Kailan: I find the nature of writing reviews of multiplayer games a conflicting presence. I can tell you how I found the game solo, I can spin you tales of my interactions with others and I can maybe even put my finger on how having extra players to shoot me in the back of the head added to the experience. That said, without gathering at least one other player into the room, I don’t think I can’t adequately describe how good of a social bonding and conversation piece a multiplayer game was. So I’ve brought along a friend who is going to help review co-op burglary title Hacktag.
Say hello Josh!
Josh: Hello Josh!
Kailan: Wait, I thought you were Josh and I’m…
…Who am I?
Josh: Kailan, I hope.
So, do you want to introduce Hacktag, or want me to?
Josh: I think it might be best if you do. I’m not exactly experienced in review writing, and I also don’t think I can mention this game, even in writing, without feeling legitimate frustration and exhaustion.
Kailan Okay then. Hacktag is a 1 to 2 player game where gameplay is split between an infiltrating Stealth Agent and a cyber-warfare expert Hacker, both are tasked to help each other breach into a facility and hack the planet until the objective is reached. Already we blunder onto the first problem, like falling asleep onto a primed bear trap.
Hacktag prides itself on its asymmetry between the Stealth Agent and Hacker. The reality is, unfortunately, the gameplay does not differ enough to feel like fresh distinct experiences.
Josh: In fact, it hardly differs at all. The Hacker essentially performs all the same tasks as the Stealth Agent, but on rails. Both players have to complete a series of puzzles where one will unlock something, so the other can unlock something, and so on and so forth until you either reach a room full of computers and both have to avoid guards, reach a security door where you have to work together or reach the final terminal. The only other real difference is that the Hacker’s screen has a blue overlay…
Kailan: …And the other has a normal “reality” overlay. You know, I originally proposed to the editor doing this with one of us being blue and the other being orange, but the editor told me the white background would make seeing the orange impossible. That and he saw it as “possibly alienating towards the colorblind” who may have a hard time with the Hacker blue screen.
Speaking of, the game boasts 3 game mode types. Frustratingly, they revolve around the same gameplay (hacking computers and ducking-n-weaving to make sure your arse doesn’t get stared at) and have a very linear approach to the game. It feels linear, to an oppressive degree, never encouraging problem-solving.
Josh: Indeed, and all the problems you were asked to solve were incredibly easy. The game presented itself as having two modes; however, we played on easy and got the impression that the “hard” mode was in fact just a medium mode, with hard coming in some later update. It was a disappointingly simplistic experience, and some of the perks made it so easy as to be almost Invisible Inc. Junior, with the simplistic, slightly uncanny valley dwelling knock-off furry characters.
Kailan: I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable calling Hacktag a walk in the park, but that’s because I couldn’t find a way to toggle the difficulty higher. It was blind chance I found a mission or two on Hard, and it was same stuff different level.
Then again, the mission select screen was a mess itself. Each character has a story mode to crawl through. That said, it feels like a strung-together vaguely-related-to-you narrative placed upon a glitchy interface that is never quite sure if you have a story mission now or later depending on if you’re randomly assigned to player one or two.
Josh: And that’s another thing; actually playing through the storyline was confusing, as the player 1 crown seemed to switch at random between player and player. If that wasn’t bad enough, you appeared to be playing two totally separate storylines! It was confusing, to say the least.
Kailan: Yeah, not even who invites dictates who is Player 1. I still don’t understand the logic. That said, the game has stable servers and it is relatively easy to get someone else into your game. I didn’t seem to have any lag spikes nor had to input awkward IP codes to invite. Although I couldn’t test this with the multiplayer finding function as no one would join me, I had to invite Josh to play with others.
Josh: I personally do not possess shame, and will freely admit that I never tried playing any more than with Kailan. The dull gameplay totally put me off playing outside the required number of hours. Though, to the game’s credit, each round was rather short, with the real bulk of the time being provided by trying to avoid guards and antiviruses.
Kailan: I tried a bit more (well, shoveled a bit more?), although was rewarded with a unique interpretation of single-player. You control both agents but have a split screen between the two that you flit between as wanted. While it does increase the difficulty, especially where one player has to unlock a door for the other before one gets spotted, it avoids the problem of the game only being functional with friends or suffering from useless AI.
