Sometime in the 1980s a lone hacker is dialing up the internet on a slow as molasses modem, his intention is to get in – steal every last piece of data he can – and then get back out before the authorities can trace the call. The catch is that he ends up alerting the mainframe to his presence every time he steals useful data, and there’s also the fact that – seeing as how this great series of tubes is newfangled and all – he never quite knows what he’ll encounter next. So goes the setup to Michael Brough’s recent 868-Hack (out now, $5.99), a simple – yet heavily challenging/addictive – Roguelike that features graphics invoking the feeling of Commodore 64 classics.

screen480x480You begin 868-Hack as a pixelated Smiley Face on the mystical neon grid framework that is the iconic representation of the internet, surrounded by resources and programs all about just waiting to be plundered. However, even if you’re itching to start hacking the joint for all its 1’s and 0’s, you’re not going to be taking much of anything until you can first get your hands on a valuable data siphoning tool. It certainly would have been ideal had you remembered to bring some of these amazing doohickeys along for the ride, but there’s no point in crying over spilled milk now that you’ve already jacked in.

In order to grab a siphoning tool you’re going to have to hike over to it – one square at a time – but swiping your finger in any of the four cardinal directions, a simple task to be sure. You can go anywhere you want with this input method, so long as you don’t try to either move through a block containing valuable data or outside the confines of the mainframe. The only catch is that random security programs – and other what not – are constantly entering the mainframe, and it looks like they haven’t exactly taken a liking to your intrusion.

This vanguard of hacker opposition includes the swift moving Viruses, the difficult to locate Cryptogs, the damage resistant Daemons, and the mysterious rule bending Glitches. Thankfully, your iconic Smiley Face is equipped with a totally state-of-the-art blaster – which is activated instead whenever you try to move towards an enemy – that both damages and stuns the opposition. You will generally be safe if you can tackle your opponents single file, whereas your Smiley Face – which becomes increasingly less joyful with each blow – will be veritable mincemeat if surrounded on all sides.

screen480x480Anyways, once you have a data siphon – each of which contains precisely one charge – you can use it to begin soaking up the smorgasbord of info and resources lying about each level. When activated you will retrieve everything one block away from the Smiley Face in each of the four cardinal directions, as well as anything in your avatar’s current location as well. The resources sitting about in the navigable squares are all well and good, since they can be used to fuel special abilities later on, but it’s those solid chunks of data that brought you here in the first place.

Each block of data will tell you two things: what’s contained inside it, and how many extra enemy programs will be spawned the exact moment that you siphon off the container’s contents. What’s inside a data block will either be valuable information on the corporate world, which increases your score by the listed amount, or something perhaps even more valuable: extra program functions for your Smiley Face. These functions – should you have the necessary resources on hand to energize them – can let you either bend the rules to your benefit, or unleash devastating attacks on specific enemy types.

As there’s only a limited number of data siphons available per floor, you’re going to have various judgment calls to make whether you go for points or abilities each time you leech resources. You generally aren’t going to be going for both – however – since stealing from multiple solid data blocks will simultaneously trigger their combined enemy program summoning value. Since your Smiley Face is never more than three blasts away from its digital demise, and you never know in advance where exactly incoming reinforcements will land, success in 868-Hack always goes to the careful.

screen480x480Once you’ve used up all the siphons on a level it’s time to step on the warp plate that will transport both your avatar, as well as all the other programs chasing you, to a new randomly selected section of the mainframe. It’s worth noting that the second you enter a new mainframe section that a number of enemies equal to the stage’s number will immediately be added to whatever was already there, but no one ever said that the Roguelike genre was made of cupcakes and kittens. This will continue until your Smiley Face either escapes from the final exit on the eighth level of the mainframe, or – as is far more probable – succumbs to a quick and brutal demise.

Once things are over it’s time to see a record of your run, listing all of the resources – points – and programs that you managed to pilfer along the way (as well as which enemy did you in). 868-Hack has two separate high score lists: one for chronicling all of your personal runs, and another – aimed at those who have mastered the art of repeated full eighth level escapes – that lists each player’s multi-run value up to the point where they finally failed  (or it will list them as still alive if they haven’t yet succumbed to Murphy’s will). This second list comes with an option to either display the entire grand panoply of old school hackers across the globe, or to only show the ones that happen to be on your GameCenter’s friend list.

All-in-all the package of 868-Hack makes for an engaging retro-styled Roguelike that fits extremely well within the quick play mentality that permeates the iOS scene, with a player either succeeding or failing a run within the course of a fifteen minute break. The one catch here is that the game’s price tag has been set at a staggering six dollars, and – when compared to the iOS marketplace’s normative prices – that is certainly a hefty up front sum. However – and this can’t be said of many other Roguelikes on the platform – 868-Hack’s experience is utterly devoid of any IAPs whatsoever, meaning you’ll never have to wonder if someone bought their way to victory on the scoreboards.

iFanzine Verdict: 868-Hack is a simply presented – yet highly addictive/challenging – Roguelike for iOS devices, which furthermore manages to fit well into the play on the go mentality that many iDevice users demand. The Commodore 64 esque graphical motif nicely compliments the title’s heavily 1980s inspired take on what exactly the internet would be like, and only adds to the game’s over all charm. The chief problem – for some – is going to be that 868-Hack is being offered for a staggering six dollars, which is definitely a cut above the marketplace’s standard going rate for similar titles (except that 868-Hack has absolutely no supplementary IAPs).