If you love heist stories like Ocean’s 11 or Leverage, here’s your chance to be in one: Hacktag is a 2-player cooperative game about breaking into corporations, stealing data, and—most importantly—not getting caught.
Hacktag is currently available through Steam Early Access for $14.99; it’s in an advanced beta state and will be in development for another 3 to 6 months as Piece of Cake Studio takes feedback from players to work out bugs and put the final polish on things. GeekDad Gerry Tolbert and I were provided with download codes to try out the game. It’s been a little tricky coordinating because we’re two time zones apart, but we have managed to accumulate a couple of hours playing.
The game is for 2 players, either split-screen on one computer or online. One player is the Stealth Agent, and is physically entering the facility; the other player is the Hacker, traveling between nodes on the network. Here’s how the game works.
First, you get to customize your character. You can have up to three characters per account—they’re anthropomorphic animals, and you have a few options for fur color patterns and clothing. The menu had some greyed-out options for accessories, so presumably those will be unlocked later.
The first time you create a character, you’ll be directed through the tutorial, which walks you through two simple levels—first as the Stealth Agent, and then as the Hacker. Once you’re finished, you’ll need to find a partner to play. Gerry and I had a little trouble getting connected initially, but it was a lot smoother the second time around. You’ll be presented with a mission screen with a few options to choose from. This screen is presented like chat messages from various contacts, and you can choose to answer if you like, though it’s mostly for flavor and doesn’t actually affect the game. What does matter is your skills: as you play, you’ll earn XP, which unlocks new skills. You can pick up to 3 skills to activate for the mission—moving more quickly, making hacking easier, and so on.
As the Stealth Agent, you move around in physical space, ducking behind desks to avoid getting caught by guards. You’ll need to disable firewalls by accessing the control panels, and you can also disable scanners and antivirus programs that can catch your hacker in the network. You’ll have to watch out for security cameras, and there are some doors that only your partner can unlock for you. You can sprint, but it makes more noise and may attract guards if they’re nearby. The Stealth Agent gets to see the world in full color, and there are a lot of fun little details throughout the offices.
The Hacker sees the world a little differently: the physical aspects of the world are less distinct, and instead you see network paths between nodes: computers, phones, security doors, and so on. Often your path from one room to the next won’t be exactly the same as the physical path for the Stealth Agent. You can do things like disable cameras, make the phones ring to distract guards, and unlock doors, but you get stuck at firewalls until the Stealth Agent hacks them. You also have the ability to tag up to four nodes that you can teleport to, but if those nodes get scanned by an antivirus, it’ll come looking for you.
Both the Stealth Agent and the Hacker can steal data from computers—you just hold down the key and wait for the progress bar to fill. But if you quit in the middle of the process, you’ll make noise that alerts the guards or the antivirus if they’re nearby. Other hacking requires minigames, like hitting a sequence of directions before time runs out. Some items require both of you to work together simultaneously—door codes where both players have to locate the matching code, or alarms that require you both to figure out which wire to cut.
If you’re not careful, of course, you get caught. When guards spot you or hear you, you might have a little bit of time to sprint away, but if they catch up with you, they’ll throw you in a holding cell. Likewise, the Hacker can get stuck in a quarantine by the antivirus software. The other agent will have a limited amount of time to go break their partner out. Wait too long, though, and the mission fails.
And, of course, if you’re both caught simultaneously, you’re stuck for good and the mission fails.
Gerry and I attempted several of the missions; the second time we played, there were some new, easier levels added, which was much appreciated because the first time we tried it was hard. We thought we were doing pretty well, but the level was much bigger than expected, and eventually we’d both get caught and lose.
The controls are a little strange for me—I’m using a keyboard, but the display is an isometric view—pushing “up” (the letter W) on my keyboard might move me up and to the right, or it might move me up and to the left. A lot of our issues getting caught were because I didn’t move where I expected to. I imagine using a gamepad would make things easier in that regard.
Gerry says: “I can attest to the fact that the gamepad helps, though not as much as I’d expected. There are existing profiles for most popular controller configurations, so setup was easy. My Xbox 360 controller on the Steam Link improved my ability to navigate as the Stealth Agent, but it was of limited utility for the Hacker. The computer nodes are linked in the ordinal directions, and the sensitivity of the thumbsticks meant I often overshot my target. Overall, though, I was pretty pleased with the game, as well.”
You have limited ways to communicate with your partner. There’s a small dialogue option that lets you say a few standard phrases: “Help me!” and “Great job!” You can also blink a temporary marker at your location: a green checkmark, a red X, a yellow exclamation point, or a blue arrow. Gerry and I found that having a Skype call running while we played made it a lot easier—even then it was pretty tricky. I played a few rounds with a randomly matched online partner, and not being able to talk was very difficult.
The biggest downside at the moment is simply the fact that there aren’t many people playing it yet. I’ve tried logging in to find a random partner but I’ve only been matched once, and lately I’ve usually noticed that when I log in there aren’t many people available. It’s a game I’d really love to play more, though, so I hope that more people give it a try—if you do, ping me on Twitter and we can try to set up a match!
Hacktag will increase in price once the final version is released, so Early Access will save you a little but you also have to deal with the bugs, too. We had one session where the camera view was rotated about 45 degrees, making it very hard for the Stealth Agent to see where the doors were in the vertical walls. Another time, the guards were stuck in place and couldn’t move—nice for us, but not exactly the right experience. But it’s been enough to convince me that it’s a game I’ll really enjoy, and I’m looking forward to gaining some more of those skills seen in the gameplay trailers.