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Monday, March 05, 2007

Game Play: Uplink

There's a side story to all this which I'll get into later today - but over the weekend I started to cruise around for non PlayStation 2 orientated material and ended up downloading two demos for the Mac which had failed me before but now worked flawlessly - Darwinia and Uplink.

I only got so far into Darwinia so I'll wait on that for later. I played several hours of Uplink, however. This game is somewhat old so most are probably familiar with the premise - you are a hacker/cracker for hire and run missions in a streamlined network OS simulation. Make money, upgrade your software and hardware - try not to get caught.

More on that last bit in a while.

If there's anything fascinating about Uplink it would be the overall framework. It's a lot like an RPG or a roguelike without being either. Take away the map and combat system and replace it with a robust mission setup and what essentially boils down to time-based puzzles which require a little concentration and a lot of mousework. Some missions require more steps and tools to complete while others quickly become a simple and repetitive exercise.

And there's a lot of repetition to Uplink. It has its own version of level grind. It also has a version of permadeath. In some ways it's one of the better implementations of permadeath in a recent game. If you run a mission too sloppy - allow a trace to get too close or forget to clear out the right log files - you'll get busted and usually disavowed by the company. It ups the ante in trying new missions considerably and the risk is a good portion of the fun.

My problem with the endgame of Uplink is the almost complete lack of feedback on how you failed. An anonymous company files a complaint and you are gone. You don't know what company, what hack they caught or how they caught it. Because of this the learnng curve on Uplink isn't just difficult - but invisible as well. There's no chance to learn from your mistakes.

Instead, you just have to read up on the (real) Internet for tips on what you did wrong. Thankfully there seems a small sample of tips to help you stay in the clear - but still it feels cheap to have to Google how to play the game right.

It's a great game and a format I wish more people would play around with (myself included) - but don't be shy about researching the game's ins and outs online before jumping into it.

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