This is a series all about my thoughts and opinions about the thing we all love the most: games. It won't always be current or timely, but I promise that you'll find some hot takes straight from the intern den. Just don't get mad. It's just, like, my opinion, man.

Gaming history is littered with examples of terrible licensed experiences, games that use great properties for cash grabs or simply miss what makes a particular brand great. I’m sure we can all name at least five games off the top of our heads that fit into either category.

However, with Arkham Asylum, and perhaps even Spider Man 2 before that, gamers have had some great games that make something unique and special out of beloved properties while remaining loyal to what made those properties unique and special in the first place. But the process of adapting beloved properties to an interactive medium presents some problems. Do you remain so loyal to the IP that you risk alienating newcomers? Do you prioritize making a fun and interesting game over treating the IP as gospel?

It’s not an easy balance to strike, and the best example of a licensed game that strikes a near-perfect balance might surprise (or upset) you. 

Released in 2016, Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.apk took USA’s Mr. Robot, dark, psychological techno-thriller TV series, and turned it into a mobile game based around manipulation, deceit, and social hacking.  No other licensed game taps into the feeling of its IP while using clever design that addresses the IP's themes and ideas as much as Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.apk does. It proves that even though Mr. Robot isn’t the first property or even TV show you’d expect to get the licensed game treatment, the show is actually a perfect fit for the medium.

More so than with most television shows, perspective drives Mr. Robot. Elliot Alderson, an antisocial hacktivist working to bring down the world’s largest corporation, E Corp, is the unstable, unreliable lens through which viewers experience the show. In the world of ensemble shows like Game of Thrones, Mr.Robot, at least for its first season, limits what the viewer experiences and learns to Elliot’s perspective to great effect. 

It creates tension and distrust between perception and reality. We know we’re not getting the whole story and that Elliot has issues already, so we’re naturally distrustful of everything we see. Gamers know this feeling pretty well and developer Night School Studio limits the player’s perspective to similar effect.

Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.apk takes place during the events of the first season and users play as someone who has stumbled upon a cellphone owned by one of the members of Elliot’s hacktivist group, fsociety. All the action is limited to the smartphone’s interface. Throughout the game, players get involved in fsociety’s plans and must interact with various people to extract information through social hacking. That basically involves lying, tossing out threats, or manipulating in order to get information.

Although watching the show is all but necessary, even newcomers can find it easy to get pulled into the game just because of the way Night School Studio uses real world expectations to mess with you.The game’s interface mimics the basic layout of a cellphone’s messaging system, complete with a textbar, contacts list, speech bubbles denoting a text conversation, and even ellipses whenever an in-game character is texting back.

It’s all stuff that should be very familiar to anyone who's ever used a smartphone, but that makes it all the more effective. Night School Studio designed a game that makes the familiar into the unfamiliar, which creates unnerving, sometimes stressful moments.

Players often have to wait to hear back from people, which happens according to the game’s own schedule. Ellipses, which any anxious texter should already be familiar with, trigger stress and unease because each text reveals vital potentially deadly information, but you have no control over when it happens. Some people will respond right away, while others will respond hours or days later. Allowing the game to send you notifications only enhances the paranoia that comes with each new text or piece of information.

Like in real life, players will also have multiple conversations going at the same time. However, because of the nature of this world, the player must keep in mind which personality they adopt for each conversation. Communication is done through selecting dialogue options, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easier to remember when you need to be stern or cheery with a certain source. Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.apk brings to life the show’s underlying ideas of how we use technology to connect with other while also performing or curating our identities. It’s a clever representation of the show’s themes in a way that’s unique to gaming.

Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.apk doesn’t have the high production values or accessible gameplay of Arkham Asylum, but even without all the bells and whistles it’s the best licensed game out there. It succeeds by creating a unique gaming experience that focuses on paranoia, duplicity, and the way technology relates to the two, capturing what’s great about its license IP with great, subversive design. And that’s something even Elliot would have to admire.

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