Far too often, something pops up, almost out of the blue, with an amazing concept which makes you say “I should have thought of that”. It’s a familiar feeling, and one which most people experience. Living Yogurt, Loom Bands, and Dipping fries in MacDonalds Milkshakes just to name a few examples.
So when Double Fine put a game fundamentally about hacking itself up on Early Access, following a great response during one of their many Game Jams, I had another one of those moments. A genius idea really; very meta and potentially both interesting and educational.
However, that was a while ago. Now that the full 1.0 release has hit steam, is it a success, or just a bit of a malfunctioning machine?
It starts simply enough, in an almost Legend of Zelda-esque manner, which quickly evolves into an interesting spin on the classic 2d adventure’s style. Rather than being handed a legendary sword, you are given what turns out to be similar to a big USB stick. In this world, where most things have slots into which it can fit, it turns the initial expectations on their heads with a flick of a switch.
Swinging your “sword” does so much more than it would in other titles, as the connection allows for the object, or creature’s in-depth variables to be intrinsically modified. As the foundation of the whole game’s concept and introduction to the concept of basic hacking, this works well. You are given access to a variety of tweak-able variables with each object you hack. So, as an example, there is a boulder blocking your path. Usually you would try to push it out of the way, and it doesn’t move. In any other game you would have very few options. However, in this case, I can just plug into the rock, and either modify the amount of times it can be moved, so I can push it out of the way, OR I could be super clever and make it move back behind me when it’s pushed, immediately clearing the path. Another example would be the ability to plug into an enemy, and instead of just killing it, actually changing the amount of damage it does to -3, actually healing you instead of doing damage as it normally would.
This ability to use out-of-the-box thinking is a big deal in an industry struggling to find new ideas. As the game progresses you gain access to more tools, making the hacking gameplay more and more complicated. The lead character, Alice, also gains a variety of other hacking tools, but the most controversial would arguably be the Third Eye Hat, which allows the player to see the game’s base coding. Whilst you can’t Hack in debug mode, the ability to read and understand the inner workings of the program can be used to modify things with your hacking tool that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
So it isn’t just a false gimmick inside the game. You actually hack the Game itself, on a fundamental level. I’ve even heard reports that it’s possible to bring the game to an unplayable, corrupted state through genera play, requiring the use of a back up to continue. Whilst it can be argued that the storyline is forgettable, the base concept is anything but.
However, this freedom comes at a price. A lot of the time, I felt truly lost within Hack ‘n’ Slash. As much as the freedom is awesome, I felt like there was very little direction for the majority of my time with it. I’m unsure whether it’s an issue with the concept itself or just the execution, but I found myself constantly unsure of what to do, never-mind what to hack, on a regular basis. It could just be me, but something feels off in terms of the pacing and natural progression.
I did however enjoy the overall style of the game. It wears its influences on its sleeve, with references galore and exploration of a variety of tropes as a primary aspect. The graphic style itself, alongside a lot of the character design fits into this category. I mean, the Big Bad Wizard looks like Ganondorf, and the hero is elfish, dressed in green and has a fairy companion. How obviously do want to be? The sound design also melds modern design with the sounds of yesteryear’s gaming experiences, which again works nicely alongside the central idea.
It’s hard to really judge “Hack ‘n’ Slash”. At the end of the day, it’s a game which has successfully introduced the concept of hacking and coding in a mainly-safe environment. It achieves everything it sets out to do, but struggles to keep the player on the correct path throughout the adventure, and can end up confusing in later sections. All in all, if you like the idea of the title, it’s definitely worth playing, as long as you have a decent amount of patience and an open mind.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.