People of an age and sufficient Britishness to remember the classic fantasy game show Knightmare might be familiar with the idea of one person with restricted vision being guided by someone with a less constrained view. That is the central premise of Black Hat Cooperative.
While most virtual reality (VR) videogames are designed to be experience by a single person, or in an online multiplayer scenario, Black Hat Cooperative does things a little differently. In order to play, you will need two people in the same physical space, one in a VR headset, one watching the TV screen.
The person within VR gets a blocky, simple view of a series of walls, doors and corridors that they must navigate to find the crystal-like bits along with keys to open doors and eventually reach your goal.
The second player, watching the social screen on the TV can see an overhead map of the entire area, along with all its collectables, doors, traps, patrols and other hazards. The second player needs to guide the first player through the maze of corridors. The second player can also spend the bits in order to hack into computers to assist the first player in their sneaking.
The result is a title that requires communication and teamwork, and is the sort of thing that can cause some fairly spectacular arguments in a ‘No, your other left’ sort of way. A breakdown in communication at any point can and will lead to failure and being forced to restart, which can result in considerable frustration.
Black Hat Cooperative looks good, especially if you are a fan of 90s-era graphics. The look is very stripped-down in a lot of ways, with clean, almost flat textures in VR, with the colour palette being mostly blue-gray with only a few hints of colour. The result can be a little bland, but offers few distractions, helpful when trying to concentrate on Player 2’s instructions.
The Player 2 overhead map is likewise very simple, being somewhere reminiscent of a Legend of Zelda dungeon map, with hazards like laser grids and trapdoors helpfully highlighted in red. A DOS-like prompt is below the map, where you enter your ‘hacking’ codes, which amounts to simple controller button presses.
The audio is not spectacular, consisting of some fairly generic looping music. You won’t spent much time listening to it anyway, as requests and instructions fly back and forth between players.
The difficulty curve is steep, while the first few levels are relatively simple and get you in the groove for how the title is to be played, the difficulty quickly ramps up, and can lead to considerable frustration when a tiny mistake leads to failure. This is especially true when the VR player makes noise or vibration which is inaudible to them, but only the 2nd Player can see. An audio alert for this might have been an idea.
There’s not much in the way of story, though you might find that you and your second player construct your own narrative as you play, which is part of the fun.
Black Hat Cooperative is great for players who have another person handy who would be willing to switch in and out of VR, though the many, many deaths and failures you will experience can cause frustration, there is nonetheless a sense of camaraderie and joy to be found in Black Hat Cooperative that is well worth exploring.