We take an early look at Black Ice, an award-winning cyberpunk-themed rogue-light game available now on Steam Early Access.  Spoiler: It's kind of fun!

Preview: Black Ice

Black Ice is a cyperpunk-themed rogue-lite shooter in the first-person developed and published by "Super Duper" Garrret Cooper (yes, that's seriously the billing).  There's been quite a continuing spate of rogue-lite shooters with the likes of Eldritch and many lesser others in recent times, and other than that named Eldritch, many of them aren't all that good.  So the question is: is Black Ice?

Well, the short version is: it has a ways to go, but it's a solid foundation.

Steam Early Access in conjunction with Greenlight has developed something of a reputation, to say the least, of being a bit of a dumping ground of a lot of cash-in titles with no real promise of a final release, so skepticism of a game in a popular to the point of being saturated genre is a healthy thing that you shouldn't ignore.  Black Ice is in active development, and although I enjoyed the gameplay I had, it was rough around the edges in a lot of ways.

The central mechanic of Black Ice is based around the premise that you are a hacker.  You are hacking into progressively more difficult "servers" in a server populated with hundreds of them, with the end goal of becoming skilled and powerful enough to hack into a central "Finality, Inc" server.  Hacking into any given server involves waiting for your "ICE breaker" tool to hack the server - with that length of time governed by the quality of that tool your skill level, and the difficulty of the server.  All the while you have to stay in range of that server while defeating the AI processes the server spawns in an attempt to stop you.

Black Ice takes place in a central internet of corporate
servers, represented by a stylised “city” in the style of the original Tron.  You progress through those  progressively-more difficult servers as mentioned, slowly gaining hacking experience to become able to hack that central server.  It’s an aesthetic heavily inspired by tron, coupled with a sort of hacking theme that is very reminiscent of the hacking from  the Shadowrun tabletop game.
The game uses that aesthetic to make the visual cues rather obvious and I did appreciate that.  The boundary you have to remain in while hacking is quite clearly marked, enemies are usually immediately visible against the background, and the buildings you have already hacked appear white and translucent as opposed to the solid black and outlined ones you have not.
One particular detail I liked was the little biographical bits you can find on the companies at little “information” terminals placed on each building, giving little snippets of insight into the world of corporate espionage and cyberwarfare that Black Ice paints.  Its an attention to little flavour detail like that which, if continued, will help set Black Ice apart from the many other games in the genre.

Progression comes in the game through upgrading weapons, either using looted ones from the servers you hack, or buying items from a handful of "store" servers that you can interact with and sell the items you don't need for credits to buy newer, better ones. There's a lot of different weapons, each with Diablo-like modifiers that give different effects like reducing the time it takes to hack, increasing your damage, et cetera. You're kept from just spamming the biggest and most powerful attacks with a combination of the availability of RAM - which essentially acts as mana - and by cooldowns applied to the weapon attacks based on their base type. It works pretty well, and seems pretty well balanced, actually, especially given the procedurally-generated modifiers.

As you level up you gain the typical experience points to spend on "talents" which are essentially your stats.  Most of it is bog standard, though one notable deviation is having a stat dedicated to increasing your ability to find better loot which is less common in games - usually this is something that if you have it, its a special item bonus, not a stat.

The rough edges show a bit in the UI design though, it's actually very functional, but it';s not great to look at and lacks a certain visual je ne c'est qois.  It's very dry and to the point, which some people may appreciate, mind, but I feel it could be jazzed up a little.  The other point where it shows those rough edges is in the enemy variety - there's only a handful of them in game now, and it makes the game seem grindier than the final product would likely be.

All in all, its a very promising game with a set of core mechanics there that are quite enjoyable for the most part.  If work is done to add content, vary the servers themselves up some more, and add some polish to the visual design of the game, this could very much be a game I'd highly recommend when it comes to to its final release.  As stands, if you are looking for a cyberpunk themed game, you'd be doing yourself wrong not to jack into the world of Black Ice and give it a go.