Having been on the market for almost 6 months now, virtual reality headsets are really starting to find their place in the market. It is becoming abundantly clear that there are certain genres which just seem to work better than others when implemented with VR.
One genre which has become a real staple is puzzle games. While there have already been some good puzzle games on the PlayStation headset, there is still room for a game to take the crown of the first truly memorable one. And while Darknet may not be this game, it’s pretty damn close.
Darknet is a strategy puzzle game where you play a hacker tasked with infiltrating cyberspace by injecting viruses into the various security systems. The game is made up of interconnected nodes, each containing its own puzzle of varying difficulty. The goal is to successfully connect a point of light to the point in the centre of the grid without touching any of the obstacles in your way. The only way to do this is to use the various tools at your disposal. Viruses are essentially how many chances you get per puzzle, hydras eliminate whole chains of nodes without the need of hacking, and exploits remove shields, making hacking easier.
In Darknet, each successful hack rewards the player with money which can then be used to purchase the tools mentioned previously. This is where the majority of the strategy comes in. After each successive purchase, tools become more expensive, meaning that they must be used sparingly. Use a power up in the wrong place and you risk losing valuable time needed to complete the level. Tokens are rewarded on completion of each level which can be spent on permanent upgrades which make hacking easier.
The gameplay is solid and falls into a good rhythm very early on. After an initial tutorial section, the game quickly finds its groove. Some nodes contain key data which is worth more money but are heavily protected as a result. Planning a route through the interconnected nodes is key and keeps each level fresh despite a slight lack of visual variety. As the game progresses, the levels become more complicated. But there is never too much of a challenge. This is the main problem with the game because despite rewarding the player with upgrades, the game never gets difficult enough to warrant them. In my time playing the game, I never failed a level, not even close.
Darknet was originally released on Oculus Rift last year and has finally made its way to PSVR. The game remains mostly unchanged, although some of the screen transitions have been removed to ease player discomfort. I would have preferred to have these features left in, with the option to turn them off in the menu. While I understand the need to take comfort into account, players are well versed enough in the ins and outs of their headsets by now to decide for themselves.
The main area in which Darknet shines is in its gameplay. From the outset the mechanics are simple enough to grasp while still being deep. The act of hacking is incredibly smooth and feels great in the 360 degree environments.
The visuals are also great. From the menus to the hacking levels themselves, the stylised futuristic art style is a great setting in virtual reality. Of course, the game doesn’t need to be in VR, but certainly benefits from the ability to look all around you and plan your path.
There are also interesting story elements to experience. Delivered via text updates which are unlocked after each level, the story tells an intriguing tale involving political conspiracy and espionage. It’s fairly engrossing stuff, but ultimately secondary to the puzzle-based gameplay.
Darknet is a solid addition to the PlayStation VR’s already great roster of puzzle game. Its rewarding gameplay loop and enticing visuals are enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, even if there isn’t too much of a challenge to be had.