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[PC] Hacknet

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           <!--With the recent rise in gritty, technological thrillers like the TV Show Mr. Robot or Ubisoft's WATCH_DOGS comes an interesting video game that marries Hollywood hacking with real world computer science. Log on to Hacknet, Team Fractal Alligator’s terminal based immersive narrative experience that takes players on a thrilling chase for the truth. Armed with only your keyboard and the mysterious HackNET OS, our protagonist (or more appropriately, you!) wades into a dark and dingy world of the internet’s underbelly wrought with paranoid Armageddon preppers, mercenaries, or even just your regular /b/tard with ion cannon.

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Yes, its that immersive. I think I got a blue screen once.

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                //Three years ago when first announced, Hacknet quickly drew attention for its similarities to 2001’s sleeper hit Uplink. Best described as a simulator of cinematic computer hacking, Introversion Software’s Swordfish inspired experience of 2010 offered players nearly the same fare of penetrating ports and tunneling through the interwebs in the name of cybercrime but nearly jumps the shark towards its conclusion in terms of realistic fiction. Hacknet lives in a very plausible future and possibly carries a bit of political stance; it explores relevant themes to our daily lives like the threat of government surveillance and the increasing dependence on technology and social media. The shadow wars it portrays could very well be happening on the CAT6 lines around us.

               //Unlike Uplink, our protagonist if you will is just another script kiddie, an everyman who knows Java from Javascript perhaps. Hacknet takes place entirely through the titular HackNET OS where we have been instructed by a failsafe system that claims to be Bit. One problem here is that Bit has been reported dead by the media. This in mind, this ghost in the machine directs players towards known hacking communities where you can take bounties to increase your cred and gain new assets. The game has no real levels or drives you through the story: choice is a theme explored deeply by the narrative and your morals and ethics will be put the virtual sword for judgment. The learning curve is not very difficult at all yet the game refuses to outright hold your hand or railroad you. Often the answer is there but the procedurally built “dungeons” of computers you infiltrate may throw red herrings or answer questions you didn’t even know you had. Ultimately it is this freedom that makes Hacknet so unique as the storyline depends so much on player choice. It is interesting to note here that not all endings of the game have been explored and this freedom can actually hamper your investigation.

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Resized from a beta version of the game to prevent spoilers.

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              //HackNET OS is just as much a character in the game as any. The GUI really feels like a Unix distribution. You can navigate and access files (“cd </directory>”, “cat file.txt”, for example) and essentially play the entire game from the command line. Thankfully as the hunt gets more complex, the GUI helps with a server map and a place to monitor system specs important for game play. Players are not required to be fluent in a programming language nor will a McDegree from your local DeVry be necessary to understand what’s taking place on the screen but there’s plenty for the computer science major to appreciate as things get underway. The OST boasts such names as Carpenter Brut, recently featured in Hotline Miami 2. With driving beats and electronica, Hacknet really helps create a sexier version of the computer whiz crouched over the keyboard hammering away. There's a sense of darkness and ether like swimming (or drowning) in a digital sea.

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Did you know if you type your password it comes out as ******? Well, except for hunter2.

//In the frenzy of an intrusion attempt, players will be tasked to “cast spells” with their programs. It sounds easy on paper but requires fast fingers and a bit of spatial reasoning to manage your RAM (like mana). Pro tip, partially typing a command then hitting tab will allow the machine to ‘fill in the blank’ hopefully buying yourself some time. Traces are no joke! Later portions of the game mess with the visuals and increase the stakes but the ‘fail states’ are not as unforgiving as they could be. Like equipping your Dragonborn in Skyrim, you can change your terminal and GUI via themes. Programs have beautiful representations on the RAM screen and give it a bit of that cinematic vibe. Likewise, the front end websites for many of your victims are fully fleshed out with more tidbits and breadcrumbs to find.

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//However even a hacker’s rootkit is not without flaws. In terms of game design, the combination of procedurally created servers as well as the well versed “static” machines means that one can actually skip portions of the game by accident, making progress during the latter half of the game frustrating without a clear conclusion. At 4 hours of gameplay, it felt fine but the final chapter seems to lock players out of side quests that can yield necessary assets. The tab key trick doesn’t always work and documentation on it has to be found. Similarly it is easy to overlook clues when the game is too vague. Yes, it is intentional that the game not drag you along for the sake of narrative, but I felt there wasn’t enough training on basic detective skills early on.

 

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Sourced from trailer for game to prevent spoilers.

//Despite this Hacknet was a very interesting playthrough that was a breath of fresh air in recent memory. It was immersive and healthily demanding of a game that stood to deliver quite the roller coaster of a tale and in this day in age, it can probably stand to be a cautionary tale… though with great production values and artistic design. Hopefully these simulation narrative type games will offer more stories and experiences inspired by Fractal Alligator’s efforts. It has definitely impressed this reviewer.

              //Follow the white rabbit player. Let’s see where this SSH Tunnel goes. Who knows what you might return;-->

  • Should you play this game? Despite game hampering bugs, this is one of the most immersive and unique narratives I've ever experienced.
  • Disclosure:  Steam clocks my gameplay at 5 hours. Finished a storyline, many side quests, played around with leftover servers... may have opened it up in my data sciences class just to freak people out.
  • Image sources: My Steam copy of the game except where noted. Source for beta pictures: http://www.indiedb.com/games/hacknet
  • Where to buy: 9.99 USD Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/365450/ Humble Bundle: https://www.humblebundle.com/store/p/hacknet_storefront
  • Comments? Feedback? Leave them here or contact me via PM or Steam.

 

 

 

 

 

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