Video Games Review: Hacknet (PC, 2015)

Hacknet is a largely text-based game about the perils and quiet victories that come with being a real world hacker. Adelaide developer Team Fractal Alligator (aka Matt Trobianni) has created a game that deals in mental jousts and proves that you can still make a text-based adventure in 2015 that is thrilling and addictive.

Hacknet’s story mode centres on your character becoming embroiled in some good, old-fashioned corporate espionage after being tapped by a mysterious (and apparently recently deceased) character named Bit. Bit is the creator of what is considered to be the world’s most invasive surveillance system and they created a backup plan should anything happen to them. It would seem something has happened to them – Bit hasn’t connected to their system in 14 days and their backup plan has been set in motion. Communicating posthumously through triggered emails, Bit sends you digging through various files and computers for information on companies and people because, according to them, what is actually happening and what is being reported in the media is rather different.

The game eschews the Hollywood version of hacking seen in movies like Swordfish and Hackers even as it tickles the brain’s cyberpunk gland, giving players access to a vast amount of private information to be mined for leverage. It tries to base itself in fact and it’s one of Hacknet’s greatest strengths and biggest surprises. You navigate through the game by using commands entered on the keyboard. Those who continue to use UNIX or grew up using DOS will already be familiar with using terminal commands to navigate a system. The problem that I ran up against, time and again, is that my memory is complete garbage which necessitated my writing down many of the commands so that I could progress (there is a helpful wiki/learning centre built right into the game which proved invaluable once unlocked).

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You move from computer to computer, brute forcing security to gain access before scouring every folder for potential information, downloading anything that looks like it might be valuable to your own terminal and covering your tracks by flushing the logs and erasing any clue that you’d ever been there at all.

While it’s possible to progress through the game, to say there is any kind of level progression wouldn’t be quite true. The campaign itself ranges in difficulty from easy to ludicrously difficult but these levels appear in no particular order – either you’ll be good enough to crack it or you won’t.

There’s a multiplayer component too that sees you go head-to-head with another player in effort to determine the better hacker. The goal is to shut down the other player’s system before they can do the same to you. The way it plays is akin to high-wire chess with the two of you sounding each other out and trying to hide stonewalls in places the other won’t expect. It’s so addictive and it’s a real credit the quality of the game’s training that I was able to take on my software engineer roommate and actually put him on the back foot a few times.

I’ve never played a hacking simulator that strives for such a level of authenticity without throwing entertainment value completely out the window. Hacknet finds the difficulty curve sweet spot and doesn’t waver from it, it sends adrenaline coursing through your veins with little more than text on the screen and a driving electronic soundtrack and your reward for success is to become a better hacker which is incredibly satisfying just by itself.

This is clever, inventive stuff and a great example of the amazing developer talent we have right here at home. It’s on Steam right now for 20% off. Grab it, support local combat and get a damn good game.

Review Score: 8.5/10
Highlights: Smart, fluid design; Great tutorials get you going quickly; Amazing multiplayer
Lowlights: May be daunting to newcomers
Developer: Team Fractal Alligator
Publisher: Surprise Attack Games
Released: August 12, 2015
Platform: PC

Reviewed on PC

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David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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