Roguelike. Roguelite. It doesn’t matter how you put it, if it’s released in the last few years, chances are I’ve likely played it, raged at it, and even gained a few early onset grey hairs because of it.
Surprisingly though, even with the usual overbearing difficulty these rage inducing adventures bring, recent years have seen the gaming market absolutely flooded with roguelike and roguelite games, and they don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. With that said, another has joined the ranks, so I sat down once more, prepped my controller for a hard day’s work and stepped into the realms of Socketeer.
If you’ve not yet heard of Socketeer, you’re not the alone. I hadn’t heard of it either. But is it a game that’s come out of nowhere to shock you with it’s amazing gameplay and intricate design? Not quite, but it is a game with a unique nature about it. Unfortunately, due to vast repetition and a generally dull nature, it’s one many are unlikely to remember all to fondly, unless you have luck, patience and the ability to muster a perfect playthrough, all on your side.
The objective within this top-down, 2D adventure is to guide the robotic protagonist through numerous space stations by hacking your way through to the teleporter at the end, avoiding the enemies along the way. If you were hoping for anything more exciting – an engaging story perhaps – then look elsewhere as Socketeer can’t provide that for you. What it can provide though is tension, and lots of it.
Throughout each of the levels, players must avoid the various enemies on-board the space stations and each of these come with a cone-style area of detection. Being spotted by any of the enemy characters will result in you being chased, shot at, and usually, killed; unless you’re lucky or happen to jump into a hackable item that is laying around the level first. As our protagonist doesn’t have weapons or any other way to attack, hacking is the only way to survive.
Hacking in Socketeer isn’t anything near as daunting – I assume it’s daunting – as its real-life counterpart and you won’t need an honours degree in IT and detailed knowledge of the internal runnings of a computer either. All you need to focus on are three circles as you go about hacking, with each item requiring the correct input of either LT or RT. The glow of a green circle signifies that you have guessed right and a red, that of wrong. Get all three right and you’ve hacked that item. Simple right?
Yes, yes it is, and that’s one of my issues with the game. Whilst I don’t want to be playing through a game that feels more like Da Vinci’s code than an enjoyable gaming experience, it would be nice to see the key mechanic of the game, the mechanic that is relied upon so frequently, to at least allow a sign of excitement and variation. Instead, from the first level to the last, the only thing that changes is the tension of whether an enemy is going to see you hacking into something or not.
Things that can be hacked include computers, crates and enemies. The former are used to either hide or charge your battery, crates are used for simply hiding in, and hacking into an enemy will give you the chance to use that enemy and their weapon to clear out the other foes in the way of the teleporter within that level.
Sadly this is as fun as it gets, and from level 1-1 to level 7-1, things don’t change at all, besides the introduction of a couple of boss levels in chapter 5 and 7. That means you are left to mess around with just a few items instead; EMPs will open doors without the need for a keycard, see you able to charge the teleporter instantly rather than forcing the need to hack it, and knock out enemies to allow for them to be hacked much easier. There are explosives too, and these blow up the walls of the space stations and suck everything nearby into the vast vacuum of space – including you if you’re stood too close. But other than some environmental changes to each chapter, there is hardly any real excitement.
For me each level was approached in one of two ways; simply hacking an enemy character and going on a run until the enemy robot was killed, or hack the seemingly neutral shopkeeper on each stage, giving access to an incredibly powerful shotgun. The latter option was more than enough to see me wipe the enemies from the space station floor before going through it at my own pace, and when you take into consideration the fact that the items within the shop are free to a hacked shopkeeper, it makes it a no brainer for progression.
If you don’t go for this approach and want to buy the four items found in the shop within each level, you’ll need to rack up some salvage, the in-game currency that is gained by destroying things or finding it within chests. Destroying stuff will definitely feel like the easiest option and to do that you’ll need to have hacked an enemy with a weapon as our rather simple protagonist can’t do so alone. It is worth noting that there is an energy requirement to attack and with just a few recharging stations within each level, you’ll need to be careful to not waste too much energy.
Within each stage there is also a timer that likes to track how long it’s taken you to finish, but with gameplay proving quite simply boring, I never really felt like I wanted to rush through to achieve the quickest time or really cared about how long the overly similar missions took.
Unfortunately, that’s all there is to Socketeer, there’s nothing new or exciting to look forward to once you’ve completed the game, and if you’ve managed to blast through it quickly, you’ll be left feeling highly disappointed. The concept and originality is something that shows signs of promise, but with a lack of interesting content, simplistic and repetitive play, and no real reason to be doing any of it, there isn’t too much of Socketeer that you’ll be thinking back on fondly.