If You Could Hack A Timex Sinclair 1000...

Few modern games really nail the feeling of a 1980s computer game.  Sound and graphics wind up being too simple or advanced, gameplay is too evolved for the era, and there just isn't enough authenticity.

Yet 868-HACK totally represents the 80s video game experience, treading a fine line between retro and revolutionary.

As the player plays for the first time, a slowly printing computer screen brings back memories to those who used PCs and networked terminals in the 80s.  Ghostly green lettering portrays a login into a forbidden mainframe before other colorful lettering hints at the computer's lurking countermeasures: glitches, daemons, cryptogs and viruses.   Within seconds, the gamer is taking part in a tutorial area, draining cells for cash and energy resources, fighting virtual enemies by flinging data, and cracking progs for resource-powered skills.

The game takes place on a 6x6 grid of black and green.  Players move a yellow smiley across the grid and fire beams through swipe motions.  Data siphons, shown as small "have a nice day" faces, show up in pairs in each level.  These can be used to drain open squares of energy and cash, trigger blocks, or a combination.  Prog and score blocks glimmer, with program names and values adorning each.  When a score block is siphoned, its points are added to players' totals, but this value also roughly equals the number of electronic guardians that are summoned in response.

The combination of virtual enemies makes 868-HACK an unpredictable, trick-filled combat across the grid.  Daemons are dumb opponents with three hit points and often win by attrition.  Glitches can travel across all blocks, while the player usually can't.  Fortunately a prog called Debug can cook Glitches on blocks.  Viruses are twice as fast as the player, and can move and attack in the same turn.  It is still possible to use their extended range against them because they always have to move two squares.  Cryptogs are passive-aggressive, often vanishing, reappearing, and sometimes attacking a short distance away.

There are a total of eight areas to hack before the player can make it out alive.  Mere data-hurling isn't a solution; progs need to provide skills to make the kills.  Basic abilities include sliding through blocks, destroying specific enemy types, healing, forcing enemy movement, scoring points, and pushing.  If you're a cheater, you can unlock additional progs with some game-bending extras.  Should you regret this, it's also possible to re-lock them, leaving the basics.  Once you clear the game for the first time, which takes a Herculean effort, one extra prog type will show up in the game, but you won't be able to unlock others en masse anymore.

I've enjoyed playing 868-HACK very much.  The glowering synthesized music, electronically altered mouth noises, and bursts of white noise keep strategic resource gathering and deployment a dramatic, oddly amusing process.  The challenge begins as unforgivingly as a self-important coder and the difficulty ramps up like a population graph.  That there are only eight rooms shouldn't deter you from playing, or scare you to Zaga-33; HACK is a non-stop fight for virtual supremacy and a fiendishly unique diversion.

It Starts Out Easy...

868-HACK: Early Moments
Credit: Lionel Houde

A typical opening screen from 868-HACK: slow-paced, easy-going.

...And Then All Hell Breaks Loose

868-HACK: Early Moments
Credit: Lionel Houde

Typical higgledy-piggledy from later on.  Free puzzle: assuming no other enemies show up, could this player survive all 11 monsters?

Lionel's Game Rating:

868-HACK Lionel 2013-11-14 5.0 0 5