Hacknet Released, Is A Game About Being A Hacker

I eye-spied on Hacknet [official site] yesterday when a note came through that it had released. So here’s the news: Hacknet is out, and it’s an Uplink-ish hacking game. There’s a release trailer and some (very brief) impressions on the first half hour or so below.

At least in the early stage I’ve played, Hacknet does a couple of things right. First, it has an actually usable GUI that complements the typing out of commands. While I’m all about that black-hat 160 WPM power-fantasy, I also really like being able to do things quickly and easily in a format I’m familiar with. It doesn’t go full Windows – it has lots of menus and sub-menus rather than icons and folders – but it’s just enough to be able to keep all the info in your head while trying to remember lists of commands.

It also sits nicely between funny and dramatic, realistic and interesting. One early computer I hacked into had a collection of saved quotes from the IRC archive Bash.org, buried in folders I didn’t need to look through but wasn’t stopped from investigating. Other terminals have background information on the characters you’re investigating, or hidden files that explain exactly why you’ve been given the instructions you have.

The plot, that a dead hacker has set up a failsafe that’s now contacting you to look into his untimely demise, is clichéd but doesn’t get in the way of setting you loose to do bad hacker things to people’s systems. It’s also immediately intriguing and drives you forward through opening tutorials naturally.

It looks like a good update on the Uplink formula and for a little over a fiver (or just under $10) on Steam and Humble, though I’d need to play more to know whether its appeal lasts. And I am going to keep playing it to find out.

42 Comments

Top comments

  1. Wang Tang says:

    Or 8€ (with current 20% discount on steam; regular 10€).

    The game looks neat, but I probably won't buy it without a demo of sorts.
  1. Wang Tang says:

    Or 8€ (with current 20% discount on steam; regular 10€).

    The game looks neat, but I probably won’t buy it without a demo of sorts.

  2. Bostec says:

    Watching Mr Robot at the moment which is probably the best TV series I’v seen since Breaking Bad so this is very timely and I might just get it.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      I have never been more surprised going from trailer to pilot as I was with Mr. Robot. Incredible show. Not caught up though, no spoilers.

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        More love for Mr Robot.

        Incredible lead performance.

    • karthink says:

      Best depiction of hacking in TV/movies to date too.

    • Nasarius says:

      I really like Mr. Robot’s cyberpunk aesthetic, especially with the drugs and everything, but…I was kinda expecting more after hearing so much praise.

      The hacking stuff is total nonsense, too. Like, I guess you see a Linux terminal? But that’s as far as it goes in terms of “realism”.

      • Malarious says:

        It’s not really nonsense, per se — they just don’t show the actual hacking (excluding the one scene with the wifi cracking). It’s mostly just characters typing real commands into a naked Linux shell and then macro shots of the output. In one of the latest episodes, a character was trying to access a bunch of directories and piped stderr to /dev/null, which is the kind of attention to detail you don’t see in other shows.

        It’s still 100x better than creating a GUI interface in Visual Basic to track the hacker in real time. That stuff is actual nonsense.

      • Atrak says:

        I think at least they are focusing in the right places. That real hacking often consists of a lot of social engineering. That and actually taking time and can often fail. Unlike almost every other show where hacking things takes seconds and always seems to succeed

        Rami Malek is truly brilliant as the lead character and it sounds like the show’s creator Sam Esmail has an almost obsessive attention to detail.

        I’m Definitely hoping it stays on the air long enough to do what it needs to do.

        An interesting article on Forbes chatting to Mr Robot’s ‘cybercrime expert’

    • king0zymandias says:

      It’s like a fight club thing though, right? It seems very obvious that Mr. Robot doesn’t exist.

    • grrrz says:

      thanks for the heads up, will look into that.

  3. Cinek says:

    For me any “hacking” game that requires you to type in commands is a no-go.

    Feels way too much like work.

    The beauty of UpLink was that you could handle almost an entire game with mouse and mouse only, making the pseudo-hacking (which is all that these games do) feel like an actual game and not a chore.

    • Artist says:

      Perfectly described the difference between “cineastic”-hacking games and “console-based”-hacking games! Too sad that its such a niche genre and many games are rather “hacking-themed puzzle games”.

