Black Ice is a cyberpunk hack-and-shoot FPS that exists somewhere between Borderlands and Tron. You’ll enter an open cyberspace atmosphere with eye-popping colors and corporate servers begging to be hacked for a chance at that sweet, sweet loot. Toss in RPG elements, a stellar electronica soundtrack, and online co-op, and you have a winning combination for any fan of the source material. However, in a world that’s as randomized as its loot system, each server will swarm you with baddies to thwart your attempts.. but hey, that’s what rocket launcher shotguns and jetpacks are for, right?
Even in its current beta state, Black Ice is one of the most addictive games I’ve experienced so far this year. Hidden beneath its simple “hack and loot” concept is a solid FPS with infinite replay value, mostly due in part to its randomized loot, RPG level-up system, and, of course, its seamless online co-op mode, which all lead to me spending an absurd amount of time in-game over the past 5 days. If I had free time, I was hacking. And if I didn’t have enough free time to hack, I was talking about hacking.
It’s not too often that I feel the need to tell every single person I know about a new game, but there was something about Black Ice that warranted the attention. My eyes were always glued to its bright neon visuals, usually tracking down its seemingly never-ending swarms of spider guards, minelayers, and aimbots. Sometimes I didn’t blink at all, actually. My ears were always tuned in to V-Axys’ musical talents, complimenting every laser blast, every blip or bloop perfectly, while its bass thudded along in tempo with my rainbow blasting sniper rifle. There were even times where my hands were sweaty as I’d bite off more than I could chew by hacking multiple servers at once, all in the name of better loot and leveling up. The risk wasn’t always worth the reward, but that’s the beauty of randomization.
Weaponry in Black Ice comes in all shapes and sizes, from Tron-like frisbee discs and sniper rifles, to rail-guns and throwing hammers with any combination of side-effects. In my time with the game I had the pleasure of using a sniper rifle that would turn enemies against one another, a frisbee disc with enough power to one-shot enemies, and a machine gun that could freeze baddies in their tracks. But it’s not just the weapons that are randomized, as you can obtain all sorts of neat functions; like turning your basic jump in to a jetpack, your sprint in to a teleportation spell, adding modifiers to your hacking tool that could increase movement speed or weapon damage, or even adding a zoom to your weapon of choice. I had so much at my disposal but I never, ever wanted to stop hacking or jumping in to another person’s game to see what sort of cyber-wizardry they were running and gunning with. I always wanted — nay, NEEDED — bigger, better, and badder weapons and hacking tools.
Hacking is a major part of Black Ice, and it’s actually quite simple. There are no pipeline mini-games, match puzzles or what have you; you just run to your server of choice and use your hacking tool. Once you initiate a hack, a timer pops up and you’ll defend your position while remaining within the designated area until the counter reaches zero. Each server has their own difficulty level as well, where the higher the level, the meaner its defensive minions will be. For instance, a level 10 server may only push out a handful of spiders and aimbots, but a level 200 server will greet you with massive spiders that are not only on fire, but covered in shields.
The in-game goal is to hack the level 500 Finality, Incorporated server, but there really isn’t much of a story to guide you along. The game is all about hacking servers while bettering yourself through loot upgrades and level-ups, so hopefully that’s enough to keep you going. Leveling up in Black Ice rewards you with talent points which you can allocate in to an assortment of statistical improvements, such as faster hacking speeds, or increasing your RAM regeneration (the resource used to fire weapons and use abilities). You can also have multiple save files, so I ended up building myself a few different characters along the way. That way I could have one character focused on fast hacks and lots of RAM regeneration to fly around on my jetpack for longer durations, and another that was more of a run and gunner with high damage output. This worked out well when playing with other people, as it gives you a chance to be more strategic and work together more effectively.
Overall, I’m madly in love with Black Ice as it is right now, but I’d really like to see more variation in enemy models, and maybe even some PVP modes. I’ll always prefer a co-op experience, but if there was a mode where 4 or 5 players could try to hack as much of the map as possible and compete for points, that might add a little more to its replay value. Even some sort of generic deathmatch or domination mode where teams of 2 could hack and re-hack servers in a resource competition could draw in a completely different crowd to experience the game’s sheer brilliance. Black Ice doesn’t need any of this to be fun, though. It’s already sucked me in with its virtually endless replay value, but if the developer wants to add more meat to its bones, I think this would be the way to go.
As far as Early Access games go, Black Ice is updated frequently and the development team is incredibly active on Steam and Twitter. It promises to be DRM-free and include every future update at no additional cost to the consumer. Developer Super Duper Garrett Cooper‘s main priority is bug fixing, which is reassuring to anyone risking their money on an Early Access release, and they’ve also made the game open to community mods and monetization on YouTube Let’s Plays. Black Ice has a great head on its shoulders and I’ve loved every hour I’ve poured in to the Steam release thus far. I have every intention of seeing it through to its eventual retail release, and have absolutely no problem recommending it to anyone with an interest in FPS loot-fests, co-op shooters, and cyberpunk atmospheres. It really is a great ride, and even as an Early Access release on Steam, I’m positive it’ll end up as one of my favorite games of 2014.
*An Early Access Review differs from our standard reviews in that it’s our opinion on the current state of an unfinished product. All of our Early Access Reviews are done using the most recent version of the game available at the time the review is published, unless otherwise noted in the article.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, handling news, reviews, and a bit of our public relations communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and a diehard Orioles fan that’s completely obsessed with roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.