Remember those days when we imagined all the different ways that life would be different inside a computer? Any male product of the 1990’s would remember Reboot: a show whose name is invoked, intentionally or not, when an old series gets updated and made dark and gritty. It was about the denizens of a cyberworld inside a computer where things were fine and happy until some jerk decided to play a game. If that were the case, my computer’s inside city is a post-apocalyptic nightmare ruled over by the churning wheels of a citizen-rending machine known only as Steam. But before all that happy-go-lucky bullshit there was a guy who envisioned a world destroyed by cybernetics and supercomputers. Where the ultra-wealthy elite do as they please with the world, ruling from corporate arcologies where they look down and see an infinite sea of light reflecting the scintillating beauty of the stars above. This vision of the future, as seen in Bladerunner and Shadowrun, is called cyberpunk. Black Ice takes place in the minds of those called hackers, and it is a love letter to that vision of a future age. Garrett, the developer behind this game, shared some of his own thoughts on the inspiration driving this title.
Black Ice was inspired by many things, but mostly Neuromancer by William Gibson and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I wanted to experience the hacking as described in Neuromancer, but I also wanted to find cool loot and blow stuff up. I think it’s obvious that I took a lot of inspiration from Diablo 2 and Quake 3, but I also looked at things like the Android: Netrunner card game and older games like the original Rise of the Triad. I want you to feel dread at what’s going to come out of these servers, to risk it all for the potential of awesome loot. I want you to feel great because you found an awesome ability combo and are wrecking servers that used to give you trouble. I want you to feel OP.
– Garrett, Developer, Black Ice
Jacking into the Supermesh can be a bit overwhelming at first, since you start the game at level 0. The game is far from perfect right now, but it has a good thing going. Check in options that you have the tutorial activated your first run. It will give you an idea where to start, level you up and secure you some first-level loot as well. But after running the tutorial once make sure you don’t have it active anymore, or else it will run every time you play. Irritating. Sure, in most versions of a cyberpunk future you are dealing with a massive computer network cybercomplex known as “the matrix”. Gibson used it, Shadowrun uses it, the Matrix used it: at this point the matrix is an irritating trope, so I am glad someone saw fit to call it something a little different.
Once inside the supermesh you will see block after block of fluorescently lit data archives. These are the servers. Each one is owned by a company or organization and each one holds a dark secret and terrible power, and you can read about them on their little terminals. But don’t get too distracted; there is a lot to get a hold of. Each attack you possess costs you RAM. Think of RAM as stamina in other games: every action you take aside from pressing ‘wasd’ costs RAM. Sure, your RAM replenishes but how quickly depends on your talents. You also have a health bar, experience and an actions hot bar. You can slot actions into your left/right click and numbers 1-5. You will also be able to slot abilities into spacebar and shift. While I went with the age-old gaming medium of shift to run, space to jump, you will certainly have options open as you can slot any ability anywhere. You could have 6 different types of lasers, an icebreaker and a rocket pack and play the whole game that way. Your arsenal depends on your hacking style.
Each of your attacks and abilities is governed by a talent. This is like the character sheet for your standard RPG, but this one is a bit more extensive. There are a lot of things to consider while you are running the supermesh. You have your hacking talents ( hack speed, hack time, hack range) which govern how you attack servers. Increase your hack speed to speed up your hacks. Decrease your hack time so there is less time on the clock when you start the hack. Increase hack range and you get a larger playing field. Now, when you hack a server, you run up to it and activate your icebreaker. Why the fuck is it ice? What is with all the fucking ice?!?!?! Is it cause the ground is light blue like ice or something? No. Fuck no. Those playing Shadowrun are aware that each server deploys Intrusion Countermeasures to detain or kill anyone trying to gain unlawful access to the data on the server. Your icebreaker lets you tunnel into the server and gain access in a matter of seconds. In the meantime, you have to deal with Black Ice, the ICs designed to kill the operator. These are what you shoot, nuke and destroy in the game. You main enemies.
Your next series of talents are what I have dubbed your general talents (Movement speed, Loot Find, RAM, Health) these let you do various things, mostly self-explanatory. You want all of these increased as much as you can get them. Some items increase your RAM incrementally or by a percentage, each is displayed separately. Your next round of talents will be your combat talents ( attack speed, accuracy, critical hit chance, weapon damage, weapon range). Again, all self-explanatory. The last round of talents are really just secondary combat talents (Damage returned, chance to pierce, drunk projectiles, knockback power, homing, chance to ricochet, damage reduced, chance to colorize, RAM returned). A lot of your talents cannot be increased by level, so watch what items you slot. You don’t want to give up an icebreaker that has a nice range if you really need space to move!
