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Hacknet Review

Hacknet Review

“Hacking won't make for a good game. What's interesting about hacking in the confines of a video game?” If Uplink was a strong argument for hacking as a video game, the Hacknet beta was enough to convince. Pulse-pounding and more tense than the relationship between India and Pakistan, it turned out to be an impressive and overwhelming performance. However, that was then. Now, we have the full-fat game on our hands. The devs are finished and the game is ready for release. I now wonder: can the game hack it, or will the new features be a case of system overload?

You play as yourself, an aspiring hacker using the HackNetOS, an operating system designed to make hacking a breeze. One day, you get a message from Bit, a fellow hacker who is implied to have met a murky end, and not via accident as it's claimed to be. To find them, you must follow the trail of breadcrumbs left behind by Bit, who sets you on course in your hacking career. At first, they test your mettle with some easy jobs – hacking a friend's computer for an important .exe, for example. However, your skill and reputation grows; hacking collectives will be at your door, inviting you in for more high-scale and dangerous missions – hacking a KFC knockoff's servers to find out the 11 secret herbs and spices is a stand-out. This creates a clear sense of progression – the game becomes addictive not just from the hacking gameplay, but also the idea of becoming the best and getting into even more cut-throat circles to prove what you can do.


The word 'addictive' is not used lightly, either – do not play this game if you've only got ten minutes or you're looking for a good night's sleep. One mission will slowly melt into ten, and before you know it, when you're trying to hack into some high profile system, it's dark outside. Again, though, this is a game about hacking. Why?

Hacknet is genuinely thrilling and excites harder than a million Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed titles ever could. This is in no small part due to the actual gameplay. You gain access to computers and servers by entering commands into a terminal – rm to delete, ls to display files, and porthack.exe to deploy a program that grants you entry to computers, for example. While this sounds as basic as games can get (it might strike some as a dolled-up text adventure), where it really shines is the thrill and exhilaration of hacking itself. The game feels naughty, taboo, even dangerous, and that's guaranteed to make your hairs stand. The immersion of this game is amazing; the addictive aspect couples with this, and you soon forget that what's in front of you is a piece of fiction – you're in Hacknet's world now. Couple this with the fact that hacking into some systems trigger alarms, making the hacking process a race against time, and you'll have weapons-grade adrenaline coursing through your veins. This is, of course, a videogame rooted in fiction, but the feeling of doing something illicit and illegal is present, and will make your heart pound. That's exactly why this game succeeds so hugely, for what it is: it's a complete rush.


How it stays so exciting is intrinsically linked to the cool presentation of the game. Playing the game is like living in the Matrix in that the graphics are minimalist, juxtaposing blacks and greys with bright neon colours, creating the strong feeling of illicitness and danger that Hacknet thrives on. This is supported by the soundtrack, which is mostly ambient dance music reminiscent of Aphex Twin's earlier work (think Selected Ambient Works 85-92) coupled with more high octane tracks for the time attack sections, which works wonders to the tense atmosphere.

Hacknet also seems like it will include some of the most interesting and captivating moments in games this year. Without giving too much away, the game has an incredible moment where a revenge job on a black hat hacker goes awry. They find out, and threats are fired at you. Standard stuff, but before you can finish rolling your eyes, the infamous blue screen of death flashes up filling your screen, and there is a genuine moment of panic when you think, “Oh, bloody hell, what happened to my computer?”. Thankfully, it's just the game screwing with you, Sons of Liberty-style, but it demonstrates again just how good Hacknet is at taking you out of your comfort zone. This starts a genuinely challenging segment where the hacker makes good on their threats, leaving your computer a simple DOS terminal, removing any visual parts of the computer, testing how good you really are at using the commands, or if you were paying attention before. Indeed, Hacknet looks to be one of the most clever and thoughtful titles of the year.


Sadly, though, the game has its share of tiny annoyances that put a dampener on the rest of the game. The game features a Cookie Clicker clone that looked great in the beta version, but sadly doesn't work yet in the real game (at least for me) – the game's server is hackable, but any attempt to access the game proper is rebuffed. The game is chock full of different files that need not be accessed in a normal run of the game, being thrown in as comedy extras – such as humorous faux-IRC logs referencing assorted Internet memes and in-jokes. However, some can't be clicked at all without causing the game to hang, requiring a soft reset that completely takes you out of the game. Most egregious of all is the timer/countdown mechanic that triggers when you go snooping in high-security servers. If you fail to beat the clock, you get a fake blue screen and a reboot, but simply disconnecting from the server at hand will cause the timer to reset when you re-enter, all while your progress stays the same – one can potentially just abuse the “dc” command to breeze through the timer sections which should have been more climactic.

Make no mistake, though – foibles aside, Hacknet is as slick, clever, and unbearably, maddeningly exciting as games that cost four times as much. Drop all preconceived notions about hacking being boring or unsuitable in a gaming context, and let yourself be immersed in this wonderful title. Send the message to Ubisoft: when it comes to hacking, Watch_Dogs isn't the big dog, Hacknet is.

9.50/10 9½

Hacknet (Reviewed on Windows)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

A wonderful title that deserves your attention. What are you doing still reading this?! Go and play it!

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Ben McCurry

Ben McCurry

Mobile Writer

Writes about videogames. Hopelessly incompetent at making his own, he has settled for criticising others people's games instead

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Acelister - 04:10pm, 1st September 2015

This is me whilst playing...