Michael Brough has frustrated gamers before with his extremely cryptic games like Corrypt and Zaga 33, but 868-Hack is probably his best yet. Why? Because it’s easy to understand yet still incredibly complex. I’m going to be talking about how the balancing in this game makes it stand out as a simple structure that still has great depth. Many games employ some very complicated balancing strategies that are never really witnessed or understood by their players: 868-Hack is the opposite, opting for a balancing system that is bold-faced in its simplicity. It’s for this reason that I saw how much potential it has as a lesson in balance.
I won’t describe the basics of the game here, so if you haven’t played it before you can check out these links:
So what exactly is it about this game that makes it so well balanced? First there’s the enemy classes and then the movement restrictions. Both of these game elements, when done badly, completely break a game. Imagine a game where you fought one type of minion the whole time, or a game where the enemies are ten times faster than you. Even though elements like the ones I mentioned above aren’t necessarily something a player is always thinking about, they are constantly effecting the gameplay and level of satisfaction delivered by the game.
There are four types of enemies: Daemons, Viruses, Glitches, and Cryptogs. Each one has a specific ability that makes it different from the rest. Because of these differences and because enemies spawn randomly at certain points (as well as predictably when you pick up powerups), it’s apparent from the beginning that you really have to be on your toes and ready for anything.
Being able to dance between managing a fluttering Virus and a rocksteady Daemon is really what makes this game shine. In order to beat it (and actually manage a high score), you really need to be able to prioritize your choices and sometimes pick the lesser of two evils, something that comes up often in the later levels.
Organizing this list of future moves in your head is what makes this game so good. When you outsmart the enemies, you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something, not to mention being able to breathe a sigh of relief and wash your mind of the long list of moves you had to pull out to get where you are.
The mechanic that’s perhaps the most frustrating in this game is the movement schedule: you move once then all the enemies move once–simultaneously. This can be intimidating, especially when you have ten baddies bearing down on you. However, it’s also the most relevant mechanic in the game. It forces you to think about how a game can play out before it actually does.
This may be why I like this game so much: there’s no element of “blah” to it. If you’ve ever played 2048 or Temple Run or even Angry Birds, you know what I’m talking about. At a certain point, you just tune out and don’t even realize that you’re just going through the motions. Just “swipe, tilt, tilt, swipe, swipe.” I’m not implying that I’m above that at all; I’ll sometimes sit on the bus and play 2048 and not even look up once.
But 868-Hack doesn’t let you zone out, nor does it let you easily beat any of its systems. Because you’re so incredibly outnumbered by enemies at times, bored, unfocused swiping will get you killed every time. See, that’s the balance part. People think they’re playing a good game when they can blaze through twenty levels in one sitting. It may be a good game to some, but it’s also extremely unbalanced.
I realize that there are a lot more things in this game that make it good, like the powerups system for example. But I think that if you really boil it down, the enemy classes and the movement restrictions are the two things that make the game what it is. Even without powerups, this would be a great game: playing it makes you realize just how much thought can go into a system despite the end result appearing as a simple, tile-based game. Any other simple-looking, tiled-based games out there with the same complexity? Look no further.