23 December 2016 ~ 0 Comments

GAME REVIEW: Hacknet

written by David Steffen

hacknet>I need your help

>I have everything you’ll need

>I will teach you how to use it

>In exchange, I want you to find me

> My name is Bit

> And if you’re reading this

> I’m already dead.

 

2015-09-23_00001
This message, received out of the blue, marks the inciting action for the (mostly)-console-based white-hat hacking game Hacknet, published on Steam in August 2015 by Team Fractal Alligator.

The entire game interface takes place on a combination text console that’s made somewhat easier by the graphical interface.  The text commands are Linux-based, so if you are familiar with Linux console commands then you’ve got a headstart on navigating the game world, but you do not have to be a computer expert to be able to pick up the game.

The automated message from Bit sets you on a mission to find out what happened to Bit.  This is a rather roundabout mission, as it starts with you learning the console commands, working on simple hack missions, building the trust of hacking organizations, and gaining wider access and more powerful hacking tools.

The game gives the impression that it is written with real security principles in mind, and has some interesting points to make about bad security practices–i.e. choosing insecure passwords, reusing passwords, etc.  But it’s certainly not a real-life hacking tutorial by any means.  Most of the hacking procedures involve running executable programs that you have acquired either from the automated sending programs Bit left behind or from other sources–one program to break an FTP port, one program to break a web port, etc.

The game has some story, all centered around the central premise of hacking, as well as a fair amount of unrelated missions that you work through just to gain credibility with the hacking community.  Since the player character has no backstory there is no story reveal there, you are who you are.

The game was generally pretty fun, though occasionally got a little repetitive.  There were some particularly interesting missions, including one where you are forced to operate without the graphical interface, using the console only.

What really failed for the game is that there is a major unresolved bug that left me stuck in what would be an unwinnable state if not for walkthroughs.  There are several stages of the game where you have to work on a list of missions given by hacker organizations to increase your credibility to a point where the next story mission can occur.  These lists do not specify what order you must do the missions in the list, and when you pass the credibility threshold then the next story mission occurs immediately.  Once that story mission starts, you can’t take any of the missions from the previous list, and you can’t cancel this mission to go back.  So the issue happened when the story mission assumes you have a hacking utility program that you gained by doing one of the missions on the list.  BUT THE GAME DOES NOT ENFORCE THAT YOU COMPLETE THE LISTED MISSION BEFORE THE STORY MISSION.  So you end up on a long goose chase of a mission and have to hack into a computer, but you don’t have the right utility program to finish the job.  It’s set up in such a way that it’s not super obvious that you are high and dry but I guessed that the programmers screwed up and found a walkthrough to confirm and to find a way around it.  Without the walkthrough I would’ve had to restart the game and try not to repeat the mistake–with the walkthrough I could go to a particular IP address (which is only normally available as part of that mission) and could hack into it to get the hacking utility function.

That bug should’ve been found by the programming team, and should’ve been corrected by now.  It should be a simple matter to correct–just don’t launch that story mission until the correct prerequisite mission is complete.  Any competent tester would’ve found that dependency on their first try considering I wasn’t seeking bugs, I was just playing.  This is embarrassing for the company and it makes me wary of getting other games from the company, even though I enjoyed playing this one overall.

 

Visuals
Almost nonexistent.  The game allows different skins to be applied mid-game, but it’s mostly just color schemes and rearrangement of text information windows.

Audio
I don’t entirely know, I played it mostly without audio and didn’t experience a detriment from it.


Challenge

I think the game should be possible for someone with no programming or console experience, but I think it’s easier if you have some experience with that.  The biggest challenge is trying to recognize when you’ve reached that unwinnable state and it’s time to find a walkthrough

Story
The story was okay.  Nothing that I’d call exceptional, but it served the purpose of giving an excuse to do a bunch of hacking missions.  The biggest sticking point is why Bit would, instead of reaching out to a friend, would send messages to a complete stranger who is completely unexperienced at hacking.

Session Time
Nice and short, just the way I like it.  You can save and quit at almost any time.

Playability
Takes some learning to get all the console commands, and the few times that you have to use them at urgent speed might be very challenging for some.  But I thought the game did a reasonable enough job teaching the navigation.

Replayability
If you don’t look up the walkthrough you’ll probably HAVE to replay to finish the game.  And, completionists will probably have to replay multiple times because it doesn’t let you finish all the missions on a list before the story hijacks the mission list and then you can’t go back–the completionist in me found that kind of annoying as well.

Originality
I haven’t played another game based around hacking, nor working entirely through console commands (well, apart from old text-based adventures I suppose, but I mean where the console is actually an in-game console rather than just being the interface to a different kind of game).

Playtime
About 7 hours to finish according to Steam?  That includes a fair amount of time trying to work around the game-halting bug..

Overall
Fun game, novel setup and interface, based around real Linux commands.  The massive game-halting bug keeps me from really recommending it to anyone, unfortunately, and such lax game testing as that bug implies makes me wary of buying more games from this company again.  $10 on Steam.

 

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