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This is local copy of an informal review of Uplink, origionally posted on jdejuegos.com.

The original article can be found here.

Translation provided by Chris Conly

 

 

After seeing the film "Hackers" (with Angelina Jolie) or "The Net" (with
Sandra Bullock) many people wanted to be a part of that world of
adventures between virtual and real, and at least try to hijack a
computer connected to the internet. Well, Uplink, the game from a small
English company called Introversion Software, is, for now, the closest we
can come to being "hackers" (or in this particular case "crackers"),
without ending up with a long, paid vacation behind bars somewhere.
Many will find that the approach of this game is simplistic, direct
and minimalist, but even so it's very, yes very, playable. Just one
warning: don't think that by becoming agent number one in the game you're
going to be able to get into any insecure server in real life.
[Picture: "Trust is a weakness" in Spanish]


The demo has one big defect -- it's a demo. Just as things are getting
interesting and you have enough money (credits) to acquire a faster and
more powerful computer, there appears the unwelcome message that you have
to order the complete version in order to continue. Well at least it was
funny. Including the tutorial, this little demo offers about two hours
of connecting computers, stealing information, deleting files,
and changing personal information in different government and commercial
databases. You don't need to be a hardware or software specialist or
a programmer to understand the game's dynamics. Those who have such
expertise will see that the game is not particularly faithful to reality
(or they should review their course work).
[Picture: a person's dossier in a University Database]


Uplink begins as if you had really installed special software and
connected to a secret server. A couple of screens, all in English, offer
instructions and request a little information to get access. Once you've
chosen a user name and password the game interface quickly appears,
simple, complete, and unexotic. It's recommended to go through the short
tutorial to get acquainted with the functions of the icons and windows,
then to do the first test mission to know the basics of the job. The
logic is practically the same for all the missions, with necessary
differences depending whether the object is to acquire information,
change data or delete it (the demo has no other kind of mission).


When you become an agent, a "cracker," of the shadowy contracting agency
called "Uplink Corporation," you become part of the little world of
Neuromancer, Hackers, The Net, and so many others. One thing is clear
from the beginning: if they catch you the corporation doesn't know you
and hadn't the least idea you were using its servers for any improper
purpose. The player feels like an undercover agent and the site's motto
sums it up: Trust is a Weakness. Every mission has a degree of
difficulty and a required agent level to carry it out, and at the end of
each mission you get your contracted pay.

The steps for getting to a server, in the demo missions, are
straightforward. First you need to set up a series of jumps ("hops")
using known servers, in order to delay tracing back to your computer
(your "gateway," whose hardware and software you build up according to
your capital and the needs of the moment). Then you have to get a
username and password for access to the target computer (these always
change, so there's no point in noting them down). Then you'll have to
accomplish the mission objectives, whether these are to copy or erase
files or change information in a database, then get out. All this in the
least possible time so you won't be identified -- for this the first
indispensable program is the trace detector, to tell how much time is
left and whether you have to abort the mission or can go on.
[Picture: the useful map for setting up jump points]


Your "gateway" system, used for all operations, can be updated in both
software and hardware. Better processors, better modem, more memory, and
extras like motion detectors and self-destruct systems all help finish
missions faster or eliminate evidence to avoid detection. The amount of
software is not huge, but it includes useful tools like decoders and
coders, password crackers, IP address locators, trace detectors, file
copiers and deleters, proxy emulators, etc. Many of these programs come
in different, increasingly expensive versions, with more functions. And
they take more memory, so be careful.
[Picture: beginning the game]


At each moment the interface shows you the path of your connection, and
if you have a trace tracker you know how much time is left till they
catch you. You also know how much CPU power is being used by your
software, and how much memory is free to copy files to. With the demo
you can't go very far, but eventually there are missions where speed is
important enough that you'll need to buy a faster modem, more capable
processor, more memory, etc. All your missions arrive via emails
containing the necessary details, and when you've finished the mission
you report by email too.


All missions in the demo are rather direct, without alternative
solutions. It's a matter of connecting your gateway with server X
through jumps to other servers to lengthen trace time. Then get in and
do your dirty work and exit before being identified. With better
software and hardware you can work faster and with a better safety
margin. Missions in the full version are more sophisticated and take
more equipment, but even so they won't vary much.


For reasons that are obvious, at least in these times of total paranoia,
names of businesses, persons, servers, internet addresses and physical
locations on the map are all fictitious; with distinct exceptions like
the "InterNIC" server, and even its location and IP address are false.
All the software that you can get at the Uplink Corporation's virtual
shop, though it may exist in the real world, comes without source code or
documentation. All the user knows is how to use it inside the game,
nothing more. I have yet to see any notice of it, but it seems almost
sure that some extremist group already has the game on its black list.
[Picture: interface screen for a virtual bank]


Although the game is very playable it's not perfect. It's too linear,
not permitting going back through some steps or omitting others, so that
you always have to go through the same list of chores that just gets
longer as the missions become more complicated. There's no freedom to
find different solutions since the missions are so similar, except that
you can use different programs for the same problem, like the Dictionary
Hacker or the Password Breaker which both find user names and passwords
though with different methods. All this implies also that there's not a
lot of re-playableness, since missions don't change more than in the
names of files and persons.

[Picture: On the right, memory blocks used]
If the idea comes into your head that you're going to be able to use the
addresses and server names from the game for your, ahem, investigations
in real life, forget it! They're all fictitious. The server identity
numbers, the famous IP's, within the game have values greater than 500
[sic], not in agreement with the IPv4 protocol that mandates values from
0 to 254 in each of the four fields (even considering that the game takes
place in the year 2010). Furthermore the game disregards net, and
subnet, saturation (the famous "lag") and the load on the linking
servers, so that everthing goes predictably in being traced by the server
under attack.


The interface, simple and clear though it is, doesn't allow much
flexibility when you have to open and close windows very quickly to see
important filenames or persons. The process of connection and attack on
servers is much more realistic than that seen in films -- there's no
place for 3-D or fantastic images to represent your software, rather
everything is reduced to lines of text, virtual links on a map, some
indicators like the trace timer, processor load, memory capacity. That's
it. Luckily the information within databases includes photos and other
details that break the monotony and give it a touch of realism. But the
reality wouldn't be much fancier, or maybe less.


As missions are accomplished successfully, your secret identity as an
Uplink Corporation agent is advanced in level and rating within the list
of organization members. And the same for the credits available to
invest in your system. Player information is kept automatically, so that
every mistake also affects your agent identity and you won't fail to get
warning messages for using outside servers without permission, and there
will be problems if it goes any further. For now there is no indication
of a Spanish version of the game, so reading and understanding English
well is required.
[Picture: welcome to the game -- enter your username]


In sum, Uplink offers a good implementation of an idea that curiously was
not developed until today, at least not with a product of commercial
quality. Its playing dynamic can be a little tedious but even so it is
consummately entertaining. Those who doubt it can download the demo in
less than half an hour, and it doesn't take an advanced computer to run.
The only thing lacking, at the moment, is the option of competing against
other agents over the real Internet or a local network (that is,
multiplayer mode).

4 February 2002
All graphics and related matter property of Introversion Software.
Contact: feedback@jdejuegos.com
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Copyright J de Juegos 1999-2002. All rights reserved.

 

Uplink is a trademark of Introversion Software