December 14, 2001

Gaming review: Uplink for Linux puts you inside world of high-tech espionage

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Mrochuk -

"Connecting to Gateway..." That's the beginning of every day for an Uplink Agent. How it ends is up to you. Uplink is the first offering from Introversion, a game design company from the United Kingdom. The game ships with both a Windows and Linux version on its CD.

Uplink is, essentially, a hacking (and cracking) simulator. More accurately, its a game that simulates high-tech crime and espionage. It should be noted here that Uplink won't really teach you how to crack computer systems -- this is a simulation set in the year 2010, so the game has several tools that don't exist today. You play the role of an anonymous contract employee of the Uplink Corporation. You take jobs based on your preference and skill, and complete them for a paycheck.

Do you accept?

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Introduction

This game is all about atmosphere. When you create your account, you are greeted with a small computer icon in the center of your screen. The screen displays your operating system. Suddenly, a keypad pops up and, it begins dialing ip addresses. You are now an employee of the Uplink Corporation. Welcome to the beginning of your addiction.

The game is continually surprising. A flare of originality is nice to see in this day of beaten genres.

The interface is dead simple. All of your work is done in a simple desktop environment. Monitor your software, hardware, bank accounts, email, and all else that a good system cracker requires with a simple point-and-click interface.

All of your work is done through network connections. All of your hardware, software and jobs are taken from the Uplink Internal Services site. When you take a job, you will receive the address of the targets. You will quickly develop a large list of connections, some of which may be usable to you in the future. You will build and build on a foundation of your past work. You will not stagnate, you will learn and you
will grow.

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The thrill of the wait

When is the last time you can say you played a game, and were utterly tense while staring at an unchanging screen? The atmosphere of Uplink is nothing short of amazing.

Generally when you're breaking into a system, you're being traced. Depending on the sophistication of your hardware and software you might even know how long is left until they get to you, and where the trace physically is in the world. One thing is for sure, you'd better disconnect before they get there.

If you do, it doesn't end there. When a system is compromised, where do the sysadmins look? The logs. You didn't leave any logs did you? Well, they can see your disconnect log. Now how many systems did you bounce through? There are logs all over them. This begins the passive trace, they go from system to system tracing you back. Break the chain somewhere, and you should be OK.

So there you are, sitting, staring at an unchanging screen, just waiting to see if they catch you. Tense. This is what the game is all about -- being immersed.

Gameplay

The gameplay is all about taking missions, and fulfilling them. When you get money for the jobs you'll buy better hardware for your machine, and better software to fulfill more complicated missions. Your Uplink rating will increase upon completion of jobs, and you will gain access to higher profile work.

The missions range not only in difficulty, but also in moral considerations. You can take a few paths. I was more of a "liberation of information" type, while several other mission type involve around destroying peoples' lives. Your choices are reflected in what is called your "Neuromancer rating," which can be anything from "morally bankrupt" to "revolutionary."

There is a broad range of machines to break into (remember, again, this is a game, not real machines). Of course, there are several corporate sites, from which you can steal proprietary data, and even destroy their mainframes and set back research. There are also government sites, the Global Criminal Database, and International Academic database, among others. Interested in money? There are plenty of banks to break into, and you can also play the stock market. Each of these machines can have a large variety of security systems, and you need the skills and tools to compromise them.

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The trick to the game is being curious. Break into interesting looking systems and companies, find out what you can. What good are your tools if you can't use them for information? The most unique thing about this game is the fact that, among the contract work and advancement, there's a whole plot. The unique part is that if you're not nosey, you can miss out on the whole thing.

One more thing, beyond the basics, there's little to no documentation. No, this isn't lazy developers, this is so you have to figure everything out yourself, just like in the real world.

Graphics

The game uses OpenGL to create a simple 2D interface. OpenGL for 2D is a little unusual, but it does the job. As I said before, there isn't much to the visuals of the game, but it is a nice, clean interface.

While there is nothing groundbreaking here, the game doesn't need it, nor would it benefit from anything better. There are a few minor graphical glitches, however, that knock a point off the score.

Sound

The sound is very subtle and it suits the game well. The most prominent sound in the game is from your trace tracker, a simple ping sound every few seconds when you're connected. The closer you are to being found the faster it goes. Its a very useful tool, because you'll find your eyes are rarely on the trace monitors.

Issues

All of the playing I did on the game was on the Linux client. The game ships with both Windows and Linux versions on one disk. The Linux client does have a few issues, and both versions have some bugs. Introversion has already released a patch, but some issues still remain. Segfaults in the Linux client are rare, but they are out there. Also there are a few game-play bugs that can cause difficulty when trying to complete missions. Introversion is working on a patch to solve these problems, so I don't imagine they
will be around for long.

Accessibility

System Requirements:

Windows(Win95+) or Linux
OpenGL Support
20M of hard disk space

Uplink is not too machine hungry, but it does require an OpenGL capable display, which is common these days. If you have OpenGL support, you should have no problems running this game.

There is no multiplayer option, so a fast Internet connection isn't really an issue.

One of the best parts of the game is the price. Its available for $24.99 (USD) from Introversion.co.uk. Because Introversion is are a small company, with no publisher, you probably won't see this game in stores, so if you want it, get it from the site.

Conclusion

Uplink is highly addictive. It's totally immersive, and quite original. If you've been waiting for something different, this is it. Despite a few bugs, at $25 it is definitely worth the cash. You can give the demo a shot, which is also available at the company site. The demo contains a few missions and gives you a taste of the game.

Rarely does a game surprise me this much. Uplink is a must-play.

Graphics 4 out of 5 stars
Gameplay 5/5
Sound 4/5
Accessibility 4/5

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