Games like Thief, Hitman, Splinter Cell, Dishonored, and Assassin’s Creed all have two things in common – they are all stealth titles, and they are all single player. Hacktag looks to take those stealth principles and turn them on their head by taking them multiplayer. Hacktag may be Early Access, but it’s also got something big going for it — there’s nothing quite like it.
Set in the year 2029, Hacktag casts one player as a stealth agent specializing in infiltration and corporate espionage. Behind the scenes, however, is the second player – their hacker support. The asymmetric gameplay has the infiltration player tackling the bland cubicle world of high-tech office buildings with a shared and simple objective – steal all the data. The hacker, tackling a digital overlay of the same office building, unlocks doors, disables cameras, and disrupts the various electronics in the building to help the stealth agent in that objective. It’s this interplay between both players that makes Hacktag unique.
In its current state, Hacktag has three different corporations for players to tackle, taking place in three procedurally generated map types, and the promise of more coming in the future. Using stylized anthropomorphized cats as the main characters, Hacktag just oozes style, and that extends nicely to the gameplay. Before we take a closer look at the game, here’s a quick video intro to showcase the gameplay in motion:
At its core, Hacktag is an asymmetric cooperative game. In fact, it can only be played with two players, and with good reason. Both agents have to use fast fingers to follow the on-screen directional press-prompts to open firewalls, doors, servers, and other hardened targets. A two-factor authentication door or server gives both players a set of hex-based codes, asking them to match the same hex code by scrolling through list until they find the ones that match. This can be harrowing when a guard is on your tail, anthropomorphic pun intended.
As the stealth agent infiltrates the building, they’ll encounter cameras, locked doors, and other items that the hacker can disable for a short period of time. Meanwhile, the agent has to find physical firewalls and disable them so the hacker can get past them to reach other targets. If a distraction is needed, the hacker can cause a soda machine to clunk to attract a nearby guard, ring a nearby phone, or other electronic distractions to get that guard out of the way for the stealth agent to sneak past. Sometimes the stealth agent will accidentally trip an alarm and both players will have to complete another cooperative exercise to cut the right wire to disarm it before it goes off and summons every guard in the building. It’s a great game of cat and…well, big burly polar bears in suits with guns and shoulder holsters, in this case.
Ok, so you got caught. In Hacktag, that doesn’t mean game over. If the stealth agent gets busted, the guard that caught them will escort them to a holding cell. At that point, it’s up to the hacker to carefully make their way to that part of the building, avoiding the roving antivirus, releasing them from their cage. Similarly, if the hacker is caught, their ‘program’ will be quarantined, and it’ll require the stealth agent to break into the server room to release them. Naturally, if both players get caught it’s game over, but it’s this asymmetric gameplay, combined with trying to steal as much data as possible, that makes the game both cooperative as well as competitive.
One of the best parts about Hacktag is that the stealth agent cannot see the overlay that the hacker is using (unless you are peeking in the split-screen local co-op – online play is also supported). This demands that they work together to succeed. Better yet, the game works for non-stealth players as they can simply play as the hacker as their moves are all fairly linear without any roving ‘guards’ to deal with – just the antivirus escalations from hacking attempts which the stealth agent can slow down by disabling antivirus on the PCs they hack.
Completing a mission unlocks additional goodies you can use to cosmetically dress up your character. It also gives you a rating based on how much time you spent captured, how many failed hack attempts you had, how much data you nabbed, any secrets you uncovered, and how long it took you to do it. Better still, it’s a combined rating, reinforcing team play again. Just don’t get upset if you have to pick up the slack.
Hacktag is still early access, so there are a few bugs here and there, such as the guards occasionally sticking their faces in corners during patrol routes, which is a little immersion breaking, but the randomness of the game, and the cooperative play aspects will keep you on your toes nonetheless. After a few rounds of Hacktag I came away excited about where this game could go from here. If this first look is any indication, we are looking at some unique and engaging teamwork-based fun very soon. Now if only we can get it onto our favorite consoles as well…
Hacktag is available via Steam Early Access, and is currently in closed Beta.