Circus Reviews - Unhack

I've been a fan of InvertMouse since backing Cursed Sight on Kickstarter, but until recently I hadn't gotten around to playing much of their older works besides a brief playthrough of Without Within that was long enough ago that I hardly remember it. But Unhack had been sitting in my games library for a while, probably bought on some sale, and eventually I dragged it out to play it. Truthfully, part of what made this appealing was the fact that it had gotten some negative reviews for being too short. I've always gravitated to shorter visual novels rather than long monster-length visual novels. Possibly this is due to a short attention span, or possibly this is due to a fear of commitment, but the point here is that I finally played Unhack and, spoilers, it was great.

Unhack, as it implies, follows an Unhacker, who is basically a janitor for computer viruses. He works at Smash Security and, with the help of AI partner Weedy, helps to eliminate worms from security systems. While good at his job, however, he seems to be more than preoccupied with getting Weedy to try on his latest costume mod. Weedy, meanwhile, has noticed that there seem to be more worms than usual lately and is determined to uncover the cause by any means necessary, up to and including breaking into the security system of Smash's biggest competitor, ACME Antivirus, to see if they know anything about what's going on. The Unhacker reluctantly goes along with the plan, not knowing that what they will discover will put the world's security in danger and change his own life permanently.

The Unhacker and Weedy have a rapport that feels very genuine despite the fact that one of them is on a computer screen the entire time. Miss Debug, a character who shows up a bit later, has a sort of casual competence mixed with a strong desire to do nothing but sleep, and this contrast makes her a fun character to watch, although the fact that she's apparently a very powerful AI does raise the question of why Smash doesn't use her more often than they do. Poor A2, with a name that no one ever spells right, is interesting enough but doesn't get nearly enough character development in her own right. Fortunately, she goes on to be the star of Unhack: Destruction, the DLC, and it goes a long way towards explaining how she got to be the way she is.

Unlike a lot of visual novels, Unhack clearly really enjoys its emphasis on gameplay, but it's also smart enough to realize that the target audience doesn't necessarily feel the same way, and so it includes three difficulty settings, the lowest of which gives you infinite lives and health so that you can just go through the story. The dialogue is set up in such a way that it requires you to progress through the levels to continue reading, and so an easy setting is crucial, even if it does give me the sense that the game is taking pity on me. As for the gameplay itself, it's mildly challenging but not prohibitively so, although I will admit with no shame that I played the entire game on the easiest setting before later going back and testing out the harder settings. (Incidentally, said harder settings are indeed harder, but while I didn't go through the entire game with them, I feel like doing so is possible for someone willing to do it.)

Also unlike a lot of visual novels (at least on the English side), Unhack has full voice acting. I've always been neutral at best towards voice acting in visual novels; it's nice if it's done well and bad if it's not, but it's not a feature that I've ever placed a lot of importance on. It's certainly well done here, though, and its inclusion does give me the sense that the creator really loves what he does, which is always a good sense to get.

The thing that I keep wanting to say about this game, the thing that I keep dancing around with all these fancy words, is simply this: IT'S FUN. It's a small game that I completed in barely over an hour. And yet it is really fun, and clearly a lot of love went into making it. It could definitely be longer, but I don't really feel like it was too short either; it was the length it needed to be to tell the story it wanted to tell. I mostly just wanted it to be longer so I could spend a bit more time with the characters. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Unhack and how much it made me want to read more stories set in the same universe.

Good thing there's a sequel!

Unhack is available on Steam.

Final verdict: Unhack is a passionate puzzle title with great characters and a compelling story, and it wonderfully displays its creator's love of the art form despite its unassuming length.

Unhack is developed and published by Invertmouse. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review. This review was originally written for Anime Backgrounds.

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