Hacknet PC The reviewer purchased this game himself.
Even as I write this I still find myself checking my tabs to make sure I am not supposed to be writing about Nethack, the 1987 roguelike game that is still receiving updates to this very day. But no, this is not that that, this is Hacknet a game about hacking on the net. Before I get confused again let’s head straight into the review.
Hacker’s last words
Hacknet feels remarkably similar to an augmented reality game as it provides you with a computer screen to work on, kind of like a virtual machine on your actual PC. One day, while using this machine, you receive an email from a guy called “Bit” who claims he is in big trouble and passing the torch unto you. He was a hacker and remarks that by the time you receive the mail, he will most likely be dead.
Through this mail you are thought the ropes of breaking into other computers and soon you find yourself becoming part of a collective of hacktivists that seek to improve the public image of hackers worldwide. As you improve your skills further and further, picking up new software along the way, the contracts become more dangerous and bigger organizations become involved. After a while, you begin to worry if maybe you are going down the same path that led Bit to his untimely demise.
It’s a thrilling story and what I adore about it is that all of it is told through small .txt files and email conversations with your employers. You can even go the extra mile and read through all sorts of files once you break into a computer to give a better idea what your victim is like or read through fun chat sessions they saved. While I wasn’t fond of the attempted comedy in these stored chat logs, the rest of the storytelling is excellently done.
Story score: 10/10
Learning Linux as you play
As mentioned before, the game presents itself as taking place entirely on a computer and as such you control it through clicking through user interfaces and entering simple commands. There is a variety of basic inputs the game understands and which help you throughout your hacking adventures. You must connect to other machines, scan for connections they have, then use the software at your disposal to create an opening for your Porthack technology to enter through. While early on you have plenty of time for this, later down the line you’ll be faced with obstacles and time constraints, as well as some other… unpleasantries.
Going into this game was always going to be strange for me since I actually work in IT, but even then I found the puzzles in the game to be way too easy. You pick up software as you go, probe the computer to see what defenses it has, then apply the corresponding software. The same solution works each time and once you’re inside it’s just a matter of finding the right file, which are generally easy to spot in-between all the comedic entries. You download that, upload it to your contractor and BAM! You are a master hacker.
Granted the game does have its spicy moments and I appreciate that it doesn’t coddle you. Multiple contracts will feature immense difficulty spikes that force you to deal with a new situation or under a tense time limit. These I really liked, but I worry how many people might be turned off by these; one of them felt distinctly like a game over and another one will shut down the game entirely if you are too slow.
And so this leads me to questioning who the game appeals to. People outside of IT may find the premise intriguing and the difficulty curve is so easygoing the line might as well be flat. Then you have these suddenly peaks that suddenly demand you to figure out mechanics the game might never have thought you, suggesting it’s meant for computer enthusiasts or skilled puzzlers. A personal gripe of mine that will probably bother very few players is the small amount of commands you can use. Many times I had a solution to the puzzle in my head, only to find out it wasn’t possible with the limited tools you are provided, shattering the immersion somewhat. Settling for a less complex solution at that point feels dirty.
I will say that I recommend using this game early on if you are trying to learn Linux. It teaches you to apply some basic commands and you can see the difficulty spikes as an exam sorts. If you don’t care about learning this stuff or are already skilled at it, then the game will lose its charm over time.
Gameplay score: 3/10
A techwizard’s tunes
Presentation in Hacknet is remarkably strong considering they could have gotten away with a simple command terminal. You have a variety of nicely-colored user interfaces to choose from that also alter where certain components of the playing field are located. The GUI’s are simple and tidy, so you don’t really have to mess around to understand the layout of any victim’s computer and while you are working on your digital heists there is some cool techno music to keep you company. I admit that it really sucks you into the experience when you are typing away at your keyboard and clicking through files while energetic music plays in the background.
I do kinda wish there was a better way for the game to keep track off all the computers you are aware of. As it stands, the internet is represented by a series of circles at the bottom of the screen that are connected with lines. As you take on more and more jobs, the amount of circles grows and there is no easy to way to keep track of which ones are still relevant. While it’s cool to see all these servers you conquered remain on your radar, it would be a lot more beneficial for the puzzling experience if they threw it out.
Presentation score: 8/10
Become an expert breacher
While it becomes even easier to solve the game’s puzzles when replaying it a second time and many can even be skipped if you memorized or wrote down the passwords, there is still plenty to return to. It’s not possible to finish all the game’s side-quests in one run, as it will force you into a story mission if you have completed enough of them. Since it’s always fun to see what kind of strange stuff the game will ask you to obtain I could definitely see myself going back to enjoy Hacknet a second time.
The game is also actively updated by its creator who fixes bugs and promises upcoming expansions. The modding community is also supported and they have the ability to create their own missions, though I haven’t tested any of them. The future of Hacknet is looking bright.
Extas score: 7/10
Hacknet‘s greatest weakness is that it’s a well-presented game with a great story whose gameplay is difficult to recommend. Its premise is intriguing, but doesn’t work well enough and struggles to stay consistently challenging. For all the praise I have for its story and presentation, I must say it left me bored on quite a few occasions. Worth playing for the story and the few meaty puzzles, but I kinda wish I could have done all those side-missions in one playthrough so I could be done with the game.