Midnight Protocol Review
One of the most ubiquitous hacking scenes in popular culture is to smash many, many indecipherable words very, very quickly on the keyboard, all while several interfaces and ominous charts materialise on the screen in dizzying, rapid succession. It sure makes hacking look like a particularly exhilarating cyberpunk-ish sport, although not all of that spectacle is completely fictional; real-life ethical hackers have talked about the rush of adrenaline whenever they discover a leak or vulnerability in security systems.
Wrapped in the veneer of these popular hacking tropes, Midnight Protocol is very good at making you feel like a bona fide hacker, even if it doesn’t always replicate the heart-palpitating rush of cyber warfare. The entire game takes place via a computer interface, as you adopt the perspective of Data, a hacktivist whose identity was leaked by a rival hacker named Kraken. Fresh out of prison, you’re back in the game and ready to dive right back into your previous life, while attempting to uncover who Kraken is, and why they had doxxed you in the first place. More than that, you’ll also be embroiled in a web of grand conspiracies and moral dilemmas, as you hack—which is essentially a whole lot of typing, as I’ll explain later—and maneuver your way through the thick digital viscera of the internet, drenched in data and code.
You start Midnight Protocol by logging into your computer: typing out your username and password by tapping random keys on your keyboard, like one of those hacker simulator websites that lets you pretend you’re a badass movie hacker. Then you’ll be directed to your home screen, a mostly monochromatic interface where you can check your emails, look at your logs, surf the intranet, purchase hardware and software off the black market, and access networks you’ve found to hack into and begin your data heist. Rather than dabbling in unnecessary visual flourishes, this operating system looks almost barebones, although there’s admittedly quite a bit to do: you’ll be spending the bulk of your time going through emails, engaging in good ol’ fashioned bouts of hacking, and improving your hacking arsenal by purchasing more ammunition—in the form of viruses, stealth programs that cloak your traces, and a litany of other software.
Hack into the mainframe
But let’s dive right into the core of Midnight Protocol, which is undoubtedly all the nifty hacking you’ll be carrying out. Fortunately, the first few levels ease you into this rhythm seamlessly. In contrast to the largely text-based interface at the start, hacking in Midnight Protocol is visually presented in the form of physical networks, and functions similarly to rounds of turn-based combat. This is aside from the fact that your goal is usually to make your way towards and interact with a specific node—a point in the hacked network where various pathways will intersect. That can be a data node, in which you’re stealing data; a finance node, where you can drain credits (i.e., money); or even to install a virus on a regular connector node. During your turn, you’re allowed two moves, after which the network’s cybersecurity measures will take over and execute whatever anti-intrusion programs that are being run. In later levels, certain networks will even deploy SysOps, which are roving targets that would actively search for where you’re located and attempt to boot you out of the network.
True to the mythos of pop culture hacking, making counter moves means cooly typing out commands you plan to execute, be it simply moving from one node to the next, or searching for Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics—or ICE—which are the anti-intrusion programs that would thwart your hacking attempts. While this may seem initially daunting, since you’ll need to learn how to execute a flurry of programs from “sniffer” to “gatekeeper”, these steps can be easily picked up, due to tutorial levels where their effects are explained and doled out in small, manageable doses. Hacking soon becomes surprisingly intuitive, as you’ll be running more programs in a blink of an eye, as well as furiously tap-tap-tapping away on your keyboard with the apparent dexterity of a skilled hacker. And as you scale up in difficulty and access much more secure networks, you’ll have to strategise and decipher the most effective way of reaching your goal. You will even employ cool hacking tricks, such as social engineering, to gain access to nodes that are locked behind a password by sleuthing around, or making intelligent guesses, as to what the password is.
Bypass the firewall
The neatest trick that Midnight Protocol pulled is that even if it probably does not depict hacking in the most realistic or accurate manner, it still encapsulates the fascination that most of us have around hacking. In many ways, that feels like a suitable metaphor for cyberpunk, as it succinctly captures the intrigue and conspiracies of a tech dystopia in one act: the depraved megacorporations, the sophisticated tech, the notion of living off the digital grid, and more. At times, Midnight Protocol does these by tossing you into the thick of it all: you’ll be assigned jobs that will put your morality to the test, make difficult decisions that may impede your progress, or simply be placed in situations where you’ll be tempted to flex your hacking muscles and break into every node you see, even if that’s incredibly frowned upon.
The latter is also one of the reasons I keep going back to Midnight Protocol, because being a hacker in Midnight Protocol is fun. Partaking in the thrill of this seemingly illicit activity, testing and breaking the boundaries of every network, and breaching the multiple cybersecurity defences that are being put up against your incursion—these are just some of the ridiculous stunts that only movie hackers can pull off. Like the group of teenage hackers from the 1995 film Hackers, I’m part of an elaborate hacking performance, and the tension is so darn electrifying.