Despite filmmakers' best efforts to glamorize the subject, hacking has never really taken off as a mainstream crime, enjoying nothing more than passing notoriety on the back of films like Tron, Sneakers and WarGames, and an occasional headline with the emergence of a new virus or two. Nonetheless, it continues to be a topic that fascinates, so it's no surprise to see a game using the subject as a premise. Best described as a first-person action and strategy hybrid, A/I Wars casts you in the role of a disgruntled hacker out to achieve domination of the Internet by transferring your consciousness online in order to become immortal. If it sounds a trifle bizarre in theory, it is - as well as being 'off the wall' in practice. Not being able to squeeze down a phone line, you send a computer program (droid) to do your bidding, and you retain remote control of it as it wanders through the 'Internet' (which is represented as a 3D circuit board-like environment).
Picking up data cubes scattered through the levels supplies your droid with passwords used to hack into protected Internet sites in order to steal industrial secrets to sell for cash. The money earned is spent updating software programs that act as your only protection from viruses (enemy droids) that scour the levels and attack if your presence is detected. Being discovered usually results from being too slow while hacking, or from using outdated software - either way it means a software upgrade is required, so a less well-protected site needs to be targeted to get the necessary cash.
Defensive weapons include a firewall, which effectively acts as a shield; an infinite recursive calculation, which makes your opponent attempt to calculate PI, thus overloading them and preventing them pursuing you; and a Trojan horse that makes you indistinguishable from the enemy, allowing you to slip onto their sites unchallenged. Unfortunately, the game tends to be a victim of its own grand ideas - the 'Internet' is massive and its size is reflected within the levels. This wouldn't cause too many problems were a map included, but it creates frustrations when navigating the very samey interiors. Also, despite the hefty minimum specs of the game, the graphics are dull, tired and repetitive. That said, it's the strategy that counts and on this score at least there's enough here of interest to warrant a modicum of attention. At times there's a genuinely taut atmosphere as you race against the clock to hack systems, recover data and escape through a backdoor before being discovered. Cash management also adds a tactical edge because the software programs prove useless without the updates required to compete against the enemies' constantly updated anti-hacking protocols.
The weapons are novel too - whoever thought of blasting robots with PI obviously did too much maths at school. So, by now you'll either be intrigued or totally bemused. If you fall into the former category and you can forgive the graphical shortcomings while suspending disbelief, you'll find there's an often-absorbing battle to be fought.
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