Black Ice Review – An Electrifying Cyberpunk Hacking Adventure
Warning: This game contains bright lights and fast movement, which may cause issues with photosensitive viewers. Please use caution when watching the video.
We showed you some screenshots of Black Ice back in March, and it’s only gotten better. A game by Super Duper Garrett Cooper, who programmed it at night in his free time, Black Ice is a cyberpunk shooter reminiscent of Tron, with some inspiration from Borderlands; it was named a Top 100 Indie Game on IndieDB in 2013. Black Ice was just Greenlit on Steam, and is releasing there on July 9, though it’s been available on itch.io for quite some time, already. The object of the game is to hack servers in a server farm resembling a city, destroy web crawlers, aimbots, and pop-ups, and work your way up to the main server, called Finality, Inc. This final server is protected by a S.H.A.R.K., which can be a source of entertainment or a source of serious trouble, depending on how well you plan while conquering the rest of the map. If this all sounds confusing, it gets a lot easier to understand once you’re actually playing.
The graphics in Black Ice are, unsurprisingly, bright and completely in-your-face. Buildings/servers and enemies are black with bright neon outlines, and with full bloom activated through video settings, the game is so intense you can use it to light a room using only your monitor. The grids on the ground, and “stars” in the sky act as a sort of guideline, though they also add to an illusion of movement being much faster when in battles. For such a simple game design, there’s a lot going on, and getting used to the combat style isn’t difficult, but may take a bit of practice for some players. Black Ice features a photosensitive mode, as well, which for people like me is great – I couldn’t play the game for longer than 15 minutes without a migraine when I first tried, and through working with Garrett, a mode was developed that allows me to play for several hours without incident. It’s still bright, it’s still colorful, and it’s just as fun – it just has the bonus of being accessible to a wider audience.
The controls are very similar to many PC games – WASD to move, mouse to aim, left-mouse to fire main weapon, right-mouse to start a hack. Your health and RAM (which is the power used for weapons, as well as stamina-based actions like jumping and running) are displayed to the left, and any passive or special weapons/abilities are in the center, along with your status bar. You can access your inventory with “I,” level up passive traits by pressing “T,” and using either of those options is pretty self-explanatory. Everything you pick up (or purchase at a shop – there are 4 of them surrounding Finality, Inc.) has stats, and you can build your character’s strength according to those stats. This system should be familiar to players of Action RPGs and, again, Borderlands or other inventory-based action games. You also have abilities that can be used with Shift (sprint or teleport), Space (jump or use of jetpack), and 1-5 on your keyboard (you can see mines in the 1 position above, health boost in 2, and something called “black hat” in 4, which is a passive boost). Character builds are extremely diverse in this game, and are only really limited by how far you push yourself in-game.
The music is a lot of fun, consisting of different songs for different activities. If you’re wandering around, the music is fairly tame, but when you begin a hack, the music gets more intense, with a stronger bass line and more treble “pings” (the closest onomatopoeia I can think of) that echo the sounds of enemies jumping and shooting at you. There is a warning sound when you exit the hacking perimeter (there is a circle around where you start your hack, and you cannot stray outside it until you’ve conquered the server), and you have a few seconds to get back in before the hack is canceled. It used to be automatically canceled in an earlier build, so while the noise surprised me in this playthrough, it was a very welcome change.
The enemies can carry mines, shoot ice to slow you down, and set you on fire. They can crawl all over your head, obstructing your vision and evading damage. The S.H.A.R.K.’s missiles are so strong they knock you back quite far, and without enough health (or an ability to dodge effectively), you can die in as few as two hits. Where’s the adventure in the S.H.A.R.K.? Well, if you have enough power in your jet pack, or another means of getting on top of a high building nearby to Finality, Inc., you can engage in a sport known as “S.H.A.R.K. Surfing,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like: You jump on the S.H.A.R.K.’s back and ride around – you can even kill it while you’re surfing, if that’s what floats your boat. It’s an extra bit of fun during what’s normally the most stressful section of the game.
For lovers of FPS, ARPG, arcade shooters, and even casual gameplay for downtime, Black Ice serves a wide variety of interests and ability levels. The difficulty of the buildings ramps up gradually, and if you feel unable to continue your current game due to a lack of low-level enemies, you simply save and quit, then restart a new game with the same character (you retain all your stats) until you feel comfortable moving up. You don’t get much more user-friendly than that, particularly with all of the video options available, as mentioned before. There is also an online multiplayer option, so you and your friends can team up on larger servers and take them down more quickly.
Black Ice is available for purchase on Steam as of July 9, 2014 (link goes live at 12pm Eastern), for $9.99, and is playable on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines. It can also be purchased on itch.io and Desura today and tomorrow only for a discounted price of $6 (or $18 for a 4-pack to share with your friends). If you want the discount, act fast – the $10 price will become active on itch.io and Desura as of July 9, as well. For the amount of content, the customization options, and the replayability, however, I personally feel that it’s worth every penny; however, you may want to download the free demo (yes, that link is an auto-download direct from his site – it’s safe, don’t worry) before making a decision.
Cooper has vowed to keep this game one-purchase-only – with no added charges for updates or DLC. You can contact him on Twitter, follow him on Facebook, or even check the Black Ice wiki page for information about the game.