In the not too distant future, Max Parsons — the owner of Sixth Column, a Cyber-security and technology research group — has been contracted by the Norwegian government to demonstrate his new anti-cyber terrorism software: Chimera. In order to do this a war game simulation was set up, using dummy computers that exactly replicate the control systems for key Norwegian infrastructure, with Chimera being used to fend off the attack. It was all supposed to be a simulation, but something goes horribly wrong when Nightshade — a hacker with dark connections to Max’s past — modifies the experiment so that the actual government targets are being hit instead of the intended test dummies.
So goes the setup to Netwars – The Butterfly Attack: Episode 1 (out now, $2.99), and edutainment adventure — from Filmtank GmbH — on the already very real dangers that Cyber-terrorism currently presents. Before I can continue any further with this review — however — there is one thing that I need to make very clear: Netwars – The Butterfly Attack: Episode 1 is not an actual game, and instead is just a digitally enhanced comic. When I say that Netwars is not a game, I am in no way likening it to well known artistic ‘non-games’ such as Dear Esther — Gone Home — or To The Moon; which, despite their linearity, at least actually use the language of video games as their method of storytelling.
Produced as a companion piece to their already existent five part documentary series — Netwars: Out of CTRL, which covers actual cases of cyber terrorism — their digital comic serves a companion piece to showcase what new horrors could be happening very soon. As Max’s crew conducts their mock cyber attack in an attempt to convince the government why their Chimera system is needed to keep Norway safe from future cyber terrorism, regularly placed asides will occur that the user can tap to learn more info. Hitting any of these info icons will temporarily halt the comic and take the user to an in game side article that explains the real life principles at work in the comic, often coupled with citations of chilling examples that have already happened.
For instance: Did you know that a fake remote access point — typically used for maintenance — was set up in Missouri to appear as if it was the town’s actual water pump, and then disturbingly received over 17 cyber terrorist hack attempts in just four months? By the time you finish reading this graphic novel you will not only know that the threat of cyber-terrorism is very real, rather than merely just a product of action packed Hollywood fiction, but you will also realize where our society is horrifyingly vulnerable. When evaluated as edutainment software — whose purpose is to keep users engaged so that they actively want to stay, all while providing them with valuable new knowledge — the Netwars digital comic book excels with an explosion of flying colors.
Although most of the comic is literally just the user going from one page to the next — which is executed by sliding you finger across the screen from right to left, as if you were actually turning a book’s page — it is Netwars’ 3D scenes that are something truly special. During these moments — which sadly don’t occur nearly as often as the app’s trailer might otherwise lead you to believe — rotating your device will cause the entire scene the shift as if you were actually inside the story, walking around the environment in question. However — outside of these special 3D moments — the user actually has basically no interaction with Netwars’ story whatsoever, and will otherwise only occasionally be able to touch highlighted objects — in lieu of page turning — as the method of plot advancement.
Thankfully — once you do get past the fact that Netwars – The Butterfly Attack: Episode 1 is not a game in the slightest — there is actually much to enjoy here, and the artwork itself is aesthetically pleasing. I particularly liked how Filmtank went with the heavily stylized limited color palette method of lighting that comics used to regularly use, rather than the full range palette method more commonly seen these days. I did — however — sometimes have trouble reading some of the moments of finer text that appeared regularly within the comic, leading me to believe that Netwars was intended more for an iPad than an iPod.
The only real complaint I actually had with the product is that the total package can easily be read through in less than an hour — and possibly in under 30 minutes, assuming you skip all of the side articles — which is rather short considering the attached $2.99 price tag. While $2.99 might actually be rather competitive when compared to the price of various physical comics on the market right now, it doesn’t seem quite as good when compared to various $0.99 iOS games that come with limitless hours of included entertainment. Although I certainly understand that much time and money must have went into creating Netwars – The Butterfly Attack: Episode 1, it’s a hard sale in a marketplace where so many other things can provide such a vastly superior dollar-to-entertainment-value ratio.
However — assuming you can overlook the product’s brevity — and instead are willing to delve into a world of hacking intrigue, all while learning horrifyingly true facts along the way, then I can guarantee that this will surely be a fun romp that you won’t soon forget. I know that I am already eagerly awaiting the second chapter of The Butterfly Attack’s story-arc, which Filmtank has so far promised will arrive sometime later this summer. Just be warned up front that you will have to purchase all three chapters of the series — at $2.99 each — in order to see the full story, as otherwise you’ll be left with nothing but a cliff hanger regarding Max Parson’s very personal battle with the hacker Nightshade.
iFanzine Verdict: Filmtanks’s Netwars – The Butterfly Attack: Episode 1 — which is actually a digital comic book, rather than a game of any sort — presents users with a story of cyber-terrorism set in the very near future, coupled with chilling true facts. Although intended primarily to serve as a vehicle for education on the real dangers of cyber-terrorism, the comic’s stylish artwork — coupled with mesmerizing 3D sequences — means that there’s much for readers to enjoy here beyond just the cyber-hacker facts. The primary downside with Netwars is that the entire comic — which is only part one of a three issue story arc — can easily be read within less than an hour, which certainly might not sit well with some when you consider that it also has a $2.99 price tag.