Midnight Protocol Review: I’m in!
The 1995 cult cinematic classic Hackers made a lasting impression on those who loved the idea of solving cyber-conspiracies. I know for a fact it’s compelled me to say “I’m in” when I login to any of my accounts because LET ME DREAM. In all seriousness, that movie has absolutely inspired hackers and data-activists the world over, including the notorious donk_enby when they downloaded 30 terabytes of information from Parler using the referential name “crash override.” It’s a thrilling rush to feel like a hacker, but it’s a lot safer when you’re playing out your fantasies in game form.
Enter Midnight Protocol, a game about a doxxed hacker seeking not revenge, but answers. Developed by LuGus Studios and published by Iceberg Interactive, Midnight Protocol asks players to “hack into servers, beat security systems and discover encrypted secrets” in an effort to not only get back into the hacking game, but also find out who doxxed you — and why. Featuring unique keyboard-only controls and a mixture of turn-based strategy with narrative-RPG gameplay, Midnight Protocol offers the Hackers experience on Steam for only $14.99.
Midnight Protocol opens up on Data being released from their year-long imprisonment due to a lack of evidence tying them to cyber crimes, hacktivists everywhere rejoicing. Naturally, Data gets right back into the swing of things, reaching out to their friend Clover for leads. Clover helps Data with not only lucrative assignments, but information on Data’s doxxer, cautioning Data along the way. Things move fast in the hacking world, and a year may as well be an eternity as far as technological advances in hacking are concerned. Besides, whoever doxxed Data is still out there — for all Data knows, this person still has it out for them. It’s best to keep a low profile… for now.
Controls are really fun in Midnight Protocol, as they’re keyboard-only based. On the main menu, this means tapping “e” for email or “b” for black market, but also the fun mechanic of just smashing keys at random to login or compose emails. Sure, you can autofill this information by pressing “tab” but there’s something fun about typing swift, secretive emails about hacker things. When it comes to the hacker terminals, people who work in computer programming or are old enough to remember typing in DOS prompts (me) will immediately recognize the mechanics. Typing “interface” to interact with a node, “move” to move to another one, or “end” to end the turn make this typing turn-based strategy game really feel like you’re doing something high tech in an easily digestible way.
Of course, no good hacker goes into a job without their tools, and Midnight Protocol has plenty on offer. The way the terminals are set up, Data will have two actions per turn before the anti-hacking protocols can activate. Data will need to move from node to node, draining bank accounts, downloading sensitive information, and decrypting company secrets, without being traced or running smack dab into a firewall. Using tools like cloak for stealth or dagger to break down any barriers, Data can deftly dance around anything thrown their way, coming out richer and wiser in the process.
One touch I really loved about Midnight Protocol was how you’d come across some juicy stuff, like a program that was designed make embezzlement a breeze, and you could choose what to do with this information. Turning this information over to the police would net you some White Hat reputation points, while redirecting those funds to your own account means gains in the Black Hat reputation department. These are real terms used in the field, White Hat referring to the chaotically good side of hacking whereas Black Hat refers to the more criminal side. Nestled in-between are the Grey Hat tactics, which are perceived as more neutral actions. Although I was immediately drawn to the White Hat hacktivism arena, it became clear that the game wants players to at least explore a little bit of all worlds, as gaining enough White Hat rep yields more defensive tool options while Black Hat rep means offensive tools become available. It’s all about balance!
I genuinely don’t have a lot of complaints surrounding Midnight Protocol — I’m a big fan of hacker games in general (most recently Song of Farca and Keyword: A Spider’s Thread), and I’ve been waiting for a title that approached the genre in a more technical fashion. Sure, hacking via snooping around social media pages and guessed email passwords is very fun, but I was waiting for the quintessential Hackers experience of poking around actual computers and fishing out scandalous information. I think the dev team represented a tangible version of hacked terminals very well — obviously not true to life, but these creative liberties make the act of hacking much more visually appealing. In the very least, it feels far more approachable than just looking at the blank, black DOS prompt screen that it easily could have been.
My only request is really that I wish the manual was accessible on the hacking terminal screen. I missed just one bit of information on how to cancel an active tool and couldn’t figure out where to find that tidbit again (“help” didn’t explain it), so I basically just ended turns until the tool ran its course before moving forward again, dangerously risking being traced. Now, it could be that I just missed it? But it was only when I exited to the main menu that I happened to find the information I needed to properly play. I can kinda see why they put it there, but it would have really helped in the moment to have it in the hacking terminal while I’m on assignment, as exiting prematurely usually means giving up on a puzzle permanently with no option to try again.
If the movie Hackers has left a lasting impression on you and you want to feel like a technical genius, Midnight Protocol is a dream come true. Its turn-based strategy gameplay with a mysterious narrative woven throughout will hook anyone who wants a uniquely cerebral challenge. If you’ve ever wondered how poking around private cyber places can effect change — either for the greater good or the greener gains — say “I’m in” to Midnight Protocol.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Mac, Linux, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Iceberg Interactive; Developer: LuGus Studios; Players: 1; Released: October 13, 2021; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Midnight Protocol provided by the publisher.