Uplink Author: T_H_Schafer -- Posted: 2011-01-25
In an industry focused on churning out massive international hits with state of the art graphics and gargantuan budgets the little guys often get left out in the cold. But with a growing independent games market, it's becoming clear that it doesn't take overwhelming production values to produce a slick, interesting, smart, addictive, and most importantly-fun game nowadays. Uplink shines in areas that big budget games rarely do as the experience is mostly cerebral. You'll use your faux hacker intellect to break into security systems in the name of your cyber overseers at Uplink as an Uplink agent. You'll delete files, apprehend files, change bits of data etc. etc. If your actions are discovered Uplink will disavow any knowledge of you and destroy your remote terminal, so give it a go, it's all good.
After a relatively brief tutorial where the player is familiarized with the interface, Uplink engrosses the player with missions and a suitable plot concerning billion dollar corporations and money and hacking. As you play you'll have opportunities to take on missions with greater difficulty, upgrade your gateway for greater processor speeds and the like while hoping you don't get busted by the government for hacking. Each hacking activity you encounter comes down to a sort of multi-step puzzle you have to solve. This involves connecting to the target terminal, cracking codes or bypassing firewalls which takes time depending on how you've upgraded your system / software, deleting, changing or copying information, deleting log files and disconnecting before you are traced. Your own security software monitors how close you are to being caught leading to tense ticking clock moments where you must formulate a plan and every action you take must be efficient. The game has a great sense of progress and is very playable at short durations of five to ten minutes. What this does is allow the player to start again and progress quickly if they are discovered whilst in the midst of an illegal hacking session. This could happen often too. If you're not careful and forget to cover your tracks your gateway will be destroyed along with your progress and username.
This is something Uplink does sort of well. If you are busted, you'll have to start over but all is not lost. Getting the hang of the different processes which must be learned for particular missions is half the game. After you learn to do ever more intricate actions, you start to really feel like a hacker elite. Restarting can be a pain, but being able to breeze by the first dozen missions after progressing farther is probably how the game should be played. Uplink doesn't hold your hand too tight. If you fail, you fail. It is akin to games or yesteryear where the challenge becomes ever more difficult and the risks increase right along with it. This might be something that modern games have given up on purpose as today's average gamer yearns for a smooth experience right out of the gate but it certainly feels warranted in a game like this one. What fun would it really be if you were able to hack super secure government computers without running any risks? I don't think it would be very fun at all, personally.
That isn't to say that Uplink is meant for everyone. Certainly new game conventions have their merit and Uplink can definitely be frustrating as it strives for its own path. After failing a few times it might be hard to get back into the game but the rewards offered for doing so are there, they only demand some effort on the part of the player. The entire experience is duel natured. You don't have to spend more than a couple minutes at a time to have fun with Uplink. You can play it in short bursts simply to enjoy the different hacking gameplay elements but if you dive into it you'll quickly find that there is a deep end too. The story doesn't reach out and expose itself, you'll have to keep track of the news pages provided in the game to access it and if you aren't interested you can practically bypass it all together in favor of simply hacking and upgrading.
The simple brilliance of Uplink is in its ability to include an astonishing amount of atmosphere with such little visual input. The world it creates includes the player in that you are the main character, your computer is your computer and you use it to access the make believe world of Uplink while you merrily hack your way into confidential files and bank accounts. I was surprised at how tense it felt to fail a mission, the way it made me feel exposed and caught was unlike most any other game I have yet to experience. For all the clever ways of engrossing the player, the genuinely fun way the game lets you pretend to be a big shot hacker and the minimal visuals and sound assert that the team at introversion really know what they are doing. They do it well and they do it differently and whether or not a game like Uplink appeals to the masses doesn't really matter because the game is a testament to smart game design.