Mini-Game Review – Deus Ex: Human Revolution Hacking

September 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is the first of a semi-regular dive into the murky, strange and often non-nonsensical world of the mini-game – those daft little puzzles developers use to emphasize a semi-skilled action or make a humdrum activity interesting. Some are good, most are downright idiotic, but all are games in their own right. I shall be picking my subjects from both new and old games, and attempting to give an honest opinion on the merits (or madness) of these, the most humble of all modern gaming quirks.

Enjoy.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a superb game; the combat is fast and brutal, the story wonderfully convoluted and the whole thing drags those of us old enough to remember the original way back to the heady days of throwing plant-pots at people and hanging around women’s lavatories. The future-imperfect world we are thrust into is both bleak and gleaming with a plastic and chrome sheen – a world of artificial people, and broken ethics; it’s the perfect backdrop to the conspiracy-strewn plot that meanders back and forth along the lines of morality and humanity like a drunken crab. Of course, as with all broken futures, Dell seem to be having a good decade, and secret-stuffed PC’s are everywhere. The problem? Everybody seems to be forgoing standard encryption methods for security, and relying instead on a mini-game that no-one could possibly beat! Yes, Dell are doing well but it seems the chaps at Norton have died a death…

Hacking a computer is, in fairness, a strange concept to most of us; to some, it sits mentally alongside breaking into a book – open the cover and there you go. Security tends to be visually passive, you never really see the inner workings and so, how can you break through these walls only visible to those who shouldn’t be there? Passwords? Um… try their date of birth? Their cat’s name? It’s not something most of us grasp very easily. In this respect, I feel DE:HR’s hacking mini-game works well, as it really does make a degree of sense to most of us.

The mechanics are initially simple; you are presented with a series of nodes, one is your entry point, the red one is the Diagnostics program. The goal is to capture all the “Registry” nodes on the screen before the diagnostic trace finds your entry node. Still simple? Not quite. Each node has a strength – rated as a skill level from 1 to 5 (5 being tough as boiled boots); this corresponds to the time it will take you to hack it, and how likely you will be detected once you do. This is all relative to your own hacking skills, of which you can train up several – stealth, for example, will decrease the chance of the diagnostic detecting you, allowing you a few (occasionally lots) of undisturbed node-hacks. At high skill levels, you can breeze in and out of lower skill systems without setting off the trace at all.

Most of the time though, it comes down to planning; almost all systems have multiple routes to the registries, some with lower level nodes that fall quickly, others with more exotic nodes such as “Spam”, which help or hinder depending on who hacks the node first. When the red light flashes and the trace begins, a timer starts in the upper-right corner of the screen, giving you the time you have left before you are unceremoniously booted from the system. You are not defenseless though, you can fortify captured nodes to make the trace take longer to break through, or you can use one of your special hacks – the “Stop worm” or the “Nuke Virus”. These are special inventory items you can acquire on your travels, or through hacking the special nodes of certain systems; these are one-off abilities that allow you to halt the trace for a few moments, or hack any node immediately with no risk of setting off the alarm respectively. I found both to be immensely valuable in later stages of the game where level 5 nodes were common, and they make detection a little less of a hassle when negotiating a particularly large set of nodes.

Of course, as with everything in DE:HR, only those who are willing to pour skill-points into the hacking sub-tree will enjoy much success in the late-game, as the hacking gets tougher. A lot tougher… The Diagnostic system gets faster at tracing you, there are more nodes to deal with, and these are at higher levels too – each hack becomes a kind of race, where each foot-fall could set off the grenade in your trainers. Careful planning initially, coupled with some choice skills can make it a tad easier, but the difficulty definitely ramps up to an uncomfortable degree at some points. However there are a few advanced techniques you can use to your advantage. The most useful I found (that I honestly didn’t see anywhere in the tutorials, although I may be mistaken), is that you can hack the Diagnostic node itself. Once hacked, you win, and get every bonus node on the board. Ironically, there are a fair few times where hacking the Diagnostic node is actually easier than getting to the Registry. Also, if you disconnect before the trace finds you, you don’t suffer the thirty second  lock-down penalty you would usually. I also noticed this sometimes avoids setting off nearby alarms if you’re hacking a security terminal, but not always.

This hacking mini-game is one of the better ones in recent years; it certainly is a lot of fun when you get the hang of it. Look at it this way, if there was a mobile version for my phone, I would buy it. It does spoil slightly as the game progresses due to difficulty spikes, and a shortage of Stop Worms and Nukes at later stages makes hoarding them early on a good idea. It definitely worked as it should though, and made hacking in DE:HR far more interesting than it had to be, which makes it a success as a mini-game. Great fun, and with a surprising amount of replay-potential.

Alternatively, you could just use an Automatic Unlocking Device, which skips the mini-game entirely. But where’s the fun in that?

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