    • hgmiv says:

      personally, I enjoy it. I loved Uplink but a lot of it was taken away because I know “real” hacking doesn’t involve a UI such as UpLink’s (Or Hacknet’s, for that matter). Hacknet and its commands provide a more “simulated” experience than UpLink ever did.

      • Cinek says:

        Real hacking is nothing like any of these games try to show. So I prefer Uplink approach.

        • Flit says:

          Real hacking is putting on a suit, walking in the back door which was left open for a smoke break, and asking a friendly-looking person for the password. Is there a good game out there that simulates that?

          • Silent_Thunder says:

            I vaugly recall an anecdote about some sort of cyber security firm promising a large cash bounty on anyone who could crack their system at the tech expo they were at. One person instead crafted a fake staff ID badge, waltzed in the backroom area, and and cracked it by having direct access instead of trying to tunnel in remotely.

      • malkav11 says:

        Uplink is simulating the (vastly more audience-friendly) sort of hacking shown in movies and television. Which is probably a good thing, to be honest. I’ve tried to get into the more “realistic” titles like Hacker Evolution and not had much luck. I spent hours and hours with Uplink.

    • grrrz says:

      well they found a good balance there with the autocomplete function, most of the time you only type the first 2 or 3 letters tab, enter and done. there’s actually a good flow to it, and the kinda repetitive hacking part is well balanced with a pretty rich puzzle aspect where you have to find clues and passwords inside the documents. the hacking is a lot easier than in uplink, it’s very linear, but the story and puzzle side seems richer.

  4. WeeMadAndo says:

    Excellent Australian journo Jason Imms discovered an in game file that you could find a way to access that contained codes.

    Steam codes. For the game. To give to friends.

    I can’t imagine what other greatness they’ve hidden.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      hah, that’s fantastic, and very in-theme with what I’d seen so far. There was a list of recommended youtubers in one of the early files as well.

  5. Artist says:

    I maintained a list of hacking games (“games” not “hacking challenges”)

    The Comprehensive List of Hacking Games

    Singleplayer:
    868-HACK (iOS)
    AI Wars: The Awakening (FPS-style/ the only hacking game in 3D)
    Blue Sky – Terminal Zero
    BS Hacker Replay/Unlimited/AC – Digital Dystopia
    Code Hacker 1.4.0
    Codelink v1 (evolved to Codelink Online)
    DarkNet (Oculus Rift) link to darknetgame.com
    DarkSigns – Terminal Zero(evolved to DarkSigns Online)
    Decker (Shadowrun Matrix rebuild) link to www10.caro.net
    Digital Hazard – Digital Dystopia
    Digital Overlay
    Disrupt – link to disruptgame.com (WIP)
    Endgame: Singularity – emhsoft.com
    FATE http://www.fatetek.net
    Galactic Hacker 1.3 (uplinkesque with Gamemaker)
    Hacker Evolution/Untold/Duality – exoSyphen Studios 2007/08
    Hacker 2012, 2004, 2005 – Terminal Zero
    Hacker Syndicate – Terminal Zero
    Hack the Universe – Blind Virus/Terminal Zero
    Hacker X-8.9 1.00 (macOS) – link to compudav.com
    Hackwork – link to desura.com (Hacking based RTS)
    Hacker 3 – Cyber Warfare
    Mother (italian) link to v4ldemar.net
    PWN (iOS)
    PortSign (was planned with online capability but stopped)
    Quadrilateral Cowboy – link to blendogames.com – Blendo Games (WIP)
    RVL Hacker (exosyphen engine) link to rvlgames.com
    Streethacker (one of the best, imo) link to streethacker.com
    Uplink (the grandfather of the cinematic hacking genre)
    WetWare – link to wetwaregame.com (PC/Linux/OS X)

    Online/Multiplayer:
    Codelink Online v2 http://truthisaweapon.com
    Hacknet – link to fractalalligator.com – console based.
    Hack Wars http://www.hackwars.net
    PWN – link to 82apps.com – Apple iOS (released)
    Watch Dogs – http://watchdogs.ubi.com – Ubisoft (PC)

