Remember when hacking was so cool that there were movies about it? Well that's the kind of neon-lit, Hollywood-inspired world of competitive system toppling that PWN: Combat Hacking inhabits.
This is wholly fanciful hacking by way of frenzied real-time strategy, and it's probably a lot more entertaining than the real thing.
In PWN, each stage represents a computer network, a three-dimensional tangle of nodes and pathways that can be flipped and rotated at will. Depending on the level, your job is to hack the system by either by capturing every node or securing all key control points before your AI opponent can do the same.
Each player starts a match with one node to his name. From here, you're free to capture any additional node, even if it's already been claimed by your opponent, provided that it's directly linked to nodes already under your control.Modern warfare
It's a tense, frantic tug of war as opponents furiously tussle over the same handful of nodes, and it's made even more demanding by the need to need to adjust your tactics on the fly, constantly surveying the map and reacting accordingly.
Indeed, there are numerous ways to gain a strategic advantage during play, adding significant, satisfying depth to PWN's rapid-fire antics. For instance, you can dramatically reduce capture time - and quickly gain control of the board - by targeting nodes with multiple links to those already under your control. Likewise, strike the centre of a captured chain and all severed nodes revert to their more easily acquired neutral state.
That's only scratching the surface, though. There's a rock-paper-scissors-style power-up system too, increasing the game's tactical opportunities still further. Some power-ups make specific nodes tougher to capture, while others temporarily disable network links, spread viruses, or set explosive hidden traps.
Each can be countered with an alternative power-up, meaning item deployment has a healthy amount of risk and reward.N00bs welcome
There's a fair amount of stuff to remember but, thankfully, PWN does an excellent job of easing you into the action with a comprehensive single-player tutorial before letting you loose on its more structured championship-style challenges.
There's a fully customisable Quick Play mode, too, with numerous maps and adjustable difficulty, ensuring enormous replay value.
You're also covered if you fancy a more formidable challenge against a human opponent. Sadly, though, multiplayer mode is of the local, Bluetooth persuasion only - rather limiting its usefulness. The omission of online multiplayer is a real shame, given how furiously enjoyable the whole thing is - and we can only hope it makes the cut at a later stage.
Limited multiplayer options for actual humans aside, PWN: Combat Hacking is pretty damn compelling. It's a ludicrously chaotic, quick-fire take on the real-time strategy genre, delivering plentiful amounts of rich, strategically satisfying tactical action. Angelina Jolie would be proud.