Early Access Impressions: Black Ice

It's not every day that you find an indie game that has the potential to rival blockbuster titles in gameplay and graphics. It's even rarer to find such a game made entirely by one person! Enter Black Ice, a super-intense first-person shooter debut made by the one-man crew that is “Super Duper” Garrett Cooper.

Title: Black Ice (Early Access Version, Won in Giveaway)
Publisher: Super Duper Garrett Cooper
Developer: Super Duper Garrett Cooper
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: July 9, 2014
Players: 1
MSRP: $14.99 (Early Access)

You play the role of a hacker, doing your work in a huge Tron-like 3D environment. Your goal each time you dive into the virtual world is to hack a giant maximum-level corporate server (represented by a giant white building), but to do that you need to get stronger. Getting that strength means having to hack lesser businesses and dealing with the firewall minions of each server, all to augment your own hacking and combat capabilities. Can you become a master hacker, or will it all just overwhelm you?

Image courtesy of Super Duper Garrett Cooper and Steam

Easily the best part of Black Ice is the overall aesthetic. Cyberspace is represented nearly entirely by vector-graph shapes, from the grid ground to all the different types of companies' buildings randomly generated as representatives of the game's real world. Even players are similarly represented in the form of basic pill-shape avatars so as not to detract from how gorgeous everything is. Even the lack of story is very easily filled by all of the information scattered about, both with being able to read the information of what each company does in the world (including some very shady cyberpunk-like activity) and vital information loot drops that flesh out investigations done into the bizarre reality behind the virtual world (such as oddities like giant mutated animals or mysteriously-malfunctioning cybernetic prosthetics).

Hacking is done in a style that fits this game extremely well, in what Cooper coined as hack-and-shoot. Each hack spawns a circle around a company, and enemy firewall minions start spawning out the wazoo seconds after starting each time. You have to stay in the circle while running and gunning, and fighting these minions can get incredibly intense in pace. The soundtrack is also incredibly versatile, ranging from simple Minecraft-style piano while just wandering around, to fighting along with intense beats highly reminiscent of Tron Legacy or Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It can get even more intense when you try to hack multiple companies at once, giving yourself even more of a challenge for greater rewards.

Image courtesy of Super Duper Garrett Cooper and Steam

All the abilities you have inside and outside of fighting are interesting as well, since all loot is randomly generated in a nod to Borderlands, and you can even go to shops to buy higher-level abilities (and even hack those shops, if you're good enough to survive). You can make it so that you run faster, jump higher, summon minions of your own, and fight harder and longer, all in line with the increasing intensity of the game. Even mod integration is extremely streamlined, made accessible directly from the main menu and allowing you to import files containing features of your own design. This can range from your own designs for cyberspace to additional businesses generated in the game, and even modified enemies with tweaked abilities and AI.

None of this is to say that Black Ice is without flaws, and that mainly comes in the difficulty. You have the option of increasing the difficulty at any time, but this can lead to instances such as repeatedly dying in the tutorial because your abilities are all just level 1. Because of this, it is highly advised not to go for harder gameplay unless you are either very experienced or just plain crazy. The only other flaw of note is that the graphics can get so intense on default settings that you suffer a bit of a drop in frames-per-second, especially when you get into a fight. It can reach even more of a stutter when playing online with others. Higher-than-average system specifications would be recommended if available to you. Additionally, if the lack of proper plot is off-putting, keep in mind that the story will be added by Cooper in future updates.

Image courtesy of Super Duper Garrett Cooper and Steam

Black Ice is definitely a must-have title for any gamer's library, even with it being in Early Access. Whether it's the absolute beauty of the visuals, the intensity of the combat, or the sheer depth of the customization, there will be something present to attract the eye. Do yourself a favor and make sure not to pass this game up... as well as make sure your system can handle being able to blow you away.

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I am a game development college graduate and lifelong gamer. I am looking to use my knowledge however I am best able. As it so happens, that makes for great game reviews.
Port Saint Lucie, FL