    Browser
    Born2Hack http://www.born2hack.de (german)
    Hack-the-net games and clones (eg.World Hack Organization)
    Hackerforever http://www.hackerforever.com
    Hacker Project http://www.hacker-project.com
    HackTech Online (WIP) link to hacktechonline.com
    Slavehack http://www.slavehack.net

    Vaporware:
    Domain Knights 3 – link to periodicgames.com (ceased service)
    SYscracker
    Nabu offline
    Hacker 3.1
    Hell School Hacker?(pub: Dark Night Market)
    Nethack (browser) http://www.nethack.us (Slavehack clone)
    iHacker (formerly known as Nanobyte Online) (WIP) link to ihacker.co.uklink to forum.aboxx.com
    net-hackerz (browser) – link to aldihighway.de
    Cyberhats (browser) link to cyberhats.net (hiatus)
    Cypher (browser) link to cypher.extremecast.com
    hijackerz (browser) http://hijackerz.de (german)
    Netrunners MMORPG link to totalmadownage.net (MUD-like)
    Cyberhats link to cyberhats.net
    net-hackerz – link to aldihighway.de
    CyberWars – http://www.cyber-wars.com
    hijackerz http://hijackerz.de (german)
    iHacker (formerly known as Nanobyte Online) (WIP) link to ihacker.co.uk
    Bytelink (WIP?) link to bytelink-online.com
    DarkSigns Online link to darksigns.com
    Cypher link to cypher.extremecast.com

    others:
    Sp.A.I link to moddb.com (Cyberspace 3d Puzzler on Unreal Engine)
    HACK3R Puzzle
    HL2: Dystopia link to dystopia-game.com (Cyberpunk-mod with Cyberspace part)
    Neuromancer by Interplay Entertainment (1988)
    Shadowrun by Beam Software (1993, SNES) Action-RPG
    Shadowrun by BlueSky Software (1994/96 for SEGA)
    System Shock 1 by Looking Glass 1994 (FPS/Action-RPG, PC/Mac)

    And finally another list of hacking games over at the Onlink forum (not my work):
    link to ferrousmoon.com … =52&t=1880

  6. Lanfranc says:

    I am disappointed that they didn’t announce it by just hacking the RPS website. :-|

  7. rabbit says:

    sounds interesting, will definitely give it a go. have loved uplink ever since that first 12MB (or whatever it was) demo hit all them years ago

  8. Crafter says:

    hacking game + windows only ? this makes me sad.

    Also, does the game allow you to write your own shell (with your own config). I am way too used to ll, lla & other fancy commands in order to go back to a nude bash.

  9. Shadow says:

    I’ve been reading about this since I’m dying for a new, proper Uplink.

    What I’ve gathered is that it’s a pretty good game, but not necessarily better than Uplink. Basically, it’s more linear, less replayable (hardly any randomly generated content) and features no hardware upgrading mechanics. There’s a limited amount of non-story quests, and once they’re exhausted, you’ve no choice but to beeline through the plot.

    Hacknet generally offers less depth and freedom of action than its spiritual predecessor, so that put a damper on my excitement about it.

  10. Carcer says:

    This was managing to be more fun than irritating up until I seem to have hit some kind of bug that has rendered a mission impossible to complete – I’ve achieved the objectives, but whenever I send the completion email it just rejects it. A quick glance at the steam forums suggests this is to do with completing missions in the wrong order. Very irritating.

    Anyway, my initial excitement at at terminal which used ls and cat has given way to frustration at a terminal emulator which is to be honest extremely incomplete. You can’t “cd ../..” – “cd ..” only seems to be hardcoded, the only place wildcards work is the similarly hardcoded “rm *” (meant to quickly delete all the logs on a server), you have scp and mv but not cp and there’s no way to create or delete folders so you can’t even organise your own node’s filesystem nicely… I guess for someone who does not use a terminal on a regular basis it’d be passable, but it’s going to quickly become frustrating for anyone who is used to a real one. This is a shame, as it’s otherwise easy enough to get lost in it. With a much more complete terminal emulation and some bugfixing it’d be grand. I think I’m going to wait a bit before trying to play it again and see if these things get improved before I start again to try and do the missions in the “right” order.

