Many interesting titles have come out of Double Fine during their two week code-a-thon known as Amnesia Fortnight. Setting aside their current projects and freeing up developers to create a game prototype that is fresh and unique has led to the release of great games like Stacking, Costume Quest and more.
One of the most recent titles to come out of this program is Hack ‘n’ Slash, a Zelda-inspired title that replaces the standard connotation of hacking and slashing (with a sword) with computer hacking and coding, turning it into a puzzle game more than anything else. The first moments of the game start simple enough, with a girl locked in a cell as she attempts to use her sword to break out. However the game immediately turns on its head when the sword breaks, revealing a literal USB plug hidden within. Using this USB sword you make your way through the world, changing it as you need in order to thwart a wizard who is bent on controlling the world.
True to pretty much any Double Fine game, Hack ‘n’ Slash is filled with a bunch of wacky characters who will aid you on your quest. The Zelda comparison continues with a red sprite who joins you early on in the game. This sprite is part guide, part nuisance as he will give you insight to various coding terms and ideas while also spending moments randomly singing or discussing the finer points of coming up with a proper name. You will run into other people throughout as well, and the dialogue is well written and contains that classic Double Fine charm.
Hack ‘n’ Slash gradually leads players through the game as deeper and deeper hacking and coding mechanics are revealed. It starts fairly simple, like switching your door’s open status from FALSE to TRUE in order to escape your cell. Then you will find that you hack enemies in order to turn them good, alter their damage output, etc. The opening moments are fairly straight forward and easy to understand, but thankfully the game gets much more complicated – and interesting – than this.
Being able to hack simple objects with your USB sword eventually gives way to a magic hat that lets you see the boundaries and names of objects in the world (i.e. another layer deeper in the code). The final part of Hack ‘n’ Slash that is available in this stage of Steam Early Access actually allows you to modify the code itself by reading through algorithms and changing variables to produce the proper return value you require. If that sentence made no sense to you, however, then you may not be the target audience for this game.
At this point Hack ‘n’ Slash essentially requires a pre-existing knowledge of basic coding ideas and terminology. Your sprite pal is there to help somewhat but even with his help you might not be able to comprehend everything, like what effect a modulus operation has in a given function. In the latter stages expect a lot of if-then-else statements that require careful analysis and thinking outside the box to solve, as well as a fair bit of trial and error to watch what happens when you do change variables.
Hack ‘n’ Slash is a Steam Early Access game which means at this point there are many issues with the game. First, as is to be expected, the game is not finished. The Early Access portion ends with a promise of the final act still to come and a call to get involved in the feedback for the game. It seems like Double Fine is taking full advantage of the service to get important feedback and to work with the community to improve the final product. Other usual hiccups and bugs are present as well, fitting a game still in the works. For example as of this writing (May 30th) a patch was just released that allows you to actually quit the game with a menu instead of alt-tabbing out and closing the program through Windows.
The idea behind Hack ‘n’ Slash is brilliant, although the difficulty and subject matter may limit the audience. Still the parts that are available in Early Access are amazing and figuring out the solutions to the late game puzzles is incredibly rewarding. If you have any history or interest in coding, hacking or anything like that, Hack ‘n’ Slash is definitely something to keep your eyes on.
A code for Hack ‘n’ Slash was provided to Pixel Related for this preview.