Posted on 23 Feb 2018 by Adison

Hacktag

The Defence

Developer: Piece of Cake studios
Publisher: Piece of Cake studios
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: No
Release date: No data.

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad 2.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti
AMD Radeon HD 7850
RAM: 6 GB
HDD: 3 GB
DirectX: 9
Controller: Partial
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: Unknown

The Case

Hacktag, a game produced and published by Piece of Cake studios, is a two player co-op asymmetric stealth game. The game takes place in a world of anthropomorphic animals who have a similar modernized life as our own. This game contains both a single player, or co-op play system that allows for a stealth player and a hacker to both co-exist during the mission. The game attempts to mash together a cooperative and slightly competitive system, while using stealth and hacking skills to infiltrate and perform a given task. Does the game provide the promised experience, can the game actually supply the satisfying “Co-opetitive” nature it displays in its key features list?

The Trial

Let’s begin by looking at Hacktag’s basic structure and system. Playing this game cooperatively is a bit of a hoot, but the kind of hoot that makes your head hurt after dealing with it for a period of time. After starting the game, you find that it’s not exactly as in depth with character creation as it could be, with the game locking content for this section under loot crates. This might seem strange, as the game does not have a cash shop based system. Instead of doling out rewards for completing certain objectives, missions, or doing a really good job, instead we get the good old fashioned addition tactic. This is the basis of a Loot Crate, it often relies largely on the gambling nature built into people. Believe it or not, this reminds me of a spoof game called I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gambling, which revolves completely around the concept of loot boxes being addictive and gambling. At the very least, everything in the game isn’t made worse by having terrible sounds and music.

The mission select screen seems interesting, and they have some pretty punny names and traditional, but somehow lacking portraits of your employers. There seems to be some exposition and a response system for your character to talk back, with a multiple choice selection method built in. This system, though fine in itself, lacks anything really intriguing about it to make you want to spend time reading their comments about what they want and their reasons. The responses are fairly shallow, sometimes witty, but ultimately don’t serve a purpose. This leads to just trying to start the match and get going.

Oh hey, we actually did it!

From the hacker perspective of the game, everything is blue, red, white, lines, and nodes which all together make your eyes water when moving around quickly, which you sometimes need to do. The hacking minigames leave something to be desired with under responsive controls on the co-op parts, while the DDR style hack system just feels a weak after a short adjustment period of getting used to it. The hacker seems to have a heck of a lot more problems to worry about, and far fewer ways to get out of it. Progression for the hacker is controlled by firewalls that the stealth player must hack and that grants access to more of the mission, which feels like what it is; a shallow gate blocking the hacker from just being able to complete the mission alone.

As the stealth player, the game changes dramatically in both play and visual style. It becomes a pain to look at in a completely different way, which incredibly vibrant colors burning away at your retina. This is not the only problem here either, as the work on the animations seems very slapdash. There’s no turning, or gradual anything in the movement. Either you walking sneakily, or running very not sneakily. Wanna turn left? No gradual shifting of the animation, you just are suddenly running in that direction. This is fairly easy to ignore if you’re busy squinting at the ‘hints’ in the game that are supposed to tell you what you’re capable of interacting with. That is to say, it’s hard to even see the light flashy blue and red squares that blip around on computers and other things. To make it more rough, there’s not really that much you can do when playing in co-op, it’s mostly just running and avoiding the guards and camera’s while they wander around or move left to right. There’s no real reason to even enter a lot of rooms, unless you’re trying very hard to get points. The more you play, the more you feel like you’re just a mouse that gets led around and used from time to time to do a job that the hacker can’t do, despite being a hacker. Something that doesn’t make any sense; like not being able to bypass a firewall.

Ghost deer? So this game even makes the characters want to die.

Now for the worst part of it all:The game isn’t sure if it wants to be cooperative, competitive, or both. It also fails to work out a good punishment for failure. The cooperative parts of the game are clunky with slow response times on movement of the cursor you’re using, and feels rather flaky as a reason for locking either play out of progressing. As it was said, the stealth player pretty much can’t do anything, while the hacker can; with the exception of bypassing firewalls. Getting caught takes you to what is effectively a jail, or in the case of a stealth player, a broom closet. Here’s where it gets a bit janky.

