In Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, the protagonist is locked in a prison cell with just a laptop for company. He figures out a way to work on his computer without letting anyone spy on him: Instead of using his monitor, he hacks an LED on his keyboard to communicate by blinking in Morse code. If you think this is a neat trick, and if you don't think an incredibly limited but clever interface isn't a problem, you may fall into the tiny niche of players who would enjoy Hacker Evolution, an indie hacker sim from a studio in Romania.

Former intelligence agent Brian Spencer has to solve a mystery by hacking into corporate servers and tracking down infiltrations and trojans. Along the way, he partners with other hackers, helps himself to cash from banks, and bounces through every defenseless server he can find. Almost all the action takes place in a command-line prompt, where DOS-style instructions like "decrypt" lead to nail-biting suspense as you wait to see whether your CPU can crack a password faster than your victim can track you down.

Of course, the "excitement" really lies in watching one number count down faster than another, or parsing log files for clues. The puzzles are limited and punishing, and the patience-testing trial-and-error will turn off casual players. But for anyone curious about this kind of game, Hacker Evolution offers a solid take on an obscure genre.


Beyond the game: Hacker sims date back to the '80s, and the starker the interface, the better. Activision's 1985 classic Hacker starts with nothing but a password prompt—and no clue what the password could be.

Worth playing for: The backdrop and techno are stylish and intense. And banging a line like "exec x-filemanager.exploit" into a prompt offers a serious nerd buzz.

Frustration sets in when: The slightest mistake can blow your cover and end your mission. Expect to start over a few times until you get the hang of it.


Final judgment: A great alternative when you've already beaten McAfee Virus Scan and Doctor Defrag 2.0.