REVIEW: Darknet

A relaxing, colourful 3D terrain-capture game with fabulous organisation of level structure, pretty graphics and VR support.

Steam: Released
Type: Single-player
Genre: Strategy
Developer: E McNeill
Publisher: E McNeill
Release Date: 8 Jun, 2017

I usually associate hacking games with text and puzzles but this is nothing of the sort. It’s a graphics-intensive point and click strategy game focused on capturing stuff and purchasing powerups.

“Levels” consist of an interconnected network of nodes which you have to strategically capture. The network surrounds you and although I don’t have VR, I can imagine how impressive this would be viewed from a headset. There are different types and sizes of nodes. Some are ‘Sentinels’ that have extra firewall protection which you have to remove using special ‘Hydra’ tools which have to be purchased and have a single use. You can also purchase ‘Exploits’ which allow you to auto-capture an area, and later on Worms once you’ve unlocked them (I don’t know what they do yet!) There is always a time limit for the level, and if you’re too slow then you don’t get paid and you lose some skill rating points, so the Exploits help to speed things up in order to beat the deadline.

The main objective of the level is to capture the big central ‘Root’ node. The reward for doing so is a set number of BTC, the main currency of the game, which allows you to purchase permanent powerups and unlocks to enable you to tackle more difficult nodes.

When you enter a node to capture it you see a 2D network with glowing virus points dotted around. You have to use your purple Viruses to infect certain nodes which then infect some of the surrounding network. There’s a big yellow node in the centre of the network that you have to capture, but since you only have a limited number of Viruses it’s usually necessary to make several attempts at it, or give up and try a different node. If you’re successful you’re rewarded with currency which you can use to purchase extra Viruses (these are multi-use and are the main tool) or single-use Hydras and Exploits. As you gain more and more Viruses this allows you to tackle the larger, more difficult nodes which give you more profit, more spending power and eventually get you closer to capturing the Root node.

90% of the time you spend capturing nodes (2D networks) and it becomes a tranquil, zen, repetitive experience – well for a while anyway, until the time limits of the more advanced levels start kicking in. I’m still not entirely sure if the virus spread is 100% logical or if there’s a random element to it. I suspect the latter because I haven’t been able to work out a specific rule about it, and viruses often spread further or less than expected. Generally speaking though, you do get a gut instinct about it after a while. I wouldn’t call it a logical puzzle game, it’s more about gradually gaining power and always trying to push the envelope.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a storyline of sorts depicted via reports on the main menu. It’s a tale of corporate espionage and skulduggery, a nice distraction in between the main business of hacking nodes.

Overall organisation of the game is one of the most elegant I’ve ever seen. You use left-click to “zoom” into sub-networks and right-click to zoom out again to the main galaxy and settings/purchase menus. It’s all wonderfully intuitive and smooth, and zapping through wormholes to your destination is pretty cool.


I have a GTX 1050Ti. The game runs smoothly with no lag, and my fans blow at what I would consider to be medium pace. GTX 970 is the minimum and I would advise you to heed this if you intend to buy. The optimisation is pretty good but you do need a decent card.


I usually frown on Unity games without native Linux support, but Darknet works flawlessly in wine so I’ll turn a blind eye on this occasion. Still, why not port it, it’s only a button click for the dev. I asked about it on their forum a month ago but no response at all.


It was released a few weeks ago but still has no Steam features at all, which seems quite unusual. Never mind, it’s not a deal-breaker in my opinion.


Once again I’m extremely impressed with the way difficulty is handled. You go to the main ‘cloud’ of planets and incrementally increase or decrease the difficulty. Each time you do so a different system of worlds zooms up towards you. The higher the difficulty, the higher the BTC rewards. The difficulty of each world is represented as a percentage ranging from < 1% up to 50% and the BTC rewards match accordingly, from 1 BTC to 300! It shows you the percentages of what you 'stand to lose' and 'stand to gain' for your skill rating, although I'm not entirely sure how your skill rating fits into the picture at the moment. Anyway, the point is that anyone can play this game, from a 10 year old child to a hardened puzzle/strategy expert and you can be very specific about how much challenge you want, depending on your mood at the time.


Although the scope/diversity of the game could be regarded as somewhat limited, the amount of content can’t be faulted, there are tons of levels to keep you busy. There will inevitably be a lot of replay value as well, because once you get to the more difficult levels it’s going to take multiple attempts to gain the BTC currency to increase your arsenal in order to tackle advanced levels.


It’s a game I’m likely to play often but in short doses. The 2D network capture can become repetitive after a while but the overall powerup system and progression makes it a game that will feed your lust for power over the long term, while at the same time keeping your adrenaline levels at zero in a relaxing atmosphere.

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September 2017

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