In Nameless: The Hackers, pick up your sword and shield once again to defend… Oh, wait. That’s not it. Load your gun, join the technomancers, and… that’s not it either? Could this game actually be something original? I think it is! Bravo, developers. Bravo.
Nameless is set in the very near future, when nanotechnology is a bit more advanced than it is today, but the world seems otherwise very similar to our own. As the game begins, you’re the newest member of a hacking group called Nameless: computer mercenaries who do jobs for anyone with the money to hire them. During your first missions with the group, you get hints that something big is going down in the tech world, and those hints turn concrete fairly quickly. By the end of the game, as so often happens in RPGs, you’re trying to save the world. But this time, you’re not using magic, swords, or even guns to do so. You’re using code. The story isn’t incredibly deep, but it’s good, it’s fresh, and it sets things up for future sequels or expansions.
Nearly all of Nameless takes place over the Internet, and your party works together via chat rooms and webcams. They only visit places physically when it’s absolutely necessary, and when they do so, it’s generally solo, since they don’t all live in the same part of the world. Thus, your party never walks (or rides an airship) from town to town. Instead, there are a number of city icons on the world map that give access to hacker-friendly forums or news and side quests, and since it’s simulating the Internet, you can jump instantly from one city to the next. Encounter icons also appear, and tapping them puts you into a random battle presented as either a paying contract or an attack from government anti-cybercrime forces.
These battles are turn-based, and as befits the Internet nature of the game, attacks are hacking activities such as denial of service attacks or viruses, while defenses are things like anti-virus software. Of course, the game doesn’t do away with all RPG conventions — attacks cost energy, affect HP, and inflict various status effects. But the framework succeeds in its mix of the familiar and the new because of its internal consistency. You don’t get poisoned, you get a virus. You don’t get stunned, you get booted offline for a few turns. That consistency is what endears Nameless to me the most, because it creates a setting that I can get excited about and become immersed in despite the fact that it represents a bunch of people typing on keyboards.
As you progress into the latter stages of the game, your team unlocks a number of new skills at once, which necessitates a fair amount of grinding to level those skills up to the point where they are better than useless. Unfortunately, even after doing so, I found that the same basic attacks my characters knew at the beginning of the game did far more damage far more cheaply than the skills I had just leveled up. This issue is somewhat compounded by the fact that skill descriptions are minimal, particularly in terms of numbers, so you don’t really know what benefit you’ll get from leveling up a skill until you do so and try it in battle. And because the starter skills remain the strongest throughout the game, combat becomes fairly repetitive. Fortunately, bosses make up for that by using attacks and defenses that strongly encourage you to use your full repertoire of attacks.
Visually, the battles are the highlight of the show. You see your enemy at the top of the screen, represented by a server room with people moving around in it. As you drop their HP, the servers catch fire, and the people start moving a lot more frantically. It’s cute and drew a chuckle from me on more than one occasion. Attacks from either side cross the middle of the screen with appropriate flair such as little Ethernet cables and shock effects, searchlight-looking scans, and streams of Space Invaders-looking viruses. The effects are both charming and useful, and since so much of the game is spent battling random foes, that’s important.
The game’s sound isn’t going to knock your socks off, but it takes care of business, at least for a while. There are only a few tracks of backing music, so it’s likely that you’ll get tired of them relatively quickly. Unfortunately, while you can turn off the game’s music, you can’t play your own in its place. (A frequent gripe of mine when it comes to iOS games.) As is the norm for iOS games, there is no voice acting, and the sound effects are minimal. I frequently played Nameless for a few minutes at a time while waiting for an elevator at the office or on the subway, both places where I couldn’t listen anyway, and the gameplay experience didn’t suffer for having the sound turned off.
Those complaints aside, I enjoyed my time with Nameless: The Hackers. I can’t think of a game that’s quite like it, and the developers are to be commended for trying something different. Even though they’re not amazingly successful in every department, they don’t actually fail in any aspect, and they set up a world and a gameplay system that I’d like to see them explore again. As I write this, Nameless is going for $2, and I’d say it’s worth that price.