We've all played physics-based games before. But have you ever tried one based on biochemical kinetics? BioHack is a simulation game where you must solve challenging design problems. The game includes 25 unique levels, plus randomly-generated mutant levels. No science background necessary!

Whereas Biology Battle simply used biology for the backdrop of its twinstick shooter, Mark Walker's BioHack is an honest to goodness metabolism simulator turned puzzle game. It is a biology textbook diagram come to life, a simplified sketch showing the process by which metabolites are formed and controlled. While it is not necessary for the player to be well versed in biological concepts nor does the game go deep enough in requiring knowledge of the various covalent bonds, transcription, denaturation, or taking account of pH balance and so forth, BioHack does nonetheless use the basic ideas behind metabolism for its gameplay, and therefore any description of the game is going to read like a biology manual.

Metabolism encompasses those chemical reactions found in organic life which produce vital substances from other molecules found in cells. A metabolite is the term given for those molecules which react to form some new biological product. The metabolites vary in their concentration, and the more concentrated the reactant metabolite is, the faster the rate of the reaction. Reaction rates vary with some being faster or slower than others, and enzymatic proteins can be used to control the rate so that conditions are more ideal for production. Enzymes act as catalysts which modify these chemical reactions, generally increasing the speed so that the results of these reactions arrival more quickly. Pathways from metabolite to metabolite are formed from these enzymes, and the enzymes themselves are regulated with inducers or repressors, other molecules which influence the enzymes and regulate the rate of the reactions which flow through them. The main point players should draw from this is that the metabolites flow through enzyme created pathways which can be influenced with inducers (speed up) or repressors (slow down). The goal of the game is to max out the orange colored metabolite pool by using these inducers and repressors to control the reaction process such that the target metabolite pool can reach 100% concentration before the time limit expires.

I can definitely appreciate BioHack's unique puzzle/simulation gameplay, but it just didn't register for me. Starting, viewing, and restarting each kinetic reaction diagram, observing how the metabolite pools flowed along these lines along through the enzymes and to the next pool, just didn't appeal to me much. At no point is there an "A ha!" moment where the solution becomes known nor is deriving at the solution particularly satisfying intellectually when each puzzle becomes a task of tweaking the positioning of the inducers and repressors until the target quota is satisfied. I do like how the flow of metabolites during the simulation react to the ever changing concentration of the metabolite pools, but since the player is made to sit and wait for the results, these changes are just observations to be cataloged so that the enzymes can be tweaked accordingly. The lengthy in-game tutorial notes that this is fine and encourages observation and constant retesting, but this style of gameplay seems better structured as a potential teaching tool than a game played for entertainment. BioHack is interesting but leaves something to be desired as far as a video game experience, at least one which would be more appealing to the masses.

On the plus side, BioHack is challenging in that sense and offers 25 levels, rating each solution to encourage players to revisit and look for faster and more efficient means to synthesize target metabolites. Mutant puzzle variations are also available, randomly created metabolite and enzyme webs available to solve once the player has exhausted the initial batch of puzzles. There's a good bit of depth here for the puzzle or simulation game fans, and the low price makes it worth a flyer should the trial be remotely appealing. BioHack may be designed for a niche audience in mind, but the barebones graphics hurt the title more than its unique gameplay. Simple balls and lines aren't the least bit visually appealing, and it's too bad more effort was not put into designing metabolites and enzymes more becoming of BioHack's excellent cover art. A game based in biology and molecules could easily find more captivating graphics than these utilitarian lines and balls, and prettier visuals would not only entice more to check out the game but also make the lengthy stretches of observation and tweaking easier to enjoy.

Aside from its overly simplified graphics, BioHack offers players an infinite assortment of puzzles with its mutant variations, ten challenges (achievements) for which to reach, and a handful of nice background songs for the action. Unfortunately, at the moment I'm finding myself liking BioHack more for what the unique biological themed gameplay promises to deliver rather than what it does while I'm playing it. If not for the title and tutorial, I strongly suspect that any biological references in the gameplay would be lost on the player, leaving behind a game of forgettable graphics and bizarre but solid puzzle design.

August 15, 2010
August 11, 2010 | 80 points
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