August 2, 2007
Review By: Mr. Roboto
Developed & Published by: Nexus Interactive Studios
Official Site: AI Wars
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very High
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very High
Overview: Billing itself as an “action/strategy hybrid,” A.I. Wars is essentially a first-person shooter with a cyberpunk twist. All the action takes place inside computer systems with your avatar and the software installed. Unlike other FPSs like Quake, each system can be visited in any order you wish, and re-visited as often as needed. And re-visit systems you will need to do if you want to find key software upgrades and technological breakthroughs needed to accomplish your selected missions, since the data in those systems is always changing. While you’re “visiting” these systems, there’s other avatars to interact with, markets to trade goods and data, and ICE and viruses to battle. As long as your avatar maintains its integrity all is good. However, if your avatar dies online, your brain is toast.
Welcome to the NET of the future…
The Story: (From the official site) In the 21st century the NET is the new worldwide computer network. It regroups everything from antique copper wire networks to high speed gigabit satellite networks. Every corporation in the world, every military organization, every university, every library, and even every home is now wired-in 24 hours a day. This almost infinite information world is inhabited by hordes of agents in the service of humanity. These agents are expert applications that collect and filter information as well as conduct electronic transactions for their masters. It is rumored that certain high-level agents have escaped from military sites in the early phases of the NET and were never recovered. Beware! These agents may still be around and are evolving. They may even become sentient soon and claim the NET as their own.
Since the advent of ultra fast Virtual Reality engines in the late 20th century, the incredible advances in processors and memory, and the invention of the first direct neural connection system at MIT in the late 2050’s cybernauts have been able to directly project into the NET and control their agents through this more direct interface. Their representations in that electronic world are called avatars. Jason Skinner said it best when he exclaimed after his first try “Damn, it’s like being there!” The advent of those technologies has created serious social, psychological and medical problems. An intense addiction to the NET has been cited more than once has the cause of divorces, bankruptcies, etc. From a medical standpoint, in the beginning it seemed that whenever an avatar was destroyed, the cyberstations would overload the person’s brain with a high-energy electrical burst thus killing them. Cyberstations were quickly modified to safeguard against this. However, it is said that the interaction with the NET is less direct because of these modifications. “A lot of cyberhackers have disabled these safeguards and are at risk,” said Bruno Gaza from Turing, the NET police. “It’s like the Wild West, but a whole lot more dangerous!”
Your Mission(s): One unique feature of A.I. Wars is that you can choose from three missions to complete when you start a game, and you can choose any one, two, or even all three. They are:
Control (Pwn) the NET: Each system you visit will have a core that controls it. To hijack a system, you need to touch the core (the circular thing you see in the background of the above shot), placing a “backdoor” that will make the ICE think you’re the sysadmin. Hijack all the systems to pwn.
Become Immortal: Somewhere in all that data lies important breakthroughs needed to develop key technologies that will allow you to upload your consciousness and memories to the NET and become immortal.
Make Your Avatar Sentient: This requires not only developing technologies, but gathering enough data so your avatar can learn and grow.
There are six different endings for the game (other than your death) possible with these missions. What ending you’ll see depends on what missions you choose and how well you perform them.
Skating on thin ICE: Even on the NET of the future, there has to be some law and order. That is provided by the various ICE you will encounter. Wardens act as gatekeepers or doormen, only allowing those with “authorized access” to pass, but you can use your crack software to get that access… just don’t look for sympathy from the other ICE if you brute-force your way past a warden. There are Exterminator ICE who patrol public areas, while Black ICE keep private areas secure and come to the aid of wardens. Turret ICE hang above doorways and portals to stop intruders like you, and if that isn’t enough protection, you may find Hunter/Killers near a core. The H/Ks tend to attack in pairs, one doing a frontal assault while his buddy teleports behind you for a sneaky double team. Nasty.
As if the ICE wasn’t bad enough, some systems have Black Widow and/or Tarantula viruses, left by other hackers to give you grief. Better have a good firewall and anti-virus software if you go into an infected system. Unlike the ICE who wait until you shoot first before retaliating, viruses will attack on sight.
Not all the agents you encounter are hostile. Most of the human-like avatars will go about their own business and leave you alone, unless you start a fight with one then it will defend itself.
You will also encounter retrievers, spider-like netcrawlers (webcrawlers?) that carry datablocks between data stores. In some systems, these retrievers may hold some valuable datablocks like software upgrades or breakthroughs.
Bugs In The System? Maybe they’re “features?” Any type of program is bound to have some technical glitches, and A.I. Wars is no different. Of course, since the action takes place inside a computerized environment, some may seem par for the course. Like when you use your last masquerade, only to be left with some 65,000 left. Or when you shoot an ICE and hear its death scream, only to have it continue to attack you while you keep plugging it with your ICEbreaker attacks (I find in this case zapping it with the IRC will shutdown the stubborn ICE).
Conclusion: While it didn’t make the big splash-damage of Doom/Quake proportions, A.I. Wars does make a refreshing change-of-pace from the usual kill-em-all-and-let-god-sort-the-carnage first-person blast-a-thons. While learning the nuances in the NET is a bit tougher than other games, the results in owned systems, sentient agents, and an immortal soul is well worth the effort.
See you on the NET…