Review: Uplink 1.3.1
Requirements: Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X 10.1, 64 MB RAM (128 MB on OS X), 30 MB HD space, 300 MHz G3, OpenGL 3D video card, OpenGL 1.2, CarbonLib 1.6, DrawSprocket 1.7.5.
Trial: Feature-limited (limited hardware purchases in the Uplink store, cannnot acquire higher-level missions)
The hacker in all of us occasionally dreams of dropping in uninvited on our least favorite company’s network and mucking about. Maybe you want to be sure they can’t really sell your name and address to unsavory characters. Perhaps their stately “About the President” page would look better with “l337 h4xx0r 0wnz j00!” written across the top. Uplink turns this dream into an occupation, though admittedly not one that includes a 401K and tax returns—not your own, anyway.
It’s worth noting that “hacker” as a malicious computer invader is media parlance, probably used by the game for convenience. Dictionary.com’s first definition is neutral.
1. One who is proficient at using or programming a computer; a computer buff.
“Cracker” adds the connotation of maliciousness, though crackers aren’t necessarily skilled, just malicious. Some will debate “hacker” versus “cracker” ad nauseum. The game sticks primarily to the generic title “agent.”
Start the game to work as an agent with the Uplink Corporation. Uplink gives you a basic gateway computer and will sell you hardware and software to augment it as the game goes on, charging a virtual membership fee for each month of game time. Uplink runs in real time, though there are controls on the main screen to accelerate time if you’re waiting for new missions or otherwise want time to pass quickly.
Uplink’s single tutorial mission helps you purchase equipment, examine targets, and crack basic security measures. That’s it! The rest you learn on your own, usually the hard way. Get caught by a company and you’ll probably pay a fine. Get caught by a bank or the government and it’s GAME OVER. I watched several hours of game time go down the tubes by carelessly ignoring the need to cover my tracks.
Uplink’s Tutorial Daemon-in-a-box
The tutorial guides you in purchasing your first password cracking program, which you need to break into target systems. Dictionary crackers are faster and have good odds of working, but they’re not guaranteed. Buy one for the early missions, then the other when you have the money to expand your options.
Targets immediately start tracing your connection when a password crack starts. Make it harder on them by bouncing your signal back and forth across the Internet and buy a trace tracker to estimate the time remaining before an active trace nabs you, so you don’t get caught unawares.
Uplink revolves around the mission board, where companies post job offers and agents browse them. Your experience determines how many jobs you can see at a given time and pay is commensurate with the job’s difficulty. This is very similar to Escape Velocity’s mission boards, another Ambrosia Software game. Early missions involve breaking into a company and stealing or destroying data. More advanced ones will involve destroying personal reputations and exploring corporate LANs.
An Uplink Mission Description
It’s fun to steal stuff and obliterate years of research, but don’t focus only on the Uplink mission board. A parallel story develops on the Uplink news page, rumors of strange goings-on at a company called ARC. Another Uplink agent will tip you off to ARC’s activities. Follow his lead to be contacted by ARC, starting a series of missions centering on a virus they’re developing. A choice quickly appears: follow the money and work on the virus or help the government set ARC up for a fall. You play the game largely at your own pace, though ARC-related missions will come in sequence.
History of a Stock on the Market
Need more money? Invest in the stock market, easily found from the InterNIC site database. Your missions can directly impact stock prices, acting as a nice bonus to your pocketbook.
Uplink is graphically spartan, but definitely isn’t a text adventure. It’d almost be better that way, actually—several times during play, I thought “Real hackers would use command-line scripts, not just click around on everything.”
The game uses a heads-up display with components spread around the screen. You switch back and forth among most of them during even the simpler missions. In the upper-right corner is the world map, both a tool and status indicator. Expand it to show available Internet connections and plan multi-site connections. Minimized, it indicates the progress of an active trace started by your current target (if you have the necessary software). Icons along the bottom of the screen represent your gateway computer, installed software (including available space), and mission details.
Players should use the 800x600 resolution to avoid feeling visually cramped and 1024x768 is better if you can handle the small text. Uplink isn’t graphically intensive, but can feel that way. The buttons don’t respond quickly, so click carefully. This becomes annoying when seconds count and you’re missing clicks on file sources or targets.
Cracking passwords takes time and CPU power, especially when you’re running multiple programs at the same time. Upgrade your gateway CPU as soon as possible and give higher priority to the cracker program (click the right arrow next to its usage window).
Make sure to start every mission through InterNIC. Its simple password interface provides easy access to the connection log, where you’ll erase log traces of your actions, breaking the Internet trail that points back to you. Log Deleter 4.0 is perfect for this and should be high on your purchase priority list.
Go ahead and take on a bunch of missions early in the game. Doubling up missions on the same target means more money for less work. More CPU power is helpful and a worthy first hardware upgrade. If you plan to run “steal data” missions, expand your storage space as soon as possible, since you don’t start with much.
Once you’ve cracked your way to fame and almost-fortune, consider a bank transfer to finance your leap to the elite levels. Some missions ask you to trace bank records, which usually lead to an account with lots of credits. Crafty work can net you the credits, but banks are unforgiving victims. Open an account at the same bank and write down the account number. Break into the traced account and transfer the money to your new account. Finally, delete the log entries for both the transfer and your receipt of same. Success means an increased rank and tons of cash.
The ARC story progression requires well-developed skills and hardware, especially near the end. Try each of the other mission types, especially cracking LANs, before you take them on. For additional game play help, visit Ambrosia’s Uplink site and check out the Web boards. One interesting in-game feature is the ability to purchase an IRC client that connects to the real Uplink IRC channel (if you’re connected to the Internet). It’s a debatable source of game help, but cool nonetheless.
The keyboard adrenaline rush of Uplink will capture many, but there are some annoyances. The aforementioned slow button click response is the biggest. Text typos pop up, probably more notably because the game’s so text-dependent. Labels on the world map can jump around when you show a bunch at once—clear your Internet jump path, then close and reopen the map to settle them down. Selecting something on the screen often closes the mission detail window. An option to “lock” a window open would help.
Uplink is a rare beast, twitch gaming adrenaline without a gun in your hands. Pull off a major heist or system crash with the clock ticking down and you’ll feel like pumping your fists. Progress is saved automatically, so there’s no easy “undo” of your actions, unless you back up your character file before playing. Mistakes stick with you, especially when you tick off one of the game’s “big boys.” Uplink occupied four straight up-until-3 AM nights for me, providing an excellent change of pace for the gamer of varied tastes or lower-powered hardware. The story isn’t as deep as Escape Velocity’s, but Ambrosia ported Uplink well and it should satisfy tech-oriented gamers, in spite of its interface flaws.