    • MrPyro says:

      Does the terminal emulator have tab completion? Because if not then I have no interest; I find the terminal programs I have to use at work that don’t have it very frustrating. What do you mean I actually have to type the entire command?

      • Carcer says:

        It will tab-complete for the executables kept in /bin and files in the current working directory, fortunately, although even this it manages to do in a slightly irritating way – when completing for programs in /bin it doesn’t add a trailing space for the arguments, so I kept on trying to run programs like SSHcrack22 rather than SSHcrack 22. Basically I expect it will find ways to frustrate you, no matter what particular thing ticks you off.

    • grrrz says:

      I had a crash at the point when you’re supposed to be hacked and at the point when your computer is supposed to crash inside the game. Thought it was part of the game (it wasn’t though and while I could finish the game I missed an important branch of the story because of the crash).
      Funny thing is when you report this crash, the first response in forums is “yeah that’s supposed to happen, you have to …” which makes explaining the problem impossible.

  11. mxxcon says:

    I’m confused. Why would I pay $10 for it, when this game is free on Desura?

    • grrrz says:

      because the desura version is basically a demo for the full game.

  12. Brtt says:

    And I thought you guys at RPS were done with forgoing mentioning GOG whenever it should apply…
    *sigh*

    Anyway, here goes: link to gog.com
    It’s at €7.29 until the 19th.

  13. indigochill says:

    For those interested in the subject but put off these sorts of games by their limitations or departures from reality, I’d suggest wargaming (exploitation of real systems designed for the purpose for fun and education). This one’s my personal favorite wargaming site: link to overthewire.org

    There’s also a more general technical challenge index site here if none of OtW’s wargames catch your fancy: link to wechall.net

  14. Nixitur says:

    Played this for a few hours and I was always wondering, waiting, thinking “Okay, when is the game just gonna let me do my own thing, hack random servers, do whatever missions I want?”
    And then I slowly realized that that wasn’t going to happen. It is exceedingly linear. You have one batch of missions, you do that, then you immediately get another batch of missions and so on. You can’t find any servers apart from the ones that you do missions on. I was hoping that the “scan” command would supply me with some other servers, similar to how in Uplink, you can find the IP address of the Mainframe servers on the Internal Services Machine of a company, but in Hacknet, that never really does anything.
    Compared to Uplink, it’s more structured, the missions are more interesting, the random files with information about the company and the Bash quotes are funny, but it’s stupidly linear and I never got the feeling that I was in a connected world. The missions are all disjointed and nothing has an effect on anything else. Early on, you find a server where another hacker has left a message saying “Hey, if you wanna help me hack something, leave a .txt file in here.” Which I did. And nothing happened because the only thing you can do in this game is the missions that you get one after the other.
    Compare that to Uplink where crashing a Mainframe makes the stocks of the company plummet while fulfilling missions for them makes them rise. And, of course, you can actually invest money in companies. Where you can find out the server admin of a company, hack into the Criminal Database or frame him via modifying your routing logs, have him arrested and he actually gets replaced, as you can check on the Public Access Server. Where ordering multiple parts for your terminal in quick succession actually makes the motion sensor go off because of all the deliveries. Where you can do a secret thing, find out the names of all the big-name Uplink agents and have them all arrested, making you the best of them all. Where you can actually finish the main quest early if you hack into a specific server earlier than the main quest dictates.
    In Hacknet, you can’t do anything like that. You can’t do stuff that you’re not supposed to do. You always have the right tools for the job and there’s never a feeling of being in over your head.

    Imagine if Uplink was just the main questline and nothing else. That’s basically Hacknet.

  15. Vesuvius says:

    For what it’s worth- I bought it after reading this review and it’s lost my progress / broken twice.

    First time, I made a second user account to play the game as so I could check something in the tutorial for a friend. I went back to my main and the progress was reset to the tutorial (and this change was backed up to steam cloud, so I lost it everywhere).

    Second time, I exited the game between scripted emails, and because of when I left- the second one never came when I loaded back in.

    I’ve lost about 3 1/2 – 4 hours of progress, and moreover would have to replay all that again (albeit quicker, second time around). It’s very very frustrating and amateurish to have big bugs like that.