WARNING: spoilers ahead. Not quite as bad as my previous writeups, but there's still spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Hi. This is strange... Stranger than I expected. I guess I'm supposed to write this in past tense, though I hardly feel like admitting it's over. My name is Bit, and if you're reading this, I'm already dead.
Hacknet is a puzzle/hacking simulation video game. A spiritual successor to Uplink: Hacker Elite in quite a lot of respects, Hacknet was developed by Team Fractal Alligator1 and published by Surprise Attack Games in 2015. The player assumes the role of a computer hacker who has received cryptic messages from a hacker called Bit, claiming that he's "already dead". The player takes on hacking jobs using the HackNet OS provided to them, and (possibly) eventually untangles the web that Bit has found himself in. Or possibly finds themselves taking on big projects for other factions. A DLC expansion pack called Labyrinths was released in 2017, expanding the game by another handful of hours.
Let's be real, there's going to be comparisons to Uplink. As a refresher, Uplink was a ground-breaking game that was released in 1999 - in fact, when CD-ROMs were still a thing. It was very much a Hollywood-hacking experience with the drawbacks that hacking tasks were incredibly repetitive and the storyline was rather slow and short. Hacknet seems to have fixed the latter almost entirely, with the former being very much improved on. In fact, Hacknet is much more akin to the quintessential puzzle game than Uplink ever was as there is a much greater emphasis placed on investigation rather than (necessarily) hack'n'crack. Other improvements include use of a terminal and the need to type in actual Unix commands (ls, cd, and kill mainly - OK, so they're Unix 101, but they do a little to add to the realism), plus a soundtrack that evolves throughout the game and a customisable UI (well... to a point). It also dispenses with the notion of having to "bounce" connections from one computer to another, instead creating a timer for each hacking attempt that counts down from 100 (presumably percent) to show how much of the trace is left to be completed. In fact, I'd go so far as to say Uplink was more of an RPG than a puzzle game, whereas Hacknet is the polar opposite.
I really rather appreciate the storylines of the game, as well as the themes that the game explores. The base game explores euthanasia as a major mission, the moral system of the hacker community as an aside, corporations being allowed to have monopolies, and the danger of allowing any Tom, Dick and Harry to have access to scripts and programs that make hacking a cakewalk. The DLC goes darker, forcing the player to either kill (at least) a plane-load of civilians, or allow a chemical weapons program to continue. Of course, there are multiple endings to both base and DLC; the rewards are virtually nil though - very few end cutscenes and unsatisfactory ones at that - so exploring the endings can feel like a bit of a grind. Ultimately, it depends on how you like to be rewarded.
Aside from that, there is currently not a lot more to say about the game. It's a good 5-15 hour challenge that's well worth your time if you're an avid puzzle gamer, or really like cyberpunk stuff. The only other DLCs of note are the official soundtracks and the official Extensions modding tool. Team Fractal Alligator might end up writing more stuff for this game, but I doubt it - it feels pretty complete already.
- Graphics: 9/10 A marked improvement on Uplink, even accounting for the 16-year gap.
- Sound: 8/10 The soundtrack is pretty amazing, but there's not much else of note.
- Playability: 7/10 The difficulty curve can get a bit gnarly in the base game, particularly as the game throws you into unexpected scenarios very early game.
- Lastability: 7/10 Labyrinths is enough to keep you going for a while after you've completed the base game, but running through several playthroughs of both base game and Labyrinths to see all the
consequences of your actions endings doesn't have the greatest execution.
- Plot: 9/10 As usual, the grey-and-grey world of computer hacking is presented, but with a couple of other grey-and-grey moral dilemmas blended in.
- Overall: 40/50 = 8/10 A great little time-sink that kept me occupied, interested, and smiling at some of its clever little tricks.
Your attention please, this is important. This next job is going to take a bit of explaining.
1 Read: sole developer Matt Trobbiani. Another indie winner for sure.