Welcome to the DARKNET! A dangerous place in cyberspace where products and services are exchanged for cold hard bitcoin. You are an elite hacker on a mission to steal data. Fully immersed into your VR cyberspace console you  deploy viruses, worms and exploits in order to complete your mission before your signal gets traced and your flawless hacker reputation is in jeopardy. Darknet is an exciting puzzle / strategy game and after being available on all major VR platforms it finally made its way to Daydream!

Gameplay

Darknet was heavily influenced by cyberpunk classics and it shows. Thanks to VR you can finally feel like delving deep into the codebase of the Matrix, TRON, Ready Player One or whatever cyber phantasy you always dreamed of immersing yourself in.

Once you start the game you will be greeted by an in depth tutorial and you will need it. The game does have a quite steep learning curve but once you understand how it works Darknet is simply so much more satisfying than for example all those match 3 puzzle games.

In the main view you are surrounded by nodes that represent the network that you are about to hack. One of those nodes contains the data that you are about to steal but this main node is the toughest to crack because it is secured by firewalls.

Each node holds a certain monetary reward that you receive once you hack it. In the beginning you only have a very limited number of viruses that you can use to inject into nodes in order to compromise them. You will need to start with hacking the weakest and smallest nodes first in order to earn more money which in term will allow you to purchase more viruses, worms and exploits to weaken the network.

Once you decide which node to hack you click on it and teleport into that node. The actual process of hacking involves strategically deploying your viruses into subnodes, either at the same time or consecutively. Your virus will spread until it reaches the central node and you successfully hacked the node – or until you reach another subnode and your hacking attempt is being shut down by security. This is the main gameplay mechanism and it is surprisingly deep because your decisions on how many subnodes to infect at the same time and which ones will decide if you are successful or not. Things are even spiced up by additional security firewalls that protect the central core for more high profile nodes and overall there is a time limit within you have to complete your mission.  If you cannot finish in time your signal gets traced back and you lose reputation and won’t be able to earn the bounty you came for.

Gameplay is as addictive as it could be and in my first hands-on in which I normally check out new games for 10 minutes I was hooked within the Darknet for more than an hour until my batteries died.

Presentation

Darknet looks as good as a strategy puzzler set in cyberspace could look like. The network around you is busy, nodes are pulsating, firewalls are rotating and animations when entering a node look cool. It’s just how you imagine a cyberpunk game to look like. However, of course the graphics won’t stun you with a diversity like in Eclipse – Edge of Light for example. But for a strategy game that is forgivable. If I could give the developer one suggestion on how to improve the presentation though it would be to include some kind of explosion animation after you have successfully hacked a node. This would make it much easier to keep track of which area of the network you had been working on. Sometimes when you come back to the big overview of the network after you have hacked a node, you will first lose orientation and an additional animation could prevent that.

What greatly adds to the overall atmosphere of the game is the synthesized voice output that will not only lead you through the tutorial but will accompany you throughout the game. The voice sounds like how science fiction movie directors of the 80s and 90’s imagined talking computers must sound like and I really enjoyed listening to it.

Overall I would label the presentation as polished and matching with a functionality that does not distract you from the main game but that also won’t blow you away.

Immersion

Darknet is not a port of a 2D game. It was developed specifically for VR. And the game works great in VR. You are immersed into the network and thankfully those networks to be hacked happen to be spheres! A lucky coincidence? Most probably not because being within the network and finding out about its weak links by looking all around you just adds to the feeling that you are in cyberspace.
The main gameplay mechanics are so good though that they would also work great as a 2D game. However, being in VR just fits really well to the cyberpunk esthetics  of Darknet and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

Comfort

There is no camera movement in Darknet whatsoever and the overall presentation is so pleasant that you won’t have any problems concerning comfort. You will actually feel so deeply immersed into cyberspace and your mission at hand that you will spend hours playing Darknet

Final Thoughts

Darknet is an exciting cyber hacking game that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anybody who is even only slightly interested in strategy puzzlers. The gameplay mechanics work incredibly well and once you have fully mastered them you will be surprised by what kind of depth they offer. The game works great in VR and thanks to the medium you feel like you are immersed into the deep inner workings of the Matrix, hacking it’s very core in order to enforce your agenda. The game’s $10 price of admission is very well worth it and should not prevent you from living your darkest hacker phantasies.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Gameplay
9
Presentation
8
Immersion
8
Comfort
9
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Sebastian is an early Virtual Reality evangelist and the founder of Daydream District. Covering the Daydream platform from Day 1, Daydream District aims to become the home for all of the Daydream community and source of the most trusted news and reviews about Google's VR platform.

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