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Zachtronics's alternate 90s hacking sim Exapunks is out in early access

It’s time to learn a whole new programming language, and then use it to commit (virtual) crimes. Exapunks, latest from puzzle-creating megabrain Zach Barth (Spacechem, Infinifactory, Opus Magnum, etc), is out today, albeit in early access. In Exapunks, players get to write virtual viruses and set them loose across a strange, alternative (and far more cybepunk) 1990s world to do our sinister bidding. Oh, and hack a bizarre hybrid of Game Boy and Virtual Boy, if you want to really show off.

After giving it a quick spin, Exapunks feels like a far more stylish and story-driven successor to Zachtronics’s minimalist TIS-100. Your little viral code-machines (EXecution Agents – EXAs) run on a simple enough programming language. You tell them move via port names on the network grid you’re looking at, interact with files, modify as needed, then ferry them elsewhere. The tutorial missions have the player following guides in Trash World News, an in-universe hacking zine. While you’ll need out-of-game reference (a printer or two monitors is recommended), it feels more accessible than TIS-100 so far.

The setting is dark and slightly dreamlike. Your character is a former hacker whose memory is falling apart after being infected with the Phage, a mysterious new nanotech virus that gradually converts the human body into a meaningless garble of electronic junk. While your initial missions are to help you earn medication to keep the Phage from completely devouring your meat-body, the trailer shows that you’ll be hacking your own mechanised organs later on in the story.

The early access version of Exapunks is “functionally complete”. The full main story, level editor (with workshop support) and sandbox modes are all good to go, but the final version – due in a few months – will undoubtedly be a little more polished. Knowing how other Zachtronics games have grown in early access, I’d not be surprised if the final game included a few additional puzzles, too, likely geared towards expert players. I know I’m probably going to lose a night or two to this one over the weekend.

You can find the early access version of Exapunks on Steam for £15.49/€16.79/$20, with a final release due within “a few months”. You can also buy printed versions of the Trash World News issues, a pair of 3D glasses and a mysterious sealed envelope (the game will tell you when to open it) on the Zachtronics store here for $15 in the US, and $25 worldwide.

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