App of the Day: The Hacker

Occupation: Anonymous.

Version tested iPhone

If gamers are often represented terribly in movies, all lank hair and Nirvana T-shirts, spare a thought for hackers. The furtive oddballs, the loners, the weirdoes, sitting in their mother's basements and hacking into the Pentagon by randomly mashing a keyboard. Learn to touch-type at incredible speeds and one day you too could initiate World War 3.

It's a fantasy that, even long after its sell-by date, remains alluring: the idea of such power in your fingertips, the literal magic of pressing buttons to crash a stock exchange in another time zone. It's exactly this atmosphere that The Hacker conjures up. It's not a game that's easy to categorise, mashing up as it does all sorts of mini-games and incidental details, but the effect it's going for is unmistakeable - a dark room illuminated by a screen, a soundtrack of tapping, and the butterfly effect.

The Hacker's presentation is beautifully executed, everything told through and kept within the same green CRT screen, the frame of which borders your own screen. It starts with you loading up the Glider Operating System, a mysterious piece of software shared by an unfolding cast of characters, some of whom speak to you, some of whom assist you, and some of whom... well, that's best left for you to find out.

The Glider home screen acts as a hub for these strange interactions, allowing you to check email, fiddle with settings, unlock games and enter the global network. The latter is the story thread of The Hacker's experience, as you hop from network to network, gradually dismantling their defences and allowing your colleagues to siphon out information on Glider and its makers.

Hacking is done in the form of simple mini-games, all of which are elegant and polished - though it has to be said that The Hacker's difficulty curve is all over the place (there's an option to trade XP to skip especially noxious ones, thankfully). There are three main 'hacking' games: in the first, you move little robots in tandem, each of which has to stand on a specific pressure plate at the same. Another has you manipulating power lines to guide a spark in collecting 'data' while avoiding defences. The third is a simple memory-matching test.

They're basic, but well-executed and brief - unlike the unlockable games, only three of which I've managed to bag so far, which are all charming and, again, refined versions of classics like Snake and Pole Position. The Hacker certainly offers enough to do with idle thumbs, but this isn't why it stays so long in the memory.

It's something else, the kind of surprise that is easily ruined by over-enthusiasm or a clumsy hint. The Hacker isn't an enormous game, but it's an expertly shaped one - it builds a fun world from unlikely tools, and then does surprising things with it. An '80s-flavoured fantasy that's also something a bit out of the ordinary, The Hacker deserves a download.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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