Many years ago, when I traipsed the streets of Belfast city with the menacing incisors of a 15-year-old who did not get braces when he should have done so, I often met with a pal and mentor in sub-criminal activities. Let’s call him “Firebastard”. Firebastard was a good friend, and a knower of various clandestine arts. We all have that mate who downloaded The Anarchist’s Cookbook. That glorious walking disorder who taught us the value of smashing bottles under the flyover in an idle fugue. Firebastard was that friend. One day, he gave my brother and I another book, a real book. Steal This Computer Book Vol 3. It can teach you to be a hacker, he said. It’s full of viruses.
Hacknet is a game that lets me pretend I understood that book.
I never learned to be a hacker, as you might have guessed. The book was too big, too full of jargon, and anyway I had a PlayStation. But as a fan of the movie “Hackers” it was a fun thing to flick through. A glorious tome of theoretical cyber-nastiness. Years later, I could put my imagination to work in Hacknet, without ever understanding what that author was saying.
The game follows the ideas of Uplink, that earlier hacking sim, but this one makes you type in your commands. You scan ports for victims, break through firewalls, download secret files, and delete all logs showing you’d ever been there. You do all this by typing commands into a neon haze of a screen. Preferably to the soundtrack of Wipeout, which is perfect for both future-racing and future-computer crimes.
You hack a fried chicken restaurant. You hack a clicker game. You bounce around the world, taking jobs for shady characters you only ever meet via email. It’s a role-playing game for anyone who ever read those impenetrable volumes of digi-knowledge and wished they were smart enough to understand what TCP/IP stood for. You get to be Johnny Lee Miller as pop culture ought to remember him. It’s a short game of racing against a big red clock, and you get to come up with a hacker alias – whatever you want.
But not “Firebastard”. That’s taken.