Media in the late 90s and early 2000’s really popularized the hacker mythos, and shows like Mr. Robot keep the image of elite computer hackers in the mainstream. Midnight Protocol takes that concept, takes away your mouse, and puts you in the role of a hacker—will you use your cyber powers for good, or for your own personal gain?
Midnight Protocol is a puzzle game that meets right at the intersection of narrative and role-playing. In it, you play as Data (which is plural, “Datum” would have been more appropriate, perhaps), an infamous hacktivist who has recently had to deal with the fallout of his doxing. Getting back on the horse, you’re given a series of hacking tasks by your old associates. Soon you’ll be making new contacts and stealing finances from corporations as you try to expose a scheme that is larger than it appears from the outside. Oh yeah, and all of this is done from your keyboard.
There are no mouse controls in Midnight Protocol, which can feel a little strange at first. I’m old enough to remember booting programs from DOS without a modern graphic user interface, and games like GTFO keep the keyboard terminal alive. But I’ve never played a game that makes you play solely by using your keyboard. It’s an interesting design, and it helps immerse you into Midnight Protocol’s version of hacking.
In Midnight Protocol most of the actual gameplay takes place in cyberspace, with the hacking game. If you’re ever played either of the two more recent Deus Ex games (Human Revolution and Mankind Divided) then you’ll think that Midnight Protocol’s hacking looks familiar. And that’s not a bad thing. I really liked the hacking minigame in Deus Ex Human Revolution, and while Midnight Protocol isn’t an exact copy of it, it has a lot of similarities. As soon as you start making movement, you’ll be tracked by a trace program. This trace program has a number of “ticks” before it finds you. You can attempt to avoid the trace by using programs, or beat it by brute forcing your way through the system.
Each hacking challenge works a bit like a timed puzzle. You can move from node to node, with some nodes being a bridge while others have things to steal, or other tricks like the ability to lower your trace level. Using text commands, you move from node to node, stealing whatever money or data you can before you’re caught. Moving between nodes is dangerous, however—certain programs can be set up to catch hackers such as yourself—and you can see them by using a sniffer program to catch them, and using another program to break down the barrier or trap that has been placed for you.
Using programs uses resources, however. At first, you’ll have eight “slices” of resources to use with your programs. Programs usually require a minimum amount of slices, with some programs able to be augmented by adding more slices to them. If you’re using Daggers to break down an ICE barrier, for instance, you can input the command Max Daggers and it’ll put all available slices into your Daggers program.
While everything in Midnight Protocol is done via keyboard, it’s not completely text-based—but it’s mostly text based. The hacking environment is represented by 3D images, but you still move around using keyboard commands. While you’re not hacking, you have a simple user interface that allows you to answer e-mails (though your answers are canned), search the black market for new software, hardware, or challenges, and find the list of available targets to hack.
While interfacing with hacking targets, you’ll be able to make decisions that can affect your game. That means that Midnight Protocol has a morality system—sort of. If you find evidence you can send to the police, or let a company know about an exploit, you might just start earning yourself Grey or White Hats. If you’re in it for yourself, and exploit and take—you’ll learn more Black Hat. These different designations work as levels, and the further into one you are, the more you’re able to get abilities (usually software) that complement your chosen path.
While Midnight Protocol bills itself as a tactical role-playing game, I’d argue it’s more like a puzzle game. There are choices you can make, and skills you can use, but for the most part each of the hacking challenges is more like a puzzle than a fight against an AI adversary. Though , story-wise, there are a number of adversaries you’ll have to contend with.
Midnight Protocol has a story which is mostly told through e-mails, and sometimes chat interactions. While you’re facing off against more capable digital hackers, you’ll have to deal with glitching screens with neon threats or taunts emblazoned across them.
I genuinely appreciate the change of pace Midnight Protocol provided me. If you’ve ever been interested in jumping into a “hacking” game, but found some of them too dense or hard to get into, Midnight Protocol is probably one of the easier ones to get into. It does require you to input commands, but the commands are very simple, and available to peruse with a simple “help” command. You can even type “help” followed by whatever program (or other command) and it’ll explain how to use it—and even provide shortcuts. If you wanted to start the “Cloak” program with all of your initial eight slices into it, you can input “Cloak +8,” though you can always adjust slices later with a slup or sldown command. I enjoyed my time with Midnight Protocol, and recommend it for anyone who wants to play hacktivist without getting on a real-life list.
Midnight Protocol is available tomorrow on Steam.
A Steam key was provided to us for this review.
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