As gamers, we ask an awful lot of the dev teams looking after us. We’re always looking for something that’s cutting edge, be it symphonic sound or beautifully rendered graphics. The same goes for the content of the games we play. Instead of taking a title for what it is, there is always a danger that we’ll fall into the trap of thinking, “this is a bit like, (insert other game here,) I know what to expect.” Constantly making comparisons isn’t good because we’re overly critical before even giving the game a chance. So spend a little time with me while we go back to basics. The game is Nightfall Hacker and you’ll hopefully see where I’m coming from as we go.
At first glance, Nightfall Hacker is about as simple as you can get. Now, I’m not saying this to discredit Teradile, the clever gentleman behind the game in any way, just to build some perspective. In fact, this title would be very at home on a PC of the late 90s to early 2000s, and this is also part of the point.
Nightfall Hacker is a love letter to a browser game that some of you might remember from back then called The Nightfall Incident. This game was on LEGO’s website and garnered somewhat of a cult following. Nightfall Hacker takes that earlier title as a blueprint and builds on it. So, although we’re twenty-odd years on, this new, updated game is still very in keeping with that time.
In Nightfall Hacker you take the role of a white-hat hacker and have to complete jobs to earn money. For those of you that don’t know the term, white-hats are the guys and girls that protect computer systems from being broken into, they’re essentially the good guys. In your journey through the game, though, you’ll begin to learn that the black-hats are up to something nefarious and you’ll need to stop them.
The system you’re hacking comes up as a 2D grid with spawn points depending on how many programs you’re allowed to use to solve that problem. Each program should be considered a bit like a chess piece in that they move differently and have different attack ranges just as any other unit in a strategy game would. The objective is to remove the malware from that system, thus protecting it and completing the job.
The kick in the rear here is that you only get one go at a level at a time. Should you lose one of your units, you can’t just spawn another one and carry on. If you sacrifice something you’d better be sure that you can complete the level without it. If you lose all of your programs you’re going back to the beginning so using your head is paramount.
Depending on the program you’re using will obviously depend on how it behaves. Some programs create a trail behind them. The best way to imagine this is that the program in use is infecting, (protecting,) files as it goes, making itself stronger in the process. You could call that trail the program’s life. This is important for two reasons. Firstly you need to make sure your program can do enough damage to the infecting one to kill it before it kills you. Secondly, your units can’t move through that trail so you’ll need to consider that, too as you take your turn. Of course, your opponent’s units can’t either so this should play into your strategy as well.
The objective is easy. Meeting that objective is where this game becomes a mini-nightmare. The AI isn’t stupid so you’ll actually have to use some gray matter if you’re going to outsmart it. The upside to this, though, is that there is always more than one way to solve a puzzle so you won’t be banging your head on a wall looking for a single solution if you get stuck.
The nuts and bolts here are really important because this is where players might not even give Nightfall Hacker a chance for totally unfair reasons. Graphically, this game is really basic. You’re literally just moving symbols round on a grid. What’s important here is that it’s all very in keeping with the aesthetic. We aren’t interested in hour-long cut scenes or graphics created in Unreal Engine-whatever-we’re-up to-now. I strongly recommend putting any impressions you have about the look to one side and just giving Nightfall Hacker a try. It’s worth it.
The sound like the rest of the aesthetic is relatively simple. It’s basic, moody, and completely fitting for the game. None of the missions are given as spoken conversations with NPCs, everything is done in text boxes. All of these are little things but they pay homage to a certain time period in gaming history and do it very well.
There are a few things in the UI that I think could do with polishing up a touch. The first of these is that if you lose a level you have to go back to the level tree and start it up again. This is okay if you’re at a part of that tree with more than one branch but if you have to complete that level to progress it gets a bit repetitive. Having a level restart button that you can hit when you know you’ve screwed up would be really helpful. When you die going back should be an option, not the rule, a simple screen asking if you want to play again or go back would be nice.
A relatively minor pet peeve, but clicking on and off your units isn’t always easy. There were a couple of times I accidentally killed another of my programs because I was trying to click onto it while having not attacked with the unit I was currently using. Friendly fire is definitely on in this game and with it being a puzzler I don’t think it should be. Clicking from one unit to another should be just that without any concern over negative effects.
Lastly, for time-saving sake, there should be a prompt that tells you it’s impossible to complete a level. I had this with one earlier today where our units were just dancing around but couldn’t kill each other. This would have gone on ad-Infinitum if I hadn’t closed the level and started again.
On the whole Nightfall Hacker is a really addictive puzzler. You can lose a level over and over again but it doesn’t make you want to put the game down in frustration. If you’ve bought a bunch of different programs you’ll want to try them all in different combinations until you succeed. This game has over 100 levels to play with over two single-player campaigns so loads to get through. I think I’ve done about the first 10 or 15 levels to this point and didn’t race through them. I’m stuck at the moment but that won’t be for long because I’m going back later to unstick myself.
A few minor UI niggles aside, Nightfall Hacker is a really addictive little outing and one that’s well worth looking up on Steam. This is very much a case of do not judge a book by its cover. It may look simple, but believe me, looks can be deceiving.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Look and Feel - 7/10
Challenge - 9/10
Replay value - 8/10
UI and Interface - 6/10
Value for money - 8/10
A respectful homage
Nightfall Hacker is not a flashy game. There aren’t really any bells and whistles going off here and I’m absolutely fine with that. For me this is a brilliant single-player puzzler with fitting graphics and a slightly clunky UI. None of my gripes can’t be fixed and all in all if you take this game the way you’re supposed to, as an homage to an earlier time in gaming; I think you’ll have a lot of fun with it.
Hailing from Southport England, Alex started his gaming career in the late 80s on a Commodore 64. Since that time he's either owned or played on virtually every console released. Alex happens to...