Let’s all take a minute to admit that, despite being completely illegal, the premise of hacking is totally cool. It represents a greater knowledge of computers and the software and systems that make them run. The one person team of Adelaide, Australia, based Matt Trobbiani (under the studio name Team Fractal Alligator) is attempting to tap into your desire to be a hacker with Hacknet.
Hacknet is a terminal-based hacking simulator for PC. My first hour with the game was full of intrigue and astonishment. The narrative that moves the gameplay along is centred on a hacker called Bit. However, Bit is dead and what you are receiving is pre-recorded messages and emails that he has set up to ensure that the Hacknet-OS does not fall into the wrong hands. It’s an intriguing plot that’s covered in mystery so far, and I can’t wait to find out more.
To progress the narrative, the player must hack into other computers and servers to perform a range of tasks which, in the first hour, included retrieving software that allows you to pass through firewalls, sending hospital patient files to a friend of Bit’s, and entering the servers of a game Bit had become addicted to and deleting his profile.
All of these exercises culminated in the first real test of my hacking abilities: breaking into a computer and destroying it by deleting the system files. The big difference between this final task and the rest of the tasks is that the final task features a timer, and does not allow you to keep the instructions with you (your in-game computer needs enough RAM in it to perform the hacks, with harder tasks requiring more of it). With my own physical notepad at the ready with all of the commands and instructions I needed, I began to complete the task.
The first step was to probe the computer for ports that I could hack into. As with all of the other systems so far, there are four ports available, but all were locked. To bypass the firewall I had to unlock three of the four ports using the right “.exe” files. While some other parts of the game can be interacted with, like moving from menu to menu inside computers, the “.exe” files had to be typed in manually, although pressing the tab key once the program has been semi-completed will autofill the rest. This comes in handy when you are trying to type in three long programs quickly.
After the three required ports were unlocked, typing in “porthack” bypassed the firewall and made me an administrator of the computer. The next step was to navigate to the system files, which I used the mouse to access, although typing “cd sys” will also take you to the files. Once I was in the system folder, typing “rm *” deleted all of the files in the system folder. The next step was to access the log folder. You can either press the back button on the screen, or type in “cd ..”. Entering the log folder and deleting all of the files made sure the real owners of the computer never knew I was there. Finally, typing in “dc” disconnected me from the computer.
All of the commands you use to perform actions in-game are real UNIX commands. As someone not familiar with the UNIX operating system or these commands, the learning process was quick and entertaining. I didn’t think something as simple as typing would keep me entertained and excited for more. It was incredibly rewarding. This is partly also due to the highly immersive user interface. When I first loaded up the game I wasn’t sure if my computer had just malfunctioned because of the wall of code that started flowing down it. Thankfully, it was just the start of the game. This is a game you are going to want to play in fullscreen.
I’m no hacker, or Internet vigilante, but Hacknet has made me feel like one – and a good one at that. While you are given the commands to use and told what task needs to be accomplished, Hacknet does not hold your hand. You’ve still got to apply what you’ve been told on your own, and it’s extremely satisfying to pull it off. I look forward to exploring the mystery further when the game releases on PC on August 12.