Review: Hacknet [2015]

Way back when, there was this cool game called Uplink. It was a hacking simulator. You bounce your connection off of hacked machines, hide your steps, steal data. It was sort of close to how real hacking works, but it was just different enough and directionless to a point that it was kind of overwhelming. It was a hard game.

Hacknet is something of an Uplink-inspired indie game. It’s terms and tools are much closer to the real world. It’s also quite a bit more straightforward. It’s paced well enough, with a mixture of contract-type hacking jobs, and some narrative missions that lead to a story conclusion. The mission objectives are clear enough that I never failed for incompletion. However, I found some missions were either offered before I had the tools to complete them, or without ever having the tools and forcing me to abort the contract to continue.

To complete missions, you have to combine your tools with your knowledge. An early mission involves a counter-hack. Someone has stolen a file. You need to get on their server, find the file, and delete it. The tools will get you into the server, but you’re on your own for finding the file. Part of it is knowing where to look, and part is knowing what you’re looking for. If you think you’ve got it right, you send a reply to the customer, and get a “contract successful” email. If you didn’t, the game will stop you from replying with a “mission incomplete” screen.

On most servers, there’s no particular danger to browsing around and screwing up. However, some will start tracing your location. If you let the trace catch you, you’re thrown into a minigame in which you have to reset your own IP address by hacking your ISP. It’s on a short timer, so you move from the intense countdown of the trace, to an even more intense countdown before you’re disconnected. It’d make for some really cool moments, if it were a little better explained the first time it happens. I didn’t have a firm grasp on what to do, so I kind of just sat there until I lost. Not great.

But the highs of the game are rather high. It’s fun to try to solve the puzzles getting into servers, doing it under the timer of the trace, and getting out. Some parts are less developed than others, and the appeal might be limited to people who have an interest in computer security, but it’s a good game for a weekend. Or a day, it really only took me 5 something hours to complete.