I got my copy of the game Uplink in the mail after I returned to Boston, and last night I installed it and played it for a few hours. I had played my way through the timed demo a few weeks ago and was so impressed by the game that I decided to order it.

It was developed by an independent software house out of the UK, Introversion Software, who also distributes the game themselves, similar to the old school photocopied manual/brown-bag software of the early 80s (you know, back in the day, when every piece of software was good and I had to walk uphill to school).

Uplink is a fictional “hacking”1 role-playing game in the vein of the classic Activision/Mastertronic game Hacker. In reality, I am abusing the term simulation, as this game is pretty far from reality (but who ever said reality was fun, anyway?). The game is set in the year 2010, where you become an agent for the Uplink corporation, which is a consulting/outsourcing computer espionage agency. Uplink pimps you out to corporations who may want you to steal or trash a competitors files, launder money, create identities, alter academic records, erase evidence, etc. You do all of this from your “gateway computer” (screenshot), which provides a GUI for you to manage your computing resources. Your gateway computer can run/store applications to assist you (such as a Dictionary Hacker, Log Deleter, etc), but your computing resources are limited, and upgrades will cost you (as will the software). So, as with most games, you have to work your way up the ladder, allowing you to afford better software, faster processors, more storage, and the like.

Getting caught doing the deed will cost you, though, either financially or jail time, so you had better be sure to clean up after yourself. Fortunately, the tutorial does a decent job of getting the ball rolling, and the “Uplink Internal Services” machine also has some documents to help you learn new techniques. As far as documentation goes, however, other than these two things and a Readme (which covers the basic “how can I make the game go” type of questions), that’s about it. This game leaves it up to you to figure it out, and there is quite a bit to figure out. I remember when I thought of hacking into the criminal database and “cleaning” my record after getting caught, I was enthused to find out that this was possible. For this game, a lack of documentation is a blessing, as it serves the nature of the game well.

Graphically, this game isn’t very intense, a simple 2D WIMP interface, which can actually seem slow at times (although I think it is intentional slowness), but it is very enveloping. Between last night and my time with the demo I have played it quite a bit, and the game does do a good job of building suspense and excitement. It does feel a bit surreal to feel a sense of tension when rushing to delete logs before your connection is traced, but it all works.

The best part? The game is only $25USD, after shipping. In the mail you get a jewel case (that actually contains a few secret goodies, as well as the old-school copy protection system, a good old dark-text-on-dark-paper lookup table…) containing the CD with Windows and Linux binaries. There is also a demo available for those of you who want to try it on for size. I highly recommend at least playing with the demo, and if you enjoy it, support the Introversion by laying out the cash for the game. I think it would be great to see the return of the independent (commercial) software developer, so I try to support them when I can.

Uplink is a fun, cheap, and fresh new game that harkens back to the “old days” of Wargames, and I think it is a bargain in today’s landscape full of trashy games selling for $50+.

1really, it’s a “cracking” RPG, but we all lost the “hacker” vs. “cracker” battle to the media long ago, time to adapt…

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