Hacknet is the Unix network navigation simulator by the Australian developer Team Fractal Alligator and is being released by Surprise Attack Games. The objective of Hacknet is pretty simple, you must hack computers to complete mission objectives as set out by a fellow hacker in order to advance. The title employs a basic, but cool interface, and an amazing soundtrack to really push the feeling of Hacknet forward. We’re really having a lot of fun with it.
As someone that’s been trained in Network Security and was in IT before starting on this site, seeing Hacknet posted on the internet was pretty interesting. I’ve seen a few games about hacking pop-up, but never a retail game based on the concept. The last retail game to tackle this concept, from memory, was Watch_Dogs. As we can all remember, Watch_Dogs was less of a hacking simulator, and more of an action game with a magic-hacking-wand. Hacknet, on the other hand, is definitely a much more accurate representation of the hobby. I’ve even used similar attacks in labs, so I can confirm it’s legit (to a high-degree).
One of the biggest differences in Hacknet to real-life hacking is that it is mostly Unix based, and a bit more simplified than how a real-life attack would occur. I would wager that most hackers (skiddies) today would be using pre-made hacking kits, like Metasploit, or the software packaged in something like Backtrack, or Kali, Linux. Heck, you can get kits for Android (like zANTI), that make some of these attacks a bit easier. However, as a historical look on how these attacks would have occurred, and can still be, Hacknet is an incredibly accurate simulation.
Hacknet doesn’t have too much of a complicated story from what I have gathered from the preview build of the game. Basically, you’re a newbie hacker starting out with the HacknetOS, and you are contacted by some-guy that seems to be in a lot of danger named Bit. Basically, he trains you from the ground up to be a Supa-Hacka by pushing you into doing missions that he sends to you via e-mail. These missions start off pretty basic, just things like breaking through a firewall and deleting some files, but they eventually get more and more complicated, like by stealing medical records and other kinds of data. The gameplay starts to get interesting when you get the Sequencer program, which is a joint attack platform, and have to complete a bunch of objectives and beat the clock– so to speak. Unfortunately our build ends at the end of the Sequencer attack, so we’re not too sure of which direction the game takes after this, but if it’s anything like the game during it, it’ll be a lot of fun.
The gameplay of Hacknet is probably something that most computer users will find immediately familiar to them. The game is played through the Hacknet OS, which is pretty much an interface comprising of a few elements that are similar to what you would see in a build of Linux, or even some network operating systems. In general, it’s a mixture of a GUI, CLI and a side panel for notes and effects. If you touched up an OS using Rainmeter or something, you could probably create a similar look for yourself on your Windows PC.
Playing the game is done primarily through the Command-Line Interface, or CLI, down on the lower-right panel of the game window. In the CLI, you input commands to navigate and execute instructions on a target computer. You can also navigate a computer through the GUI, or Graphical User-Interface, but I find it’s not as efficient (but I’m used to CLI, people that have never touched Linux or Unix might find the GUI easier at first). However, for a large portion of the game, you will need to get used to using the CLI, so it’s best to get used to it.
Attacking a target machine in Hacknet is a pretty straight-forward ordeal, as you wont have to program your own programs to take advantage of exploits. This means that users will be, at most, working out which programs to launch to ‘solve the puzzle’, rather than reading text-books on networking and programing and coming up with their own exploits. The usual attack will be that the player will need to connect into a targets machine, break through their firewall with porthack and then complete whichever objectives are needed. However, things get more complicated as the firewalls become harder to crack, and players will need to work out how to use other programs to break through them before being able to use porthack. As we mentioned previously, some objectives, like stealing medical records, will require the user to think both inside and outside of the box.
One of the fun things about Hacknet is that there are a bunch of hilarious things to find in some targets filesystems. These are usually Usenet logs and the like, but some of the stories found are hilarious. As a hacker, you should be curious by default, so it’s always fun breaking into something and then finding a hilarious story laying around in some of the folders. Even more, there’s a mission included where there is basically a simplified version of ‘Cookie Clicker’ included. I had fun just playing through that on one playthrough.
Hacknet sports some very interesting hacker-esque visuals that are both familiar, but stylised and different at the same time. If you know much about ‘ricing’, it’s entirely possible to get your Windows PC to look like the Hacknet interface if you try hard enough. However, Hacknet is based on Unix systems, and it follows the traditions found in some builds. Mostly, if you’ve used a computer in the last 30 years, Hacknet will look familiar to you to a degree. If you’ve used the CLI, or a CLI heavy operating system, then Hacknet will definitely look incredibly familiar to you.
The game also features some interesting visual effects that help to push the hacker vibe. For example, whenever you run a cracking tool, a small animation will play on the left side of the screen. Even more, many of the workstations that you break into feature interesting looking GUIs, although you’ll mostly be looking at the filesystem after breaking in. I really liked how the game changes up once you use the Sequencer attack program, with a timer being placed on the screen comprising of a red overlay that slowly drops from the top of the screen down.
Hacknet features an incredibly fun background soundtrack that is similar to what you’d expect to hear in a movie about hacking. The electronic music in insanely catchy and fits the theme incredibly well. From this build, I’m particularly fond of the song used in Pointclicker, as well as the awesome background song used in the Sequencer attack. That isn’t to say that the other songs are bad, they’re not, those two were just my favourite pieces of music from this build.
Overall, Hacknet is shaping up to be an amazingly fun experience. The gameplay is similar enough to actual hacking that it is incredibly believable, the music awesome and it’s just all executed really well. Considering this is based on Linux and Unix, it’s a bit odd that it’s Windows only (unless something has changed that I’m not aware of), but it still captures those systems well. If you want some kind of Hollywood hacking adventure with magical wizards, maybe take a look at something like Watch_Dogs, but if you want something grounded more in reality, then definitely take a look at Hacknet when it is released.
[Added 20/8/2015]: Check out our review!