Picking up shortly where Warcross ended, Wildcard opens with Emika devastated that Hideo Tanaka, Henka Games CEO and creator of Warcross, not to mention the object of her affection, has created an algorithm that controls 98% of the population and keeps them from engaging in criminal activity–as Hideo defines it. Moreover, Emika gained top billing on the Assassin’s Lottery, commanding a hefty bounty for her death.
Emika’s only option for safety seemed to be Zero, Hideo’s nemesis, a member of the clandestine Blackcoat organization. They claimed to work for the same goals–disabling the algorithm so that no one person had too much power–but as Emika learned more about the Blackcoats, she realized that their agenda was more complicated and nefarious. She struggled to determine a strategy that would play Hideo and Zero off each other to destroy the algorithm and bring Hideo back to his senses.
Warcross described a world completely influenced by Henka Game’s NeuroLink, a type of augmented virtual reality. It provided useful overlays like maps and labels, but also allowed users to customize–or hide–their appearances, communicate, research, and play games, including Warcross. The NeuroLink also enabled Hideo to disseminated his algorithm. Wildcard briefly touches on the interesting question of what might happen if a virtual world so many people (and business) depend on is stripped away, and I think this question deserved even more attention.
The first book in the series focused on the Warcross championships and highlighted Emika’s team, the Phoenix Riders, and her teammates. Although her teammates are in Wildcard as well, they don’t play as prominent a role, and their absence is felt, as is the paucity of time spend in the Warcross game.
Instead, much of Wildcard is devoted to Zero’s backstory which is interesting, harrowing, and raises many ethical questions. The flashbacks that provide his story are presented as enhanced memory files, almost like virtual reality or videos you can enter and walk around in. While this should have been a more vivid way to offer his story that simply recounting it, the choppy nature of the memory files somehow made it more removed to me than I think it should have been.
The final confrontation which takes place partly in the real world but mostly within a game of Warcross is suspenseful, but I couldn’t help but think it was too similar to The Matrix, particular the final battle between Agent Smith and Neo in The Matrix Revolutions, with SecurityBots paralleling agents and Zero the Agent Smith character while Emika played Neo.
Still, the ending to me was ultimately satisfying, and it was a quick, enjoyable read overall. This book does though, in my opinion, require reading Warcross first. I wouldn’t read it as a stand alone title because too many characters and terms are used that were only explained in the previous book.