This review was conducted on Daydream, but Darknet is also available on HTC Vive, Gear VR, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR.
Looking at the glowing blue nodes in front of me, I'm very aware of my mission. I need to hack my way through the smaller nodes, break through the shields, isolate the root node and hack my way into the information that this corporation has been trying to hide away. I can see the clock out the periphery of my vision counting down slowly until I'll run out of time and have to abandon the job. Thankfully, I've got plenty of time and the tools I need to get it done. After deploying an exploit that knocks the shield off of a nearby node, I dive in throwing viruses out onto the grid and watching as I capture the prize. The root node is within my reach now, and I knock it out securing the intel I was sent for. This is Darknet.
A cyberpunk future awaits
Darknet has you taking on the role of a hacker in a future, where folks will pay big bucks in order for you to steal information from the web. It's a dark cyberpunk future and everything you do rotates around your hacking activities. After being introduced to the basics during the opening mission, you'll be able to choose each one that you take. Every mission has information about how much you'll get paid for succeeding, the difficulty, and the time it takes to complete it.
Before you can hack a node you'll need to purchase a virus or two.
The money you receive from missions can be used to buy yourself a variety of upgrades for future missions. These include increasing your starting money on each mission and unlocking the worm program to help you while hacking. After receiving a modest amount from the tutorial, you'll quickly be thrown into your first timed mission.
The bulk of gameplay in Darknet is contained within the two hacking screens. You have the full mission which is full of brightly lit geometric nodes. You need to hack your way through to the root node which is huge and filled with a spinning white shape. In order to get close to the root node, first, you'll need to start with a smaller unprotected node and work your way over. Before you can hack a node and capture it though, you'll have to purchase a virus or two.
Once you're armed with a virus, you pick a node, jump in and are met with the real puzzles within this game. You're shown a grid map — the more difficult the puzzle, the larger the grid — with a glowing core ithat you need to launch viruses to capture. You choose one of the small blue glowing hexagons to launch your virus, at which point it spreads. Your virus and it's spread is indicated in pink and grows by magnitude. However, if it hits a glowing blue section it will fight back, canceling out the spread of your virus.
You'll need to carefully decide which hexagons you detonate, and you can choose to fire off your viruses in stages once you've purchased several. This becomes mandatory in the more complicated puzzles, which include firewalls — green glowing hexagons that protect the core — along with bombs that can go off, and barriers you'll have to contend with.
Use the weapons at your disposal
You get access to four different types of tools to use while hacking, and you'll need to use all of them strategically in order to complete each mission you take on. While you can capture some earlier nodes with just one or two viruses, you may soon find yourself picking up five or six of them to effectively capture more difficult puzzles. You also have access to Exploits which destroy firewalls around protected nodes, Hydras that will capture unprotected nodes without having to solve puzzles, and Worms can make it easy to knock through security on a node making it easier to capture.
At time capturing smaller nodes is absolutely crucial.
Each of these will help you with a different aspect of the puzzle, but you'll have to purchase each one. While the viruses you collect are reusable, all of the other weapons are simply one-time use. You'll also have to repurchase all of your items each time you start a new level. While all of these programs start out fairly inexpensive, they increase in price with each one that you buy. This means that you'll be juggling between having enough viruses to properly capture a node, against having enough money to purchase the programs you need.
This becomes doubly true when you start to look at higher level nodes armed with multiple firewalls. At time capturing smaller nodes is absolutely crucial, just for the payout you get in return. That money is absolutely required, and if you play your cards right and release a Hydra you can collect the payout for seven or eight unprotected nodes without having to use up your time in the process.
Keep an eye on the time if you want to succeed
Time plays an important, but an understated point in the game. Each mission after the tutorial is timed, and if you fail to complete the mission before the timer runs out you'll lose out on your payout, along with losing prestige. While it definitely seems like you have plenty of time when you get started if you have issues with the puzzles required to successfully hack a node you can easily eat through the time allotted to finish the mission. That's because you have an unlimited number of tries to complete the puzzle in a node, and on a particularly difficult one, it can take 15 minutes without you even realizing it.
This is why it's important to decide on a strategy that gets you to the root node as effectively as possible. I failed my second mission due to this exact problem. Because I hadn't kept an eye on the time — and I bought too many Hydra programs leading to some cash flow problems — I found myself too far away to reach the node in time. After that, I made sure to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each level devising a game plan. Since the timer on the mission doesn't start until you begin hacking, this gives you time to survey your surroundings and figure out a plan.
Wrapping it up
Darknet delivers a fun game that is easy to pick up, and much harder to master. With the steadily increasing difficulty, and the way that this game encourages you to plan and think ahead, it's a must play for those who love a game that teases their brain. The mechanics are easy to pick up and translate very well to the Daydream controller, delivering a fun and nearly flawless experience. Available for $9.99, you get a great experience without a hefty price tag.
- Easy to learn controls and mechanics.
- Interesting puzzle mechanics.
- Difficulty level increases gradually.
- Some puzzles become extremely difficult.
- Some levels require you to think four or five levels ahead.