WARNING: Unhack 2 is a direct sequel to Unhack, and thus this review will contain spoilers for Unhack and the Unhack: Destruction DLC.
Unhack 2 is the direct sequel to the early InvertMouse title Unhack, but the two games are noticeably very different. The original title was a compact little game that mixed the visual novel and puzzle elements inextricably together; its sequel has a much wider scope, tackling human and AI relationships and the future of AI technology, with a longer script and more characters. But how does it compare to its ancestor?
Four years after the finale of Unhack, the Creator has returned to unhacking with a new AI partner, calm and efficient Neonya, but is unable to put the long-lost Weedy and Debug completely from his mind. One day, he's stunned to uncover a wave of infections that seem to be perpetrated by clones of Weedy. As he and Neonya delve begin investigating, they uncover another AI called Program X and some troubling links to Ms. Director, the Creator's programming and security rival.
Unhack 2 has a very fast-paced story; it gives you just enough time to get settled in the universe, then starts you on a breakneck course through a string of plot twists. It was also genuinely surprising; I have to admit, I was sure I had one of the early twists pegged, only for it to turn out completely differently than I'd thought. The new characters that are introduced in the beginning, Neonya and Program X, are, of course, not what they appear to be at first. Neonya on the surface seems to be Smash Security's perfect AI, but certain abnormalities in her behavior have the Creator worried about the possibility of her going rogue, and she goes on to play quite an interesting role in the story in particular. And that twist that I thought I had pegged earlier? That was one relating to what turns out to be behind Program X's mask, which I can't in good conscience spoil but which definitely isn't what it immediately appears to be.
This game has a different artist than the original, but the style is similar enough to be comfortable, and the change itself doesn't feel too out of place since four years have passed in-universe since the original title. There are also some bits of the original artwork in flashbacks and pictures on walls, which I thought was a rather touching way to pay tribute to the first game. I also really liked that the game chose to render backgrounds and other characters in a different way at the points when you're playing through the eyes of an AI, and how it rendered virus-infected AI as pixelated sprites. The soundtrack artist is the same as the first game, and the music remains a strong part of the game as well. Side by side, the two soundtracks sound pleasingly reminiscent of each other.
The puzzle sections this time around are entirely optional; instead of having to progress through them to advance the dialogue, you can skip them completely with no effect on the story, and there are no difficulty levels as there were originally. I understand that this was done in order to let the story take the lead, and I do feel that the puzzles themselves are challenging but fun; however, since they aren't required at any point, they really do feel like they're only there to nod at the first game, and they don't feel quite as integrated as the puzzles in the first game did.
That gameplay issue aside, I do feel that this game does a lot right as far as sequels go. The art, music, and graphical interface are all updated in ways that improve rather than trying to maintain distance, and the story evokes the same strong feelings that the first one did. As mentioned, it handles some bigger issues, specifically the eventual possibility of a hostile takeover by self-aware AI, and it does so sensitively, taking care to examine each side. It reminded me of the original title in all the ways a great sequel should, but also told a story that stood up well on its own. I'm happy to be able to recommend both Unhack and Unhack 2, and very happy to have been given the opportunity to play through them.
Unhack 2 is available on Steam.
Final verdict: Unhack 2 takes old characters, new mysteries, interesting themes, and a reveal-heavy story that moves at a breakneck speed, and combines them all into a thrilling sequel.
Unhack 2 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.