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Hacknet Review

Dive into a refreshing middleground between Hollywood and realistic hacking with Hacknet.

Bradley Kolar, Staff Writer

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Dear reader, welcome to a new year of exciting games with which to whittle away your free time, from recent groundbreaking hits to older hidden (or not-so-hidden) gems. For the first article of the year, I’ll be talking about a game I had quite a bit of fun with over the break, Hacknet, as well as its sole expansion, Labyrinths. Note that my reviews always are and always will be as spoiler-free as possible – or at the very least, if major spoilers are included, they will be plainly marked – so you can read on without fear of ruining a game’s twists for yourself.

Source: Steam Store Page
FAMOUS LAST WORDS: “My name is Bit, and if you’re reading this, I’m already dead.” An emotionally jarring introduction appropriately sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Developed by Australian one-man-band Team Fractal Alligator and published by Surprise Attack Games, Hacknet is a single-player hacking simulation game for Windows, macOS and Linux. It plays out like a puzzle game, with a heavy emphasis on attention to detail. If you like games of quick observation like Papers, Please and timed hidden-object games, or if you love to explore all the little details in games like Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, this is the game for you. If you’re not one of those people, give it a try anywaysit’s always good to branch out!

 

Right off the bat, Hacknet stands out with its simple-yet-effective tutorial. At the start of the game, the player is greeted by a mysterious, recently deceased hacker named Bit, who holds the player’s hand through the first hour or so of the game. This is a good thing, as the game’s main mode of interaction is a plain text terminal. To someone who has hardly had any experience navigating one (like myself, before playing Hacknet), this interface and the commands used to control it can be a bit daunting. Thankfully, the player is eased into the game via simple intro missions, and a minimalistic-yet-stylish, sleek-yet-functional user interface with actual working buttons makes things much simpler and much more interesting.

Source: Bradley Kolar
STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM: The game begins with simple puzzles, growing more intense as the player gains more tools and more information.

At a certain point, Bit leaves the player, who is then tasked with undertaking an array of contracts for a few hacker groups. One of my only two potential issues with this game arises here. While the player has the freedom to choose whichever missions they want to take, the story departs from what the player moved towards in the beginning of the game, as there is little mention of or reference to Bit until later in the game. Thus, the story can feel unfocused along the way, with little direction in the way of the overarching plot of the game until towards the end. On the other hand, during the course of the game’s varied missions, the player will encounter myriad little details that make the world of Hacknet feel alive: randomly-placed chatroom logs relieve some of the tension and seriousness, many of them featuring real-life incidents of internet ridiculousness straight from bash.org; tidbits of interesting information about the people you’re hacking hide behind encryptions and computer defenses and rewards lie in wait for actions that players wouldn’t ever think important to the story or gameplay. So strap in for the ride and take the scenic route through the story – you’ll get there eventually, I promise.

Source: Bradley Kolar
GO, GO, GO!: Work quickly or you may be caught red-handed.

No video game atmosphere is truly complete without an appropriate soundtrack, and Hacknet adequately delivers on this front for most of its duration. Typically mild, smooth and relaxed, the synth-heavy music of Hacknet makes breaking into system after system that much more enjoyable, while simultaneously being subtle and quiet enough that the focus is still squarely on the gameplay. Despite this, a few more impactful moments in the game do feel like they would benefit greatly from tenser or more energetic music to raise the stakes. The music fails to build upon the growing apprehension of the player as they travel further down the rabbit hole, though this does not exactly detract from the experience; it feels more like missed style points.

Source: Bradley Kolar
CASH GRAB: Who needs to waste time clicking for meaningless numbers when you can hack the game and give yourself all the meaningless numbers instead?

The cherry on top of the enthralling experience of Hacknet is its downloadable content, or DLC, titled Hacknet: Labyrinths. The game’s only paid add-on at the time of writing, Labyrinths is just like the base game, but more so. It adds new types of cybersecurity, new toys to crack them open, an all-new soundtrack, and new characters to learn about. The expansion features an IRC chat room with other allied hackers, where conversation flows naturally between them and makes the player feel like they are working with real people. Sadly, the player cannot respond in the chat, only silently watch, but the flow feels so natural that responses are hardly needed. Labyrinths thematically feels like a very different experience from Hacknet while still remaining true to form – the difficulty curve is quite steeper, and the story feels much more present and engaging since the player works actively with their team. Amidst a swarm of lootbox-based microtransactions and unfinished games with higher price tags, Hacknet absolutely does DLC the right way. Labyrinths makes for an enriched experience and adds hours of fun on top of the base game, but in no way does lacking the DLC detract from the player’s enjoyment of the base game. Labyrinths is not essential to unfold the full experience of Hacknet; rather, it is the sort of thing to buy if you enjoyed Hacknet and want to see more.

Source: Bradley Kolar
DLC DONE RIGHT: Labyrinths essentially adds more of the same, and yet much of the expansion feels fresh and different.

If the addition of Labyrinths still wasn’t enough Hacknet for you, turn to user-created content called Extensions. Though the task of creating an Extension may be daunting, with all of the scary coding stuff involved, talented fans amongst the dedicated community have used the helpful tutorial to build new experiences in the same style as the main game. Between Hacknet, its DLC and its modding community, there are tons of content to explore and always new details to find.

 

To conclude, I can highly recommend both Hacknet and its DLC, Labyrinths. I would complain that there simply isn’t enough Hacknet, but the modding community answers that nicely. According to Steam, I’ve played for 37 hours, and that number will keep going up as soon as I sink my teeth into all of the awesome Extensions available. It’s an excellent game for exercising attention to detail and observation skills, delivering a narrative along the way that’s interesting enough to warrant multiple playthroughs to catch all the little details. At $9.99 and $6.99 respectively, Hacknet and its expansion, Labyrinths, are certainly worth your time.

 

GRADE: A

 

Steam store page link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/365450/Hacknet/

 

Humble Store link: https://www.humblebundle.com/store/hacknet

GOG.com link: https://www.gog.com/game/hacknet

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