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Hacknet Review

By David Haughton

Hacking is one of those Hollywood jobs we all wish we could do.

You’d be a lovable nerd loser or an owner of a ruggedly handsome beard (even you ladies) with a shady past and likely a debt to clear. You’re breaking into the mainframe to access the internet’s source files and triangulate the bad guy through his love of Peruvian pipe music videos. On the other hand, you could be the bad guy and hope that MI6 skipped day one of network security and plug your booby trapped laptop in. Okay, so you’re not gonna be an international terrorist or hero who saves the day, but Hacknet still captures that authentic movie feel.

You start off Hacknet with a message from Bit, a legendary hacker who is implied to have been murdered, and has sent out automated messages in the hope someone will help him. He gives you a quick tutorial and you’re told to make contact with the hacker group Entropy. From there its a case of taking contracts ranging from finding out the spices in Kernal Fried Chicken, to getting medical records to settle an online debate, all the way up to deleting falsified records on the death row database; all while trying to find out exactly what happened to Bit.

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Hacknet  is best described as a puzzle-lite story driven game. You navigate between devices and servers with a handy little map; once you have your target you need to probe it for a weakness. The actual hacking itself consists of running a few programs through a command line. At times you’ll have to solve a firewall by analyzing it for a password or running shells to overload a proxy. If none of that makes any sense don’t worry, it’s easy enough to grasp and is drip fed to you as the game progresses. Is it accurate? Who knows, maybe? Anyhow, you get in, you take care of business, you delete the logs and get out. Well, if you’re a professional that is. I like to go through all their personal files and be a nosey so and so.

There are some really nice touches to make Hacknet feel more realistic. For example, after sabotaging a rival hacker’s machine, they crash your system and you get a blue screen of death and everything. You are then left in silence with just the command line and have to figure out how to get back up and running again.

Graphically, Hacknet is just a user interface with a command line. It is however very visually busy and helps with the immersion. When you start the SSHCrack program, a complicated visual prompt will pop up on the interface that lets you feel much more involved when in reality you’re just waiting for a progress bar to finish. Backing this up is a suitably fast beat soundtrack that helps you keep the pace up.

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There are a few things about Hacknet that hold it back. First of all, the command line can be a bit difficult to get used to. You can use tab to auto complete lines but it can be a bit pernickity when it comes to accessing files. I got stuck a few times because the help list didn’t give clear instructions on how to use certain commands correctly, leading to a lot of frustration. Also the requirements for completing a mission seem to change for each contract. A lot of contracts require you to find a certain piece of information: sometimes you have to reply with the information manually, sometimes it’ll be automatically added to the email, others it seems to complete the contract if you just looked at the correct file or downloaded it. There’s no real cosistantcy to it. One last thing is that I was told over and over to remove all trace of myself from the logs after a hack; leaving them in didn’t seem to have any negative consequences.

I like Hacknet. Its an enjoyable experience, and for the price, you’re getting a good game. Its got its problems, but considering the niche genre of the game, I think it’s easy to look past the issues and just have great fun.

Hacknet is available on PC.

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