Writing reviews can be difficult at times and finding the deeper reasons why something resonates with you whether it be a movie, TV show or indeed a game is sometimes difficult to convey. I know if I like it and can easily tell you just how much, but exactly why is often difficult. Particularly when compared against other products. Why do I like Uncharted 3 more than Uncharted 2? I’m not sure…but I do.
Hacknet is a game I feel is difficult for me to review for a couple of reasons. Firstly I’m definitely biased. It’s a game made in my hometown of Adelaide, and I’ve met Matt, the developer, through the planning stages for a panel we will both be on at AVCon. I am not nor do I claim to be completely objective, although I am trying to be. But at the end of the day I wanted this to be a good game.
It’s also a very difficult game to explain. It’s a terminal hacking simulator. Ummm.… ok. What’s that? Using old school written commands you hack into various computers to accomplish various things – delete an academic record, steal software, do…hacker things. And this is the problem, I’m not making the game sound great. But it is great.
Firstly, the UI is fantastic. It’s exactly what someone who has no idea how hacking works (me) would think that hacking works. There are also options to change the UI theme with themes you… acquire… from other PCs. It very much has a Matrix vibe to it. As you progress you’ll face timers that frantically count down or a far more terrifying descending red screen. Worst of all though, the dreaded blue screen of death is a thing. A horrible, horrible thing. The UI is clear, sharp and perfectly suited to the task.
The sound deserves a very special mention. The soundtrack is prefect. Make sure you put your headphones on, it really helps you sink into the idea of being a hacker, sitting at your desk changing the world. Most of the sound effects are subtle but I love the boom of a new IP/Node appearing. It’s a sound that I soon come to recognise as a challenge, a new PC or server to make my own. I also need to mention the sound of the pacemaker. Without spoiling anything, that sound, at the end of that particular contract, gave me pause for a surprisingly long time.
Contracts are the meat of the game. A strange message starts you off on a mission. You’ll join various hacking groups by proving your prowess as a hacker in a bid to solve the mystery of the missing Bit. There are a few things that aren’t really clear in the story. Who is Bit and why do I care? Why does Bit reach out to me rather than his/her established friends? That being said, I soon found myself lost, forgetting about what I found to be a pretty generic main story. The side quests, for lack of a better term, were far more engaging, possibly because they were more relatable to me as someone who is not embedded in PC culture but certainly because they’re just very good and 100% believable.
From stealing the secret recipe of a fast food outlet to adjusting death certificates and altering academic records, Hacknet was surprisingly confronting on more than one occasion. It’s also a lot of fun – particularly once you figure out how to edit the forward facing webpage. I won’t go into my childish antics but suffice to say the special sauce didn’t sound great with the ingredients I listed…
It’s the surprisingly addictive gameplay that really stands out though. It was the next hack that made me utter the inevitable “just one more” late into the night. I wanted to get the next tool, learn how to overcome a firewall or hack a phone. I wanted to grow my ever increasing arsenal of hacking tools. I was Mr Robot taking down Evil Corp, Neo bending The Matrix to his will. I felt like I was a hacker and I wanted to keep hacking.
While the gameplay is essentially typing commands into a text box there is a real puzzle solving element. There are ways to keep notes in the game itself but I found a pen and paper incredibly helpful. Maybe it’s my memory of hand written notes and maps, but I love a game that makes me feel I need to write things down, plus you don’t want to waste your precious RAM resources on notes when you need that clinch SSHCrack or Porthack.
Hacknet is something different. Something very different. It has been executed very well on every level, from sound design to user interface and accessibility. Will everyone enjoy this game? No, but a game that everyone enjoys doesn’t exist. Should you try it? Hell yes you should, you’d be crazy not to.
Hacknet is difficult to describe but it is simply excellent. At $10 US full price, this is a game you absolutely need in your library. Just play it.