Puzzle games are often fueled by something that makes them unique and more than just riddles to solve. Sometimes, a great story keeps things interesting, other times it's the mechanics, and other times it's VR. In the case of Darknet, it's a little bit of the first one, a helping of the second one, and a whole lot of the third option.
As a VR puzzle game where you play as a hacker stealing secrets from corporations in the digital world. Does it create a unique puzzle experience in VR, or did hackers steal the greatness from it? Time to find out!
Light on Story, Heavy on Gameplay
Darknet's story is contained mostly to its premise. You do get some story in the form of articles you can read that pertain to events in the real world, but that's about the only thing you'll get beyond descriptions of the information you're trying to steal.
I would have loved an awesome sci-fi story in here, but Darknet doesn't need it with how strong the gameplay loop in the game is, and how much fun it is to play.
In the game, you enter into vast webs of data and information which each represent puzzles you can solve. Your ultimate goal is to solve puzzles which are called "nodes" which eventually lead to a root node that contains your target data.
As you solve puzzles, you take over the nodes in the web and earn money to purchase upgrades and useful tools. You can go straight for the target node, but you'll quickly find out that you need to weaken it.
This is done by taking out nodes that protect it called "sentinel" nodes. Beyond these, other defenses include things like firewalls and something called ICE.
The weapons at your disposal include standard viruses, exploits, worms, and an epic tool called the Hydra. These can be purchased and used to take over nodes, break down defenses, and manipulate your control of the web in that level.
Unlike the other tools, viruses themselves reset from puzzle-to-puzzle. This means that purchasing more enhances the maximum number you can use in any given puzzle, thus making you stronger in the hacker sense and able to take out more complex puzzles.
Got that? Good, because now we get to the real gameplay. When you enter a node, you're face with a small webbed grid of dots. Within these dots, there are highlighted blue ones that represent antiviruses.
To play, you inject your virus (or viruses) into one of these antivirus dots and then trigger it to spread. It spreads in every direction, and if it touches another antivirus dot, then a blue wave triggers which will wipe out your virus.
The goal is to get to the core of the puzzle with your virus to take the node for yourself. Since you can upgrade the number of viruses you have, you'll be able to launch multiple waves at once, or wipe out some of the pesky antivirus dots so you can get a clean win.
Furthermore, you can win puzzles by getting to the core before a blue wave takes out your virus. The sheer level of strategy both inside and outside of the puzzles makes the gameplay extremely dynamic and fun to experiment with.
On a personal note, the Hydra weapon is my favorite. It allows you to infiltrate a node you've captured, and then instantly capture all the connected nodes around it that are unprotected. Watching tons of nodes turn from yellow to purple while my money goes up was easily one of the most satisfying moments I've had in a puzzle game.
In between levels, you'll be transported back to a hub where you can purchase upgrades, read news stories from the game's world, and jump into new jobs. There's also a mysterious menu for "advanced" players that seems to require some sort of code.
I like the setup here, but one thing I will say, is that the upgrades come fast and furious, and then come to a grinding halt before you get the last couple. I would have preferred that the pace was consistent throughout, so there's a constant sense of progression.
Even so, it's a small complaint. Now, while I did play a lot of Darknet, I could see it getting repetitive if you play for extended periods. Since most of the upgrades come so quickly, the gameplay loop sets in early on and while the puzzles do change in difficulty as you play different nodes and levels, it doesn't evolve much past this initial concept.
Honestly? That's okay though, because the core concept is so well established, designed, and defined.
A Crisp and Immersive Digital World
Darknet would be a cool puzzle game if it was done in 2D, but it wouldn't be remarkable. With the addition of VR, it becomes an experience everyone should try.
I watched the game for about an hour while my other half, Christina, played it, and then I donned the headset to try it myself. I liked Darknet a lot just watching, but being in VR convinced me that this game deserves to be praised.
The simple cyber graphics work so incredibly in VR and lend themselves to 3D in a great way. For example, when you select a node, a digital portal opens that pulls you into the puzzle. In VR, you stare down a cybernetic tunnel as you travel into the node.
Once inside the puzzle, it curves around you as if you're actually inside of the spherical node. The web itself also looks massive and expansive, lending a huge sense of scale to each of the levels.
This is one of those games that needed to be a VR game, and it's all the better for it. If you're a fan of puzzle games, and you don't mind a lack of story or consistent progression, this is a must-have title for PlayStation VR owners. It's simple, but eloquent and really, really fun.
Final Score: 8.5/10
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 3/14/17
A copy of Darknet was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes