Oct 20, 2012
Genre: Interactive Fiction
You might think that a computer game about using a computer would be one of the easiest things in the world to design, but very few games about hacking have ever been successful in their portrayal of what it feels like to crack code or break into a system. In addition, hacking in a game is rarely fun — because real hacking isn’t exactly what you’d call “fun.” Rather, it’s hours of work followed by a short bursts of satisfaction. A game, on the other hand, needs to be fun from start to finish or no one will want to play it. In addition, people who actually know how to code would rather do it for real than play a game about it — so it has to be something non-hackers can play.
To be successful, a game about hacking should be more fun than the real thing and realistic enough to make the player suspend disbelief without being so realistic that he won’t be able to play it. Hack RUN is mostly successful in these goals. This bit of interactive fiction for the iPad tells its story entirely from an interface resembling an MS-DOS prompt, providing rewards at a rapid pace as the player guesses the passwords needed to advance. Experienced players of interactive fiction games will find the puzzles lacking in difficulty and the writing below average for the genre. Nevertheless, Hack RUN is an immersive game that occasionally makes the player feel like a real hacker and contains a few plot twists that might surprise.
Hack RUN Gameplay
As the game begins, you open your email and find that a potential employer has sent an “offer you can’t refuse.” Your job, it seems, is to infiltrate a major pharmaceutical corporation and learn what you can. The employer provides a hacking utility that allows you to tunnel into the corporation’s network and gives you a hint as to what the first user’s password might be. Like most of the passwords you’ll need to guess in Hack RUN, it isn’t difficult to come up with the solution if you know anything about insecure passwords. To reveal more about the story would be to spoil it, but suffice it to say that things become decidedly more sinister as Hack RUN progresses.
Hack RUN relays the story primarily via the email messages you’ll see when you successfully hack into characters’ computers. The environment is entirely text-based, but you’ll occasionally get to use a Web browser to break the monotony. With a few exceptions, story advancement takes place when you correctly guess a user’s password. Each time you do so, you’ll gain a level. There are more than 50 levels in all, but you’ll progress through the first few quickly as they essentially function as the game’s tutorial. You’ll seldom need to backtrack, but Hack RUN allows you to keep notes and read a summary of previous levels in case you’ve forgotten a previously used name or password. If you get stuck, built-in hints and solutions are also available.
Good Introduction to Interactive Fiction
Text adventures — now more commonly known as “interactive fiction” — monopolized software store shelves during the early 1980s but became less popular as computers improved and gamers began to demand graphics. Dedicated writers and vintage game lovers continue to create and play interactive fiction games to this day, though, and some of the most engrossing stories in computer game history await you if you’re willing to type your way through them. Unfortunately, Hack RUN isn’t one of those stories. However, the interesting setting, forgiving difficulty level and fast pace make the game a good introduction to the interactive fiction genre. Two sequels — Hack Run ZERO and Hack Time — are available if you want to continue the story after the game ends.