Release Date: November 18, 2005
In every game reviewer's life, there comes a time when they find themselves faced with a title and they have only one way to describe it. The problem is that the description comes with a certain set of expectations that the game must then meet, or it would feel improper to use that description. In spite of that, Space Hack is one of those games, and I must pull out that old standby description, dust it off, and fit it into place.
We're talking Diablo-clone here, folks.
I could actually begin and end the review on that note. Space Hack is a shortening of the original title, Maximus XV: Abraham Strong - Space Mercenary, and to be honest, I think that original title is the single most complex thing about the whole game. Your character, an extremely large man who goes by the name of Hack, operates out of the small enclosed base area where you can receive healing, do your shopping, and get unknown items identified. From there, he enters the killing fields of the space colony to whack the alien bug invaders, who have infested his colony for some uninteresting reason. After making them go "squish" in a satisfying fashion with his weapon of choice, Hack returns to town to sell the items he obtained by killing the monsters to get more money, which he uses to buy more equipment with which to kill more monsters and get more items to sell to get money to buy more equipment, with which to kill more ... you get the idea.
This kind of thing goes on for a long time. Space Hack is a pretty lengthy game for the type, so if you like it, you'll be getting a decent value for your money. For the record, the best thing about Space Hack is the price tag. If you're fond of this sort of thing and have always wanted to play it in a techno-futuristic skin, you can drop $20 and get a good-sized hunk of monster bashery. This is never a bad thing.
The basics of the gameplay are pretty basic. Marching Hack around is as simple as clicking, and making him hit things or shoot things is just as straightforward. Space Hack tosses in a couple of interesting wrinkles in the form of cybernetic upgrades that Hack can slot into his head. The problem there is that in order to use, say, a map-generating upgrade, Hack needs to be smart enough to figure out what it is. This is a function of his Intelligence stat, and usually, it's the lowest of his stat tree. Unless you spend a lot of time making your big grunty man brainy enough to know which end of an upgrade to jam into his face, technology beyond that of the sharp stick and fire will elude him. Let's be frank, they don't pay this guy to be smart.
"They" are the ruling faction of the colony ship Maximus XV, and they're understandably upset that aliens have infested all of their 15 biospheric domes. (Oops.) Hack is the only able-bodied fighting man available for some reason, and since the ship is trapped in a nebula, they can't simply escape from the aliens and return home. There's actually a superficial storyline attached to this game, and the translation from the game's original language feels fairly natural to read. If Hack cares to stop and talk to people and read the log updates he finds, he'll learn about why the colony ship is out in the middle of Sector Nowhere anyway. As long as you're out there, you might as well experience the plot, but there's no way that's going to be your main driving force for playing Space Hack.
The areas you'll be squishing and stomping through are each self-contained examples of various Earth climates and geographic locations. This is a fancy way of saying that you've got a forest world, an ice world, a grasslands world and even a volcanic world. Strictly speaking, I'm not sure why the colonizing ship needs an entire dome dedicated to volcanic ash and lava oozing everywhere. Maybe the bug infestation screwed around with their climate control computer. Then again, maybe some folk on the ship just have very strange tastes in vacationing spots. Who knows?
In any event, you'll be making your way through some fairly good-looking areas. If you remember that this is a low-budget game, you can really see where the money went. Graphically, I'd dare say this is one of the nicest looking games of this style we've seen yet. In particular, the art style of the weapons and armor shows a pulp sci-fi sensibility that really resonates well with the material. It takes you right back to the 1930s vision of men with gleaming armor and impractical but shiny weapons fighting through hordes of bug-eyed monsters. I respect that. The quality of the character models depends a bit on how important they are. Hack himself looks quite nice, but some of the colonists you'll be saving from monsters are kind of wonky looking.
The audio in Space Hack is just plain forgettable. There's not much in the way of music, there isn't much in the way of voice acting beyond a few grunty sounds from our hero Hack (seriously, after typing his first name like this so many times, I start to wonder about the rest of it. Is his full name Dr. Hack Slashmore, Professor of Badassology? Who the heck names their kid Hack anyway? Did they expect him to become a bad novelist?), and the sound effects are amusing but limited. There's only so often you can hear the steady *squish* *bash* *glurp* *smack* of combat before you start muting the game and play a music CD in the background instead.
Space Hack is essentially a one-trick pony that's learned its one trick to near perfection. Bashing monsters to the point of absurdity is engaging for a while, but after a bit of hammering away, you'll start to pick up on the flaws of the game. Energy cells, for example, serve extra duty as currency and as a power source for your technological gizmos. If you're in a panicked situation with aliens coming at you from all sides, it can be quite tempting indeed to whip out a laser rifle and shoot your savings away. There's a huge variety of high- and low-tech weapons in Space Hack, but some of them (I'm thinking in particular of the slingshot) aren't very useful at all. Additionally, some enemies you'll encounter are glowing bright green for no obvious reason. These count as the analogues to Diablo 2's boss monsters, and they will hand you your severed butt on a platter. These seem to act as roadblocks mostly, preventing your progress until you've pumped enough points into your levels to be able to go head-to-head with them.
Additionally, the game's simplicity is both a major benefit and its primary curse. Hack is clearly meant to be a dumb grunt, so getting him to the point where you can use the interesting plug-ins is like kicking water uphill. To do this, you'll have to divert skill point resources away from his primary interests of being big and beefy, which will make killing things with a flick of your wrist even harder. From there, it can be seen that you need to level up even more, which requires killing even more things. Yet it can be downright fun to stomp around smashing the heck out of the gooey exploding aliens.
Thus, you can see that there are a few flaws inherent in the Space Hack system. In spite of that, for 20 bucks, I can't say that I wouldn't pick it up just because it's a nicely shaped sci-fi-flavored potato in the big sack of Diablo clones. I will hazard to say that games like Phantasy Star Online or Restricted Area bring the same thing to the table in different forms, but admittedly none of them have the direct simplicity that Space Hack does. If anything, it has to be respected for being a filtered and extremely direct version of the Diablo-in-space formula. It may not be great or awe-inspiring, but when you need to hit things for pleasure, there it is.
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