Midnight Protocol is a tactical narrative-driven RPG with unique keyboard-only controls. Hack into servers, beat security systems and discover encrypted secrets while you try to find answers to why and how you got doxxed.
When I was first introduced to Midnight Protocol at 1UP conference, a local Belgian gaming expo, I have to say that it didn’t manage to draw my attention like most games would. The vast majority of games out there try to pull your attention with fancy visuals and cool animations, but with a text-based hacking game, you really need to sit down and let yourself become immersed in its world.
And that’s exactly what I got to do with this exclusive press build that was only sent to a select few. It offers around ~4 hours worth of content, which accounts for 1/4th of the total estimated playtime for the full release (expected to launch somewhere this summer).
The game starts off great with some cool touches like allowing you to enter the username “Data” yourself (you don’t get to pick a custom handle) and your password. It doesn’t really matter what you type here, the game will autocomplete each character with every keystroke you make. But I could really appreciate this little detail.
It’s further used in the communication by email, which accounts for the majority of the storytelling: you can press Tab and autocomplete the entire email, or you can just type away on your keyboard and the game will fill in the actual message, including backspaces and moments where the protagonist seemingly changes their mind. It’s all part of various tools the developers have implemented to increase the immersion and I can confirm that it definitely pays off.
The flow of it all feels very natural, hacking into a network [A]ddress, learning about a keyword, entering that keyword into an In[T]ranet search to then send a phishing [E]mail hoping to obtain a password. It’s cleverly written and thought out.
To set the binary stage: Midnight Protocol takes place in the near-future where the online world has grown to become even more important and with key operations all relying on digital information. It’s no surprise then that there is an equally increased activity from hackers who are either out to make a profit or those who use their skills to make the world a better place. The story centres around a hacktivist called Data, who recently got doxxed and has been targeted for blackmail by a shadowy branch of the government. It’s up to you to set things right and uncover the many mysteries in this digital world.
As for the actual gameplay of Midnight Protocol, it’s 100% controlled by keyboard; even navigating the menus is done through letter shortcuts. You’ll take on missions and syphon money, interface with important data and generally hack your way through secure networks. To achieve this, you have a [D]eck with various programs at your disposal.
You can equip Stealth programs like “Cloak” that will lower the detection rate or “Tunnel” which allows you to skip to the next node without being noticed, you can use programs like “Sniffer” to scout ahead and see if there are any obstacles between you and the next location and you can use attacks like “Harpoon” or “Dagger” to attack firewalls and spambots.
While each of those programs have their own animation, the majority of the action takes place in your own brain, as you allow yourself to roleplay more and more while you grow your hacker skills. You can customise your [D]eck to suit your liking or you can keep changing things up, depending on what the next mission throws at you.
If you’re afraid of failing: don’t be. The locations of traps are always in the same place on the map so even if you do end up getting caught and having to reboot, you can still try again and you’ll have the intel needed to succeed. If you’d rather not waste too much time on trial & error or becoming a nimble hacker, you can always turn to the settings and decrease the HP of icewalls and even give yourself extra (or infinite) turns.
Graphically, Midnight Protocol doesn’t look bad by any stretch, but it’s not going to win a lot of people over by visual appeal alone, that’s simply not the type of game this is aiming to be. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any nice audiovisual surprises here and there though…
Fun Aside: you can also play a game of hacker chess. Each turn you can move one of your 5 pieces across the board using one of two available patterns. It’s again the lingo used here and how you give commands that amplifies this experience over similar alternatives. Not beats typing “3 JACKHAMMER C4” to win a game of chess.
While the game didn’t immediately pull me in upon my first encounter, having had this opportunity to get a closer look, I found myself drawn into this binary world and I’m eager to see how the story continues when the game releases this summer. If you want to stay tuned yourself, be sure to wishlist it on Steam: