Uplink: Soothing Routine, or Monotonous Punch in the Face?

I picked up Steam’s Indie Future Pack this weekend–great buy, by the by–which includes Uplink, a game about hacking. And more hacking. …And getting caught.

The premise and mechanics are pretty simple: you’re an agent of Uplink with a handle, a plaintext password, and a bank account. You connect to the web through your gateway (think: managed, dedicated server), and hack companies and government databases to earn money, increased rating through Uplink, and status amongst your fellow hackers. There’s also some sort of “hack the planet” or “save the cheerleader” plot in there, but we’ll get to that.

Or not, actually.

I played this game a few years ago and loved it. I don’t remember why I stopped, except that maybe I graduated college and became exhausted.

Picking it up this weekend, though, I found that I have a much more analytical eye towards it. I blame the Weir(d) One. The game suffers from a narrowly-defined path to success, which gives the feeling that there’s only one (or two, or three) ways to succeed at the game. When a game opens by giving me a crap-ton of missions, no plot, and various ways to upgrade and optimize, I expect more of a sandbox than Uplink provides.

SlashNBurn was my first hacker. (Hey, at least it wasn’t “ZeroCool”.) She made her way jerkily up the ranks a few levels, then found herself stuck with not enough money to get the monitor bypass software she needed for her next set of jobs, and no available jobs below it with which to make the money.

There’s apparently no cheating in the Steam version of the game, so that was out as an option. …Sorta. I’ll get to that, too.

Not enough money? Fine, then she’ll hack a bank! The basic idea of hacking a bank account is that you look at a high-balance account that you accessed through a mission, bypass the bank’s proxy, transfer the money to yourself, and then very, very quickly clear out logs. Another way to do it is to hack the admin account, get a list of account numbers and passwords, and go through each of them to find high-balance accounts.

She couldn’t hack the admin account due to even more software that she couldn’t afford, but she tried anyway, and then tried to access one piddly-balance account that she’d gotten from a mission. …But couldn’t transfer the funds because her proxy disabler wasn’t high enough.

She also couldn’t delete her logs for the same reason.

So she got caught, and disavowed by Uplink. Game over, fer skerious.

SeraphNull was take two. By then I’d picked up a few ideas on how to not get stuck in a money rut. The game’s design is such that once you advance a rank in Uplink status, most of the missions at the level below you go away. That’s lost income. So this time, SeraphNull accepted every mission at her level before starting to work on any of them, and then just chewed her way through the queue.

And here I ran into a flaw (in my plan or the game’s design, you pick). The item I wanted first, that would spare me from having to buy duplicates of other software, was $20,000. The most I could make on the missions I had was $18,100, and there were no more missions. Not a single thing I could do.

Fine, then she upgraded her hardware a bit with the money instead, and suddenly new missions appeared.

She hit a similar bump again. I was obviously not doing this right. Forums for the game are chock full of people who act as if they’re real hackers (from Hackers… or 4chan), complete with fairly snotty attitude. “The game is easy, why don’t you get it?” One person’s signature actually says something to the effect of, “This post is not intended to make you feel stupid for not searching for forums.”

Really? Obviously it is.

At this point, there was only one thing I wanted to know: how to cheat.

I have absolutely no qualms about cheating in a game, never have. I don’t enjoy or want frustration in video games. I want to see how the game goes, and that’s it. Very few games inspire me to become good at them; Left 4 Dead is one of them, with Civ 4 being another. Uplink does to a certain extent, but not enough to keep churning through characters.

As I mentioned, it’s not really possible to cheat in the Steam version of the game. I can’t put in cheat codes, and there don’t seem to be character editors. All I wanted was money and the ability to stop passive tracing, which is when the hacked company traces back through logs and your connections to find you days after you hacked them. I couldn’t get the latter, but I got the former by using a custom gateway/computer. A touch of a text file, and the gateway was priced at -$999,999,999 (etc.). More money than I could ever spend.

At this point, I’d been playing for about 4-5 hours, and had a very good flow for hacking these simple, single-system setups. With maxed out hardware and software, I could do a job, clear logs, and break my connection chain in less than 90 seconds, usually. I like that flow and routine.

Then I hit LANs. Weird-ass, complicated structures where I get chased around my admins who have dialed in. I must not have covered my tracks well enough in one of them, and so got disavowed again. No help from my gateway’s motion detector. Two characters down.

This is not the bees’ knees. I’d just seen the first news item about the actual plot, dammit. The plot that, even when I played years ago, I’ve never gotten to see in action.

I started a third character–NoolReff–but couldn’t bring myself to play for more than about 5 minutes. Burnout, until I find a new strategy.

All I want to do is play around with hacking long enough to see what this damn plot is.

  • The point of the motion detector is to alert you to set off your bomb. Unfortunately, it goes off the same way when you are getting upgrades as it does when you’re machine is being borrowed by whichever 3 letter agency is after it.

    I believe that the easiest way to deal with trail clearing is to always use one particular location as your first link. I think it is the registry agency (or similar). Regardless, it is always available and, once hacked, never becomes unhacked unlike other machines. You can just log into it and wipe your logs from there. Since it is furthest away on any chain, that’ll almost always be enough to keep you clean.

    • Yeah, I was using InterNIC for the start of my connection chains–it’s the one that’s always available–but I must have been too slow once, or just missed it once. Gah. That delay in getting caught is a killer, too, because it’s tricky to know what mission you screwed up on.

      I may be up for one more attempt at it this weekend. 😛

  • Doug L

    If you fast forward time while sitting at the missions screen, new missions will pop up. New missions pop up all the time, it’s just slow. That’s one of the reasons there is a fast forward button. Probably a bit late, but if you decide to play again, that would help a lot, lol.

    • Hey, Doug, thanks for the note. Yes, the fast-forwarding is handy, but it’s only helpful when more missions are going to appear at your level. From what I saw, zooming forward several days wasn’t enough even once I hit the weird “cap”.

      I’ll probably play again when I want something less structured than Hacker Evolution, which I’m playing now.