Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 10/09/01 | Genre: Adventure
"Uplink: Hacker Elite" takes place in the near future, where hacking is still illegal, but all the companies employ private hackers to steal information, sabotage projects, or otherwise cause mayhem to the competition. As a new hacker, you are given access to a basic gateway (not the computer company) mainframe which you log onto remotely to accomplish your hacking missions. The game begins with a tutorial that helps you get a feel for what you need to do and what tools that you will need to employ to get it done. (Skipping the tutorial is a bad, bad idea.)
In a time when everyone is trying to outdo each other with flashy graphics, Uplink focuses instead on gameplay. Until I noticed the date across the top of the screen, the interface does a good job of trying to fool you into believing that you are actually connecting to the net and signing into a real service. The graphics never break away from the theme of being a computer terminal, but you never feel hampered by them either. The most graphical part of the game is when you open the world map to plot exactly how you are going to route your intrusion into your current objective, and it consists of connecting the dots between different access points. If you absolutely cannot play a game that does not make your graphics card smoke, this probably won't be your cup of tea. Ask yourself if it is the graphics that makes the game or is it the gameplay?
If all the various layers are stripped away, Uplink reminds me that classic puzzle game, Perfection. If you never played Perfection, it was a game where you had to assemble all the puzzle pieces into the playing board before the timer ran down and tossed them all into the air. Why on earth would I compare a fairly complicated computer game to a simple board game with a built-in egg timer? Because in essence that's what Uplink is all about; you have a puzzle that you must complete before your intrusion is discovered and you get tossed into the slammer. For the first few missions, you will find yourself using a password cracking program to grab a password, access the system's files, and download a particular file before the system administrator can backtrace your connection and break it. As you progress through the game, security gets tougher, but you should also have the funds available to purchase system and software upgrades which let you get in and out of a targeted system before you are caught. There's also an in-game message board system where you can look for information about certain systems and find their weaknesses. So while my simplified Perfection analogy still works, the game offers a lot more planning, thought, and cunning to be able to actually pull off the missions before you go "pop".
While the game does provide more in the way of mental exercise than your normal game, it does eventually start to get a bit repetitive. I'm not saying that the game is particularly short, but I do wish that there had been more diversity in the kinds of missions that you could undertake. I would find myself thinking, "Here's another one where I have to snitch a file." The differences in security from machine to machine kept the game challenging, but I still wished for more.
When everything is said and done, Uplink: Hacker Elite is a good thinking-person's type of game. While it does deal with an activity that is pretty darn illegal, it handles the hacking in the way of a game. What do I mean? If you play a racing game, you won't actually learn how to play drive like a pro driver. The same is true here. If you want a fun distraction from shooters or real time strategy games, Uplink might be right up your alley.