The game totes being “co-opetitive” while being absolutely uncompetitive at all. Sure, the more you hack the things you need to hack, the more points you get. However, when the hacker or stealth player gets caught, you’re now supposed to get them out of jail or you’ll have to use a continue and both lose points, or restart the mission and go return to the start of it all. One would think that allowing the player to fail would lose that player points, and you’d keep going and they would have to respawn with less points. This would inspire maybe a bit of actual competitive gameplay, like triggering a phone to attract a guard to catch your stealth player. If their wonky AI can manage that, since we ran through, around, and over several of these guards during the game. There was also a bit of weirdness with the games hacking guard systems, with the hacker getting stuck on nodes and not being taken to jail, and scanners not correctly working. The last stab in the back seems to be that if you fail or get caught enough, you end up racking up so many negative points that no-one gets any EXP by the end.

The Verdict

The positives in Hacktag tend to fall to the creativity of what could have been done with some better direction; the interesting look of the characters, and the concept of the game. However, in the end the materials available weren’t employed to their full potential. The co-operative forcing breaks any sort of possible competition. The art style, while not bad, is exhausting on the eyes and brain. The punishments during the mission are only slightly bothersome until you realize that they’ve made you unable to rank up, and effectively force re-starting the mission if you use any continues at all. To cap it off, the lack of plot made the interest in reading, or responding to the pre-mission conversations very low, and made rushing into the mission as fast as possible more appealing. This game is better off as a single player experience in my opinion, as the co-op doesn’t add anything aside from some giggles when you do purposely harass your partner with phones or coffee machines. It has stealth tones, and could be great if you can get by the few bugs, and visual aspects that I personally found irritating. In all, it does not make good on all the claims it makes.

Case Review

  • Character Cuteness: Sure, maybe it’s not for you, but you have to admit that the animal people are cute and fluffy.

  • Conceptually Correct: Despite the jank and poor direction it was taken, the concept was a great one.

  • Ideal Sounds: Decent music and sound effects at least make it audibly enjoyable.

  • Mechanical Failure:  Unresponsive and sometimes buggy controls can lead to a lot of frustration.

  • Co-opetitive”:  Honestly just too much cooperative forced, and not enough competitive to be fun.

  • Exhaustive: All the other problems just lead up to it being tiring to try and play. After so much tolerating, the patience just runs out.

  • Leg it!: You can literally just run around or away from everything in the game without much issue and watch as the AI trips over itself. Seriously, who stops to answer a phone in the middle of chasing a suspect?

2.5 Score: 2.5/5
YOU GOT CAUGHT!

Evidence

  • Graphics: Bare bones. That is to say, you can change your resolution and window type primarily, though there is a preselection graphics option. Beware, the game started in a huge windowed mode resolution for us!
  • Audio: Basic sound adjustments for master, music, and sound effects. Nothing too fancy here folks.
  • Controls: There are controller options, but I used mouse and keyboard for everything, so I didn’t get involved with this much.
  • Game: Some options for camera speed, cam shake, stealth character movement, hacker camera movement, and finally Language for switching between English and French.

Appeal

2 Score: 2/5

Hacktag is a game at odds with itself. Poorly designed systems feel like an invitation to do better – during our time with the game it only took us about 15 minutes to start messing about with the hacker trying to get the infiltrator caught. Immediately we thought that would be a far more interesting game and couldn’t help but poke holes in the rest of the cooperative gameplay. For example, the hacker can’t proceed without the infiltrator opening up network nodes, and the infiltrator can’t proceed without the hacker opening doors. It feels less like cooperation and more like busywork – ticking off the boxes to get through a level rather than actually working together.

Part of this issue is that the hacker and the infiltrator are on the same map. A more exciting representation of cyberspace, with the hacker having to pause whatever they’re doing to help the infiltrator, would have been a far better way to handle it. Another sticking point came when we reached the score screen and realised we’d failed the mission so many times we’d been penalised to the point of not getting rewarded. The in-mission punishment is basically the equivalent of getting escorted to a broom closet and asked not to piss in the cleaning supplies. Of course I’m going to pee in them. Even when we were trying to avoid being caught it felt meaningless because of the loot box style reward system just giving you random stuff for your character, who may or may not even be able to equip them – I was playing a raccoon and got a deer fur colour, which would mean re-rolling a new character to use and losing the unlocked perks on the raccoon.

Hacktag is a game I wanted to at least like. The concept is very cool and has been executed well in other games in the past but not here. As mentioned above the aesthetic is dull and hard to read for the infiltrator too. Perhaps most damning of all, I came away from both of my Hacktag sessions with a blinding headache that was greatly exacerbated by my time in the hacker’s blue-tinted world. Oh, and I also came away from both sessions wishing I’d not wasted the last couple of hours on a joyless experience that I would be equally remiss and accurate to call turgid.

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Comments (1)


Posts: 328
L Coulsen
Posted 25 Feb 2018, 23:53
Well then