hackmud review

September 27, 2016 Written by

There's something to be said for games that toss you right into the mix.

hackmudtosses you in headfirst. No menu. No settings. No introduction. Just start hacking.

This is a hacking game. Purely text. In time, you'll learn to access locked accounts, run scripts, and resources to harness (though to what end, I dare not tell you).

hackmud is primarily a multiplayer game, but first you must navigate a few hours in single player mode, dealing with bots. The tutorial is less in the style of "press B to talk" and more in the style of "well the only car we have has a manual transmission, and you need to be at work in an hour so get learning."

I'm gonna be honest with you here--I haven't passed the tutorial yet, so I can't give any account of multiplayer (which is to say, the game).

Why haven't I finished the tutorial? Because hackmudis like learning to program without a manual--strictly wits, puzzle-solving, and searching for the answer. But sometimes what seems like the perfect answer, isn't. And this isn't the sort of game to coddle you after a few wrong guesses or spoon feed you the answer in a neat little package. When you put in the wrong line, you'll simply get errors straight out of programming: "exception found, line 12 space 4."

I'm having CS140 flashbacks.

Despite hackmud's newness, there is a devoted community who've stuck around through testing and seem excited to welcome new players. But if you've ever met someone deep into the hacking culture, you'll know that they're never just gonna give you a direct answer to a question. Clues, maybe. Encouragement, for sure. Once close enough to the answer, they'll just say "you're almost there!" Which is fine, unless you're playing a game on a time budget.

When I say you aren't spoon-fed, I mean I had to do a minute of experimenting before I figured out how to close the game. Now when I'm on a roll, the game is a blast. Each puzzle is a challenge, and I get that giddy feeling of learning something that will apply to future actions. While there aren't controls per se, the interface is smooth and makes a pure text game as painless as possible. The autofill removes the tedium and some of the chance of syntax errors; the music puts you in a proper zone, and the colors help liven up the place.

Also, there's a fish tank.

hackmud could even be used to help ease people into learning how to program. Competitors would do well to take some hints from it. But when you're stuck, particularly in single player, there's nothing you can do apart from ramming your head into the wall trying to solve the problem. There's no walking around enjoying the scenery, no other things you can work on while you think about it, no other goals other than what's right ahead of you. What's infuriating (in a good way) is that the game, like programming, builds on itself. So the answer to each new problem is somewhere in what you've learned! BUT WHERE?! WHAT IS THE FREAKING PASSWORD AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Joe's assorted thoughts

Hmm, will this actually make it look like I'm hacking if someone watches me from across the room?
WHY IS THIS PUZZLE IMPOSSI--oh, I was missing a colon
I wonder if the people at Codecademy know about this game
Hmmm, some of these typos are intentional but I bet the grammar mistakes aren't
Oh my god I'm so stuck
How is a purely text game lagging in single player mode? My computer can't be that bad


The Verdict

If you want a pure hacking game, one without the nonsense GUIs and 3D landscape battles of prime time television hacking, this is your jam. It might be a little too dense to fully enjoy for most, but I loved the concept and execution.

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Joe Pilato

Joe Pilato works as an engineer and pub quiz host while developing his skills as a standup comic and storyteller. You may occasionally find him wandering the streets of NYC looking for adventure or possibly running into the woods to hide from civilization for days at a time.