I’d been reaching to my Steam Library to go and click on ‘Uplink’ when a friend had mentioned that there’s a “cool new game” that was a deal more polished and fun than the old-school classic. I decided to have a look and see what the fuss was about. The Steam reviews looked good – as did the demo video – and it was only a nice and simple $9.99!
What followed was a thoroughly brilliant experience playing this extremely enthralling, immersive and just plain fun hacking simulator.
Way back in 2001, Introversion Software (Defcon, Darwinia) brought us the first real dance with the hacking-simulator genre. Stylised and influenced by the small slew of hacking related movies of the late 80s and early 90s, Uplink was a unique little game where you take on the role of an elite hacker, trying to make a name for yourself while cracking your knuckles to crack codes, firewalls and more.
Uplink was quite a success, with it still pulling some sales on Steam to this day, and even spawning a small modding community that put-together some interesting mods. My favourite was adding in an FBI based hacking mission and server. Take that, Feds!
Uplink was very stylised and had a little bit of a fantasy feel to it – the actual elite hackers wouldn’t really be sitting in front of a pretty blue/aqua OS theme – they’d be sitting in front of a black screen (or two) with a bunch of white coding text, and perhaps a mountain of IT-related books to their side.
HackNet takes things quite a deal more seriously, with actual unix commands – and a few loosely based on it – along with a bunch of tools that actually feel real. Not only this, but once you load into the game proper, you’re almost running a real terminal. Sometimes you can screw up, be hacked, and you’ll lose your x-server.sys file, meaning that your “terminal” loads into a basic command-line mode.
It adds a great deal of familiarity to the game – and while we haven’t completely stepped away from some slightly whimsical processes – it feels a great deal more realistic than Uplink. There are a few moments where there are those kinds of “well this is very pretty” feelings regarding hacking something in particular, but when you combine the more familiar feel in the UI, the greatly improved mechanics and general flow – HackNet really does feel like a superior game, and one that you could (and should) play for hours upon hours.
The storyline is very solid – not only giving you a basic introduction to the game itself and how to do things – but the storyline that you follow along with is actually quite intriguing! Without spoiling too much – you trek along on your own little mystery storyline that simply gets more and more immersive as you unravel the plot.
Personally I feel like this is not only some great work from the Fractal Alligator team, but it’s also just a way this kind of simulation game functions. As you’re somewhat a part of the fabric of the story – having to hack into servers to gather data, replying to emails with codes – it feels familiar and like you’re really there, and the mystery is all around you.
I’ve tried to avoid it as much as possible, but the phrase “It’s a lot like Uplink, just with a damn good deal more polish” comes to mind. And that’s simply the truth. The mechanics of the UI are much nicer, the way the game generally flows is a little simpler and just basic tasks in-game are a just easier to work with.
Team Fractal Alligator (who have the coolest logo by the way) consists of one man, Matt Trobbiani, who has done a stellar job with this game. Throw together the story, gameplay and immersive elements I’ve listed above – but add in the backdrop of music that really hits the right note. But would we expect any less from a master of psychedelic electronic pieces? Who better to throw a few tracks at this game than the man who helped out Hotline Miami – Carpenter Brut.
HackNet is a fantastic game, full of awesome puzzles, an intriguing storyline, and some well crafted gameplay. An incredibly immersive game that I thoroughly recommend you have a go at.
Developer: Team Fractal Alligator
Publisher: Surprise Attack