Josh: Personally, I didn’t enjoy the single-player mode. I kept getting mixed up as to what I was meant to be doing in each instance, and more than once it led to me simply being captured by either guards or antiviruses because I couldn’t switch between the screens fast enough.
Kailan: Odd, I found it fine personally once I got used to it, even with the learning curve I’d attribute to me being thick and way out of my depth.
Anyway, shall we tackle the anthropomorphic elephant in the room? Hacktag has taken the controversial artistic decision to be, what scientists call, “furry as fuck”.
Josh: Well, perhaps you read fake news and think Hacktag is truly a furry game. A scholar such as myself, studying at the historic University of Greenwich, recognizes that this is no true furry game. Rather, the art style and design of the characters, especially with their unchanging body types throughout and strange, smooth sculpting design, remind me not of the impressive, yet degenerate, art posted on the furry parts of the web, but rather the bizarre, almost human, not quite animal, smooth computer sculpted animation for a CBeebies to CBBC level kids to young teens tv show.
Kailan: Are you saying the modeling and texture style is like a creepy version of Disney’s Robin Hood?
Josh: I wish I could say no… I wish I could say no…
Kailan: I mean, it doesn’t really help when you have a loot box system to unlock cosmetics, rather than giving you currency to buy the cosmetics you want. The cosmetics being awfully specific, so you keep having to grind to get a cosmetic you like, doesn’t help either. That’s putting aside a currency system (as you get currency in some loot boxes) that hasn’t been fully implemented, and being able to get profile pictures which, I swear I can’t find where you change the profile pictures.
What I think I’m saying is the game doesn’t feel entirely finished.
Josh: I think the reason it might feel unfinished is that… It’s unfinished! There’s no way to sugar coat this; if a game is released with items that have no function until a later update, then it’s not done yet. Unfortunately, however, I don’t think I can even say it has promise going forward, as the core gameplay appears to have been nailed down, like Brian to the cross.
Kailan: To add to this feel is the translation. There are some occasional translation hiccups, but I think I only spotted one that made understanding what was actually meant incredibly hard. Anyway, got anything else to say, Josh, before we leap into the conclusion?
Josh: Not really! I genuinely don’t know what else I can add to the list of complaints about this game, short of borderline loathing that I am now unable to drink a cup of coffee without emitting a deep sigh and exclaiming “Mmmmmm, coffee good,” the only thing that helped us survive the monotony.
Kailan: The final score of Hacktag for me is a 5/10. It is a game where even as a conversation piece, the only moment of fun can be tied to hacking the coffee machines while vomiting out a Phoenix Wright Online quote: “mmm cofy good ;)”. It functions but never exceeds beyond it as you’re dragged along a linear path no matter what. You can be a Hacker or a Stealth Agent, you can be doing one of the three modes, you can even be playing different missions in your threadbare narrative, you will still be forced down a linear path with little problem solving beyond “don’t get seen!”.
The earlier comparison to Invisible Inc feels cruelly appropriate, as it tries to achieve a similar goal (i.e. an isometric stealth title, although one player instead of two and turn-based and not active). However, not only does it discourage the wonderful problem-solving, variation of approach and openness of Invisible Inc, but does so at a slightly higher price tag (£15.49, compared to Invisible Inc’s £14.99). I never got that nagging feeling that no one could enjoy it like I would out of a bad game, but found it crushingly mediocre and slightly over-priced.
Josh: I personally only give it a 3.5/10. For me, 5 means it’s simple but ultimately left me satisfied. Hacktag failed totally in that regard, as if you were to raise even one point about the game, I would not be able to say it cannot be fixed. An ultimately disappointing experience, and one of the few times where I’ve actually dreaded having to open a game up on my pc to play it.
Kailan: So, final score, split the difference, call it a 4.5?
Josh: That works. As both a furry and a gamer, I just want my hands rid of this abomination of science.
Kailan: Of science?
Josh: Science gave us this horror. The Amish seem to know what they’re on about…