Hacking games remain far too few and far between, and often make the mistake of veering into far too complicated territory for the newb to enjoy. Hello, I am the newb. In fact, it's not since Uplink that I've enjoyed the process. I'm not sure if that's changed with Hack RUN [official site]. A super-simple command prompt-led hacking sim, with a nice amount of detail around the edges, and around the web. It's been around a while, and has a bunch of sequels on iOS, but has just showed up on Steam which is where I first spotted it.
If you're like me, when you see a URL mentioned in a fiction TV show, you'll immediately put it into your phone to see if they've had the imagination to put something there. (How I Met Your Mother is by far one of the best at this.) The same applies to games, so the first time my sniffing through the email accounts of employs of the ReUsing Nature pharmaceutical company (RUN) showed a mention of a web address - the name of a band liked by one of the game's characters, Overnite Dynamite - I put it into my browser. And ta-da! Not just a website, but a full song with video, that contains clues for the game.
It's worth noting that the game has its own faked primitive web browser, that produced a simplified version of the same site, so the extra detail of registering the URL for real is nice. The song was a complete surprise, a huge detail for a little game, and just a 3MB install. (It seems the game has previously appeared on telephones, and the song is obviously part of publicising it, but still.)
So of course I tried out www.reusingnature.com. Very simple, and admittedly looking rather a lot like one of those dodgy holding pages, but again, nice extra. The feeling of the game's fiction leaking into the real world is something I frequently lament being missing from gaming - not since the almost-excellent Missing by Lexis Numérique has it really worked well. It doesn't work nearly as well here, but it remains a pleasure to be switching back and forth between fiction and reality.
The fiction is... very fictional. The notion of "hacking" is absolutely laughable - you're getting into the email accounts and system logins of employees of this company purely by dint of their appallingly weak passwords. There's no brute forcing, or sophisticated tech at your disposal, it's just blatant silliness. When the first one you have to guess is "password", that's a simple opener. But unfortunately before halfway it doesn't get any more complicated. It's a little beyond the boundaries of credible.
Still, it's fun though! And goodness, perhaps it'll be a lesson to people who do use weak passwords like the names of friends or their birth dates.
The story gets even more far-fetched as your anonymous employer is sending you messages of delight at your l33t h4x0r sk1llz because you guessed a couple of passwords and user accounts, and then suddenly FURIOUS with you when you directly followed an instruction given to you.
After that I ran into some odd issues where I'm certain it hasn't fed me necessary prompts to proceed (and of course all walkthroughs have copied each other, so there's no explanation there.) And then it tailspins into absolute farce, with emails sent from "secret govt agency" to "senior RUN members". Deary me.
And yet, I'm still enjoying myself. It's farcical, but dumbly entertaining, letting it tell its grandly conspiratorial tale as you bash away at the prompt. Silly, but fun enough.