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Passwords, Please: Try Hacking Sim Mainlining's Demo

Set in the glorious Windows XP era, Mainlining [official site] is a hacking simulator with a heavy focus on narrative that puts you in the shoes of the bad guys an agent working for the oh-so-fictional MI7 intelligence agency. You’ll be using your simulated desktop, some hacking tools, and ye olde Notepad to piece together evidence of crimes and arrest the culprits.

I’ve scraped the dark web and found proof of the devs’ crimes in the form of a demo. Then it’s on Kickstarter asking for £15,000 to help fund and fancy-up the full release.

While the Windows XP interface and its Internet Discoverer seem to aim for nostalgia, Mainlining doesn’t shy away from contemporary debates and real-world events, and the plot promises to question the ethics surrounding technology and privacy. The Kickstarter page opens with a quote by Edward Snowden, then launches into parallels between Mainlining and the UK’s proposed “Snooper’s Charter”.

The demo is a 20-minute affair that will see you frame a hacker from an underground file-sharing service who breached MI7’s server, using a simplified command interfaces to evoke the feeling of hacking, in the same vein as games like Christine Love’s Analogue and Digital, and Hacker Evolution. Solving the case doesn’t just involve breaking into computers, though: you’ll have to find information by exploring fictional websites and pursuing whatever leads you’re given. The game leaves it to you to remember important details and deduce what your next move should be, and even provides you with an in-game notepad so you can jot down what you know: website URLs, IP addresses, details about the suspect etc.

I liked what I saw, brief as it was. Besides, I’ve always felt a special attraction towards games that ask me to take notes, and I’m not the only one at RPS to feel that way. Papers, Please seems to be more than a passing inspiration, from the “censorship and propaganda from the government” angle to the need to organise all your information on a tiny screen. However, I was also expecting multiple choices à la Papers, Please that I don’t think were there. I ended up framing the criminal for his real crime, but there were hints that I could decide to fabricate evidence and send him to jail for a longer time, as my superiors wanted me to. In the end, though, I just didn’t find these alternative options. I don’t know if I missed them, if it’s just a limitation of the demo, or if I’m simply seeing something that isn’t there.

So, the Kickstarter. Developers Rebelelephant say they’ve secured “a huge chunk” of the budget, and after after £15k to finish it fancily. Pledging at least £7 (or £5 if you get in early) would get you a copy of the game when it launched. The usual caveats about crowdfunding apply – including the chance that the game may never see the light of day for whatever reason. That said, the fact that it already has a playable and polished demo is a good sign, and Rebelelephant folks have released a few games before. Lead developer Sam Read worked Dream, Jill Murray wrote on AssCreeds Black Flag, Liberation, and Syndicate, and Jared Emerson-Johnson scored several Telltale games.

The game is scheduled for an October 2016 release on Windows, priced at £6.99/$9.99/€9.99. Mac and Linux ports are a goal Kickstarter stretch goal. Oh, and it’s on Greenlight, too, if you decide to donate your clicks instead of your money.

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