868-Hack review

Your smiley-faced avatar won’t be cheerful for long. Even by the standards of the genre, Michael Brough’s cyberspace roguelike is formidably tough, its 6×6 grids inducing claustrophobia as the rumbles and squawks of its ambient soundtrack conjure a sinister, oppressive atmosphere. And somehow another attempt – and another, and another – proves strangely difficult to resist.

Your objective is to pass through eight data sectors. Each houses two siphons: collect these and you can deploy them to earn cash and energy from the surrounding squares, or to gain abilities, used by expending said resources, from data nodes. Activating these, however, releases more enemies. Viruses move two spaces for every turn you take; glitches can pass through nodes to get to you. You can zap them, but each attack uses up a turn, and without judicious use of your limited resources, you’ll soon be surrounded.

Simply surviving to the end is a challenge in itself, but that won’t earn you a place on the leaderboards. Instead, you’re graded by the total points you earn from triggering special nodes: the higher the number, the more enemies will be released. This wonderfully devious piece of design is typical of 868-Hack as a whole; Brough’s distinctive lo-fi visual signature belies a game that’s been meticulously thought through. As a result, it’s perhaps easier to admire than to enjoy, but those who are prepared to meet its bracing challenge may find themselves hooked by one of the smartest iOS games in some time.

868-Hack is out now on iOS.

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