Matt Trobbiani, an Australian game designer came up with the idea of Hacknet in 2012 in a 48-hour game jam tournament with the theme of “GUI and interface”. After he created the basic version and released it, he continued to work on it throughout the next 3 years as a hobby project, which he released in August 2015. The game gained popularity very quickly.
The game won the Innovation award for the 2014 Australian Game Developer Awards, the Indie-Serious Game SimTecT Asia 2015 award, The Best Narrative Award from BIG Brazil 2016 and was a finalist in the Best Tech section of Freeplay 2015.
Hacknet follows you as the protagonist who receives a message by an unknown man known as ‘Bit’ when his 14 day failsafe has activated. He tells you that he was working for a company called ‘EnTech’ who was developing a security system and believes they may have had him killed. He asks you to find out the truth of what happened and to stop EnTech and their plans. Thus begins the tutorial and the story and you can start hacking! The game is quite a realistic simulator with how you hack. The servers require you to hack their ports with hacks including SSH cracks, FTP Bounces and HMTL Webservers and finally, Porthack, which is basically the in-games equivalent to brute forcing and cracking the password.
The game makes your hacking feel powerful, and gives you a rush when busting down the enemies server, finding the files you need or the information you need to send off to someone else, then deleting your logs and leaving everything the way you left it. Or if you feel like hitting someone where it hurts, delete their boot files and then Forkbomb their system, shutting it down and forcing a reboot. But the game really shines when the enemy server has better security systems and starts tracing back the IP of the person who’s messing with them and then the race is on! Get in and grab the files, or get traced and panic as you desperately try to reset your IP so they don’t find you.
Hacknet has a method to the crazy hacking madness, pitting you in the centre of the story as you join hacker groups and do contracts for them, granting you with more hacking equipment into your arsenal and possibly uncovering some of the truth, even if you didn’t know it.
The interface is easy to understand and can accommodate both types of players, people who like to type lots and people who don’t, with both a terminal and an interface system, helping you navigate. Obviously the interface is easier to use, and you can use it quite easily with only slight use of the command line, but the game feels really cool when you do almost the entire game on the terminal and use the interface as only a guide to where you are, using commands like ‘cd’ to change the directory, ‘ls’ to showing what’s in the files, and the good old ‘rm’ tool to remove files. Also don’t forget to press ‘tab’ to auto-complete what you’re typing; that one is handy!
As I have previously explained, the UI is very basic. It only has a terminal, a map and an interface. The game has slight customisation when it comes to your OS, during your time on Hacknet, you can pick up different ‘x-system.sys’ files, which have different interface skins, and place the terminal, the map and the interface screen in different areas, making play slightly different. Although these graphics are simple, and not out there to be extremely detailed, they’re clean cut and are easy to process.
The sound has a decent lengthy soundtrack that just plays in the background, and sounds quite ‘hack-like’. Sound volume can be turned up or down respectively in the options menu. If the sound isn’t to your liking, turn it down and play your most ‘Hacky’ song you know and play. You won’t regret it.
Although the game has a great storyline and cool hacking mechanics, playing through it a second time can be a little less fun. The passwords aren’t randomised, so you could essentially complete a mission in 3 seconds as you reply to the email with the password you found out last game, provided you remember it. And the game can feel slightly duller on the second time around. What would have been better for the game is if the missions were more randomised and the game wasn’t as linear.
Ultimately, besides the very linear story line and the lack of proper replayability features, the game is a great game to play, the hacking ‘noobs’ and even the seasoned data penetration tester can enjoy this game and the realism it presents, it gives you help but offers very little hand holding, which enables you to figure it out yourself, or search up the answers online if you’re lazy, like me.
You can grab Hacknet on Steam and Humble Bundle for $9.99 USD, it would be a good time to get it now, as the DLC Hacknet Labyrinths is coming out in December and promises more story line to play.
By Michael Wilson