Some points to consider while leveling up. While having an ass-load of RAM is good, some abilities will reduce your RAM by a percentage. This means the speed you’ll run out of it will not change ever. So the best stat to level up if you want a good bit of RAM every time you hit that button would be RAM return. This will increase the rate that your RAM bar refills. There are a lot of talents in this game, so don’t be afraid to experiment with each of them.
Personally, I did a lot of experimenting with ways to play this game. For example, nothing is more annoying in battle than being unable to find the attack you want right before some cyberweb crawler leaps at you and takes you out. This is frustrating. So I arranged my abilities and weapons so my attacks would be easier to access. In order to activate my icebreaker, I have to hit 5. Essentially, I cannot hit that button by accident. Your supermesh cybercity will be arranged so that a level 300 server is just next to the level 80 server I want to hack. If I am finishing off the target server and accidentally attack the level 300 server just next to it, I might get my bits scrambled before I can exit the hack range. I have had my bits scrambled a lot, and every time that happens you lose bitcreds, in-game money. So placing my icebreaker in a tough to hit spot helped me stop doing that shit.
Another fun fact you might notice while playing is that you can crack multiple servers simultaneously. This helped immensely when I was level 50 – 70 and was getting bored. Cracking one server at a time is a slow leveling process, and you have a long way to go until you can attack your final server, the aptly named Finality, Inc. It is the giant silver server guarded by a roving warship of doom, called a S.H.A.R.K. and topped with a spinning cybernetic skull. Can’t miss it. Anyway, being able to take several servers at once gave me the ability to level fast as shit. I got from level 51 – 80 in a matter of hours; each server provided a healthy boost of around 1000 exp. Activating several servers simultaneously allowed me to create a giant Venn Diagram of death. Pure magic.
However, I still wasn’t leveling fast enough. I got frustrated and went to the store to sell a fuckload of goods. After cracking a few hundred servers, you inventory gets a little full. So you go to these giant solid-colored store servers. I hadn’t bought anything until level 47 and boy was I surprised when I did. I realized that I could buy some crazy missile attack that allowed me to blow up anything in sight. I also got a secondary, slow-firing shotgun attack that fired missiles instead of pellets. That shit hurt a lot. Now I was cracking 2 servers twice my level. At my best around level 50 I was able to take down a level 110 server and a level 160 server at once. Anything more than that and it gets really dicey. These attacks even let me take on the dreaded sharks, and that got me even stronger weaponry, since Finality Inc is a level 500 server.
Now I am pushing level 99 and I am able to take on three level 150 servers at once, but I generally just take a level 175 server and a few smaller ones with it. An important factor to note in server crashing is that when you attack more than one server at once, each server’s ICE will attack the others. This means that if you grab a spam server, all the other ICs will be bogged down trying to fight the little guys. Most other servers will kill off a spam server for you, and you can just watch. Granted, you would normally get experience per kill. If ICs kill eachother, you get nothing for it, however, you will still get the exp when the server goes down and the loot inside. But this means that you can use two or three larger servers against eachother, but be careful! Each server is killing each server and any IC not engaged in combat will lock into you if close enough, so it is best to keep within the range of enemies you can feasibly take down. I still shy away from servers at the upper 200 levels. Utilize these tactics well and you will turn all your enemies into a neat little pile of cybernetic death confetti, just make sure not to get your bits scrambled in the process.
Black Ice is a great game, but it is in pre-release status, so it is far from perfect. It has a modern-classic feel to it, though, and will definitely get you back to reading some Neuromancer. It is available on Steam right now for a cool 9.99$. Not bad considering it is a good time. At the moment you’ll be plowing through servers like you’re some kind of bit drinking data vampire after a camping trip in the Australian outback, but it is a lot of fucking fun. My favorite thing is standing on top of a server, looking out and seeing the ghostly outlines of the numerous servers I’ve crashed. Sometimes destruction is its own form of creation. This is another game that includes a photo-sensitive mode designed to aide those suffering from light-sensitive seizures that still want to enjoy it. For those that care, this one is firmly planted in my favorites on Steam.
I was driven up a wall by one thing in this game, and it wasn’t the web crawlers. The thing about this game that got me so frustrated is the distinct lack of anything. It is a lot like being in an actual server: lights, a droning noise some soundtrack but there is no life! Can we have the game elements of this one already?! I mean I don’t want to go trade war stories with Mr. Rodgers or anything, but when I am cracking servers just to have someone to associate with, you know there should be a little more variation. Whatever, maybe I can just go hang out at Finality, Inc. Live every week like it’s shark week!