your talents. Then you move on to the 10s and 20s. Rinse and repeat.
This game feels very similar to Diablo in a lot of ways. You’re exploring a fairly vast world, but at the same time you aren’t really going anywhere. As you reach new levels of power, you continue on to the next stages of difficulty, combing through tons of equipment to assist you all the while. The game’s blurb describes itself as “Borderlands meets Tron,” which is also fairly apropos.
There isn’t a lot of “hacking” (of either the computer or sword variety); instead, you simply initiate a countdown sequence and then proceed to blast everything in sight with lasers, which is also good. The game developer seems fairly active, and the game is moddable, so new features will probably continue to trickle in over time. But for now, the most complicated part of the game is sorting through all of the items that you pick up and checking if their passive bonuses are worth swapping out.
The game is largely without a story at this point. But it gives you a real sense of accomplishment through your equipment progression. You start out doing 5, 10 damage per shot, but once you start leveling up and dumping your talent points into damage and finding bigger and badder weapons, the numbers start ticking through the roof. It makes you feel like you’re really getting some heavy-duty murdering done. The different categories of weapons are easy to learn, easy to use, fun to look at, and really fun to blow things up with.
Multiplayer is fun, but could do with some tweaking. There are currently no ownership properties to the game, so if someone starts the process of hacking a program, anyone can come along and start destroying enemies with reckless abandon. That’s great if you’re just playing with your friends and everyone is having a good time. But the moment a Level 4,000,000 hacker joins the server, hellbent on destroying any semblance of fun (welcome to the internet), you’re going to be out of luck. I will admit that since I’m playing from Korea and my ping is 500+, I only got to play on one public server with one other person. Still, it was a good time, and I can see this game being entertaining for a group of friends.
My only problem with the game was that the monsters are color coded so that they match each building that you hack. That’s a great, straight-forward system. But since they’re the exact same shade of flourescent pink as the hundreds of tiny glowing blocks that they spew out when I shotgun them, they can sometimes be hard to track, especially with all the bright outlines that surround you at all times.
Overall, although Black Ice is a little on the basic side right now, it can only continue to get better as it progresses through development. As it stands, it’s a simple and fun game that’s easy to drop into and spend a lot of time on. You don’t have to sink 100 hours into learning how to walk down a hallway before it gets fun. You don’t have to know C++ to excel at the game. You just have to know how to point and click and how long you can wait before you really need to go to the bathroom.