Co-op video games come and go but few of them manage to leave a mark in our memories that will make us remember them for a while. The ones that do though, usually have something very interesting that makes it hard for us to forget. Be it the gameplay, the theme, the visual style or just the characters, it can be a variety of things that stick with us and never leave us after some very satisfying hours of playing with a friend of ours.
Hacktag, by Piece of Cake Studios, aims to be one of those games. Following in the tracks of games like Clandestine, Hacktag tries to bring the joy of infiltrating and hacking as a duo back to the co-op video games table. How well does it manage though? Well, let’s find out!
Hacktag is primarily meant to be a co-op game. Although I tried it out on single player as well and I will indeed explain a bit about that, I feel like we would be doing it more justice if we mostly talked about its merits as a co-op experience. So let’s jump right in.
Getting into the game is simple and the character creation is very much the standard kind of procedure you would expect. Once we are done with both the tutorial on how to play a stealth agent, as well as the one on how to play a hacker, a nice interface for adding friends and inviting them to the game allows us to quickly jump into a game with our best friend. We are now suddenly looking at a bunch of missions with various symbols and a few lines of text saying something about “story missions.” We don’t hesitate much and we jump right into one of the first missions.
The screen shows a little bit of a conversation between our characters and the mission giver which, despite the fact that it can become quite stale later on as you play the game more and more, it is quite funny and exhilarating to have some more roleplay related content with choices for the player to make on that part as well. Conversation is done, we choose some upgrades (which at the start we have none of) and we jump right into the fray.
So, it only took us two full missions before realizing how most of the things in the game worked, as well as how we should be cooperating in order to be more efficient. The game provided us with two full 20-minute missions in order to get to that point and beyond that, we just knew what to do. We realized that some of the other missions were of harder difficulty but those didn’t seem that much harder, other than the fact that some of the puzzles were a bit longer. It is basically at this point that me and my friend suddenly started feeling like the game was already becoming repetitive. As fun as we may find it to go around and break into various facilities for all sorts of reasons, we needed more reasons to be coming back.
Thankfully, the developers behind Hacktag thought of this and added a whole bunch of things for that purpose. A lot of customization options for our characters as well as various bonuses and abilities that we can mix and match when our character has unlocked them through playing more and more levels. The appearance customization though, is unfortunately one of the biggest disappointments I have had in a while. As much as I was loving the game, as soon as I realized how we unlock new items for our characters, I was simply just annoyed. Lootsafes. Or just another word for “lootboxes.”
Yap, you read it right, the game has lootboxes. You basically get one after each mission and each lootsafe contains three random items. Needless to say, the randomization is so bad (just like in most other games that use this sort of system) that after 10 missions or so, I ended up getting only one item that I can actually use on my female raccoon character. On top of that, some other things in the boxes, like coins and profile icons are still unusable and I do not want to even start imagining how those will be used. The company actually made an announcement a couple days ago, explaining that those will become usable in the coming days with a new patch.
On top of everything, the game is still quite full of bugs and it is easy for your whole mission to become broken by one of those, forcing you to have to restart a process that you have already put 20 minutes into completing. This is totally understood and things like that happen for indie games, so the least we can hope for as players, is for the developers to be fixing those things in time. Fortunately, in the case of Hacktag, Piece of Cake Studios is constantly releasing content and fix patches for the game. Despite the cringiness of having to see lootboxes in yet another game, at least the game is bound to continue being interesting due to all the new content.
Talking from a more review-oriented standpoint though, it is easy to say that Hacktag can become a go-to game for any co-op duo team, since its mechanics allow for some very fun and rewarding situations. Both the stealth agent and the hacker have to be skillful on their own as well as when they are operating very close to their partners. The game features a very nice aesthetic with all the animal-like characters giving it a bit more of a playful feel, which is a really nice change to have when compared to all the other serious hacking games that we have seen up until now. The music is also simple and to the point, not obscuring the fun of the game, but actually making the atmosphere even more playful.
So, when it comes to judging the game for what it is, it definitely lives up to what the developers set out to create, which is a very fun co-op hack/stealth gaming experience. It is just a whole other bunch of things that do not allow it to shine as much as it could.
Regarding its single player experience, it is unfortunately something that needs to be avoided. It is a very tiring and stressful process to be able to go through any kind of mission on your own. Especially after having played the game a bunch on co-op, I can safely say that the game is meant only for being played with a friend. In single player, we have to press a button to switch from one player to the other and the delay between doing things is just not worth it all. On top of all that, the puzzles that we need to solve with both characters suddenly transform from the best thing, to the worst thing in the game. Especially the timed ones.
I had hoped it would be a much simpler version of the co-op game with some AI helping you, but unfortunately it is not that way. It would have been nice to be that way, since it would be great to do some solo practice when my friend is not around for some co-op action.
It is quite clear that the studio wants to make it something that you will want to come back to, but it is quite unfortunate that they focused so much on a very broken and unsatisfying “lootbox” system instead of putting more time and effort into creating an even more gameplay-rich environment with more missions, puzzles and even interactions between the two players. I am all for dressing up my character (I am actually one of those people that get addicted to it and buy a bunch of cosmetics..) but I would rather have more gameplay instead of a raw rendition of how customization rewards should be given in a game.
A fine example of such a system being used in an indie game was Holodrive, which after a lot of iterations, finally reached a point where buying lootboxes for it does not feel as bad. On top of all that, anything you opened in those boxes, was something that you could actually use right away. Maybe Hacktag will go through its own couple of iterations too before reaching the point that lootsafes feel like an endless and pointless grind.
Note: We may have analyzed the “lootboxes” issue with the game a lot, but things like that stick out and we as reviewers have a duty to talk about them to the very end of it.
You can find Hacktag on Steam for the price of 19,99€.
Hacktag is a game that is a must-buy for any co-op duo team that likes games with interesting interactions between the two players. It builds up on a theme that has unfortunately not seen much light and it is also doing so by putting it in a very fun and playful world. The rewards system could be way better and the game is a little bit buggy now and then but the overall experience is very much worth its price tag.
+ Very fun co-op gameplay
+ Interesting interaction between the two players
+ Lots of replayability value
– A lot of bugs
– Lootboxes… A common mistake, even for indie devs
– A tad bit repetitive, even with its higher difficulty missions
Score : 6.9/10
~Konstantinos “Kelfecil” Christakis