Thank you E McNeill for sending us this game on Windows/HTC Vive to review!
Darknet is what I would consider the ultimate expression of Hollywood's version of the internet. First, you put on your VR headset (in real life, and it's optional as it works on monitors also). Then you are connected to a virtual computer system, with really neat looking 'tubes' and areas that appears to be what the inside of a computer might look like. Once you choose to start hacking, you are brought inside a virtual dome that represents networked systems. You then hack them with viruses, hydras, exploits, and eventually worms, which you use to eventually get the payload data that you are being paid to retrieve.
Given that US Dollars are traceable, BTC, or bitcoins, are the currency of choice once you are out of a specific system. However, during a hack, any data that you find can be quickly exchanged for US Dollars, which can then again be exchanged for many of the previously mentioned hacking tools. Each time you purchase them, the cost goes up exponentially in powers of two, so getting those extra viruses or needed exploits can be very expensive indeed, but often necessary for progress.
The gameplay itself is a deceptively simple puzzle game where your goal is to infect the core with your virus programs. There are various entry points which serve as both places to inject and resistance against viruses. These are all laid out on a hexagonal grid, which is all interconnected to the various points of entry. If a spreading virus hits another point, it will counterattack and subsume the virus twice as quickly as the virus itself can get around. This makes taking care of those entry points extremely important. In order to deal with them, often it's better to just cancel the badly placed ones out with another virus, rather than try to overwhelm the core purely with quantity. After all, it only takes contact with one spreading virus to seize control of the core.
In the main overview map, there are many systems that you can use as your attack points, including normal nodes, Sentinels, and the goal, the Root. As you choose to attack one, it zooms into the puzzle mode mentioned before. Sentinels are important to attack as they put up firewalls for all nearby nodes, which can really make things a lot more difficult, as the core is then surrounded by protection which must be eliminated with viruses before you can capture the data. Once you get the Root, you will earn the BTC promised, as long as you completed it in the time allotted; if not, you lose reputation (which determines how difficult the levels are) and while news stories might still be updated, you don't earn BTC which means that you can't ultimately progress to the most difficult areas until you earn the money needed to get there. I found that around the 50% reputation mark, the difficulty level spiked dramatically.
The game takes place about ten years after quantum computers have become commonplace. There is a news feed, and your actions can update this feed. The things you have hacked are often fed to news organizations as leaks, and it is with these leaks and the resulting news articles that the world that you live in is slowly built around you. It doesn't affect your game, bit it's fascinating to see one person's vision of what a semi-dystopian and corrupt view of the future might look like.
And as such, the main moral objection might just be that you earn your living through corporate, government, or dark net (private hacker spaces) espionage. Often the information that you learn is best to be in the light, but it can still have unexpected consequences on both public opinion or stock prices. Whether bringing this corruption to light is good is perhaps debatable, but the ends don't justify the means as a general principle. Otherwise, the ESRB notes some violent references and mild language. I did not note these things, but since there are many, many news articles that I had not unlocked, it's entirely possible that I just haven't gotten to them yet.
Darknet is a very fascinating game that I quickly found myself enjoying greatly. After a while, the difficulty spike was too much for me, and I ran out of patience with the game, but that does not take away from the fun to be had here. I may come back to it at some point soon, since it's so much fun to play in short spurts. I agree with ESRB's assessment on age appropriateness here. It's a really interesting puzzle/strategy game with a great atmosphere and a very enjoyable soundtrack, with graphics styled in a cyber way that is really fun, especially (but not only) in Virtual Reality. Highly recommended!