Unhack (2014) is the sort of pleasant surprise you’d never pick out from a glance at its simple artwork, seemingly basic mechanics, and emoticon laden dialogue.
Rest assured Unhack isn’t complex, nor does its artwork ever emerge as much more than it first appears, but the game is carried by an infectious charm and a recognition by its developer of their limitations (which are then subverted by played as a strength). By the end I was rather taken aback just how much I had enjoyed myself.
Unhack casts you as an unhacker (which is exactly what it sounds like), a security specialist paired with an AI assistant and tasked with hunting down viruses before they somehow destroy the world. Naturally everything quickly goes entirely out of control, rogue AI and viruses alike running amok, and you’re left at the center to try and fix the mess while trying to convince your partner to try your TOTALLY PG costume pack (did I mention your character was a pervert? Perhaps it goes without saying, but thankfully it never goes beyond a few tame jokes). Sure, it’s a predicable, melodramatic story in a lot of ways, but Unhack is carried by its not-quite-self-aware but still firm understanding that it is going to come off as silly no matter how serious it tries to be, knowing just how far to go without becoming obnoxiously heavy handed while still having a lot of fun in the process.
It definitely helps a lot that the voice acting (which was unexpected in and of itself) is more than decent, with appropriately chipper voices all around that refrained from the grating tones so often given to AI in media. There aren’t a huge amount of emotions needed from the script, but I was legitimately impressed at the cast and couldn’t help but find them as endearing and adorable as the charmingly amateur artwork they’re drawn with.
I can’t remember actually bursting out laughing at any particular line, but I was definitely smiling the whole way through as the cute AI bantered back and forth with the oxymoronic lovable asshole protagonist. Unhack also manages to pull off a very internet tone with its dialogue, with phrases and emotes that will be familiar to anyone that’s ever made the poor decision of glancing at a comments section, without coming across as just a writer having trouble disconnecting from their texting habits. I’m sure some will still think it’s dumb (for which there’s an option to disable emoticons entirely), but it was strangely charming to me and felt natural in this landscape of super hackers and sentient computer programs.
There’s not a whole lot to say about how Unhack actually plays, aside from that it does a fantastic job of not outstaying its welcome. Navigating mazes as a little cube of code is fun while it lasts and new mechanics are introduced regularly enough to give you something new to consider with every level, keeping things simple but engaging and wrapping up in a brief but satisfying hour or thereabouts. Unhack knows what it is, it knows its strengths, and it doesn’t lean on any of its weaker points long enough to become tiresome. For the price of a burger and less of my time than I spend looking at pictures of cats on any given day, I doubt I could be anymore happy to have given Unhack a chance.