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Hack ‘n’ Slash Indie Video Game Review

Back in 2012 Double Fine held their Amnesia Fortnight event and one of the games developed during the event was the game Hack ‘n’ Slash. For those of you not familiar with Amnesia Fortnight, it is an annual event held at Double Fine where everyone at the company takes one week off to work on various prototype ideas. It seems like every other year this process is opened up to the public through Humble Bundle. The public gets to vote for which prototypes they would like to see get made and through a series of documentary videos you see see the process of how the prototypes are made.

While I didn’t know about Humble Bundle back in 2012, during the 2014 Amnesia Fortnight everyone who pledged money towards the 2014 Amnesia Fortnight got access to the games from the 2012 Amnesia Fortnight. The game that interested me the most from the 2012 event was Hack ‘n’ Slash. After watching all of the making of videos I tried out the prototype. While it wasn’t as good as I was hoping, it was a very interesting game and showed a lot of promise for a prototype.

Double Fine must have liked what they saw from Hack ‘n’ Slash since they decided to develop the prototype into a full game which was released in 2014. After getting the game in a recent Humble Bundle, I was excited to try out the full game to see if it could live up to it’s potential. While at times it shows how great it could have been, the game ended up being a disappointment in my opinion.

If You Don’t Like Something Change It

For those of you not familiar with Hack ‘n’ Slash, the premise behind the game is that the player has the ability to hack any part of the game and change it to their own liking. Don’t like how slow your character is moving, increase your speed. Sick of that enemy attacking you, turn them into an ally or turn yourself into a villain so they ignore you. This premise is great and could have made for a fantastic game.

While the game may look like a Zelda adventure like game, it isn’t. Instead of being an adventure/action game, Hack ‘n’ Slash is mostly just a puzzle game. The gameplay involves using the ability to change the game world in order to solve the various obstacles that you face. One thing I love about this idea is that in most situations there are multiple different ways to solve a puzzle. There is the preferred direct solution but you could also find a workaround that produces the same result. The game doesn’t discourage using these alternate strategies.

This ability to change a lot of the game world is what I really liked about the game’s premise. Hack ‘n’ Slash has some good puzzles that really showcase this unique gameplay experience. If most of the game would have been like this it would have been a great game. Unfortunately this is not the case for some of the puzzles. Due some issues I will address shortly, some of the puzzles can be boring/frustrating.The game has flashes of greatness but also runs into quite a few problems which keeps it from living up to its’ potential.

Programming Knowledge Required

Looking at the graphic style of the game you would think that Hack ‘n’ Slash would be a game for children or at least a game that children could enjoy. While children may be able to enjoy the first part of the game, the game will quickly become too difficult for children unless they are great computer programmers for their age.

That is one of the issues I have with the game. The game presents itself as a game that even non-programmers can enjoy. While non-programmers can enjoy some of the earlier levels, I can’t see someone without any programming experience having a chance at completing the game without regularly looking at walkthroughs online. The later puzzles in the game require some general programming knowledge in order to understand the basic structure of the code you are going to end up hacking.

At first I thought the game did a good job introducing non-programmers into the game by teaching them some simple programming. The early puzzles generally involve switching a slider from true to false or vice versa. This part of the game is quite accessible and works for non-programmers but will probably be boring for people with programming experience.

Then you hit the mid point of the game and things change drastically. At this point you can hack into files and start to change quite a few of the files to your own liking. Someone with no programming skills will most likely get lost. The game tries to explain this part of the game to non-programmers but I don’t think it does much good. I have experience with Java and C# and I don’t see how the explanations could have helped someone with no programming experience. These explanations didn’t even help me who has some programming experience.

Having programming experience won’t always help you. All of the files that you hack in Hack ‘n’ Slash are written in a pseudo Lua code. Before playing Hack ‘n’ Slash I had never even heard of the Lua language so I had absolutely no experience with the coding language used in the game. I refer to the code as pseudo Lua since the basic code appears to be Lua but the game also adds these weird colored diamonds into the code which I am assuming were added in order to help non programmers understand what was going on. I personally just thought the diamonds made the code more confusing. The Lua language appears to be significantly different than Java and C# so even with coding experience I had trouble adjusting to the programming sections. By the time I got a grasp of the strange Lua code that the game uses, the game was almost over (more on this later).

What is so disappointing about the confusing code was that this was the best part of the game. These sections where you hack entire sections of the code are the best examples of the premise. When you figure out the solution to some of the puzzles (without consulting a walkthrough) you feel proud of finding the solution. If the game would have had more of these type of puzzles and made the code a little easier to read, I think Hack ‘n’ Slash could have been a great game.

The final thing that adds to the difficulty of the game is that at times the game forgets to give you a clue of where you need to go next. Early in the game, it will wisely point you towards going to a specific location. Towards the end of the game you get no hints on what you are supposed to do next. In these situations you either need to wander around trying to figure out what you are supposed to do or you will need to consult a walkthrough.

The Game Feels Unfinished

Next to the confusing code structure, I found the second biggest problem with the game to be the feeling that the game feels unfinished.

With the premise of actually being able to hack the game’s code, it was obvious that there were going to be some potential issues for the game. The game for the most part does a good job overcoming these issues by giving you a device that lets you go back in time in order to reset the code that you messed with. Usually this works since when you break the game you will be presented with a warning screen and you can just go back in time and try something new.

This doesn’t work all of the time though. The game probably froze around five times while I was playing forcing me to close the game and restart it. Some of these freezes were likely due to some of the changes I made in some of the code sections but I don’t think they all were. Some of the freezes occurred at totally random times which I think was due to some issues with the game itself since it wasn’t hardware related because my computer is well above the recommended specs for the game.

This fear of freezing the game ended up having an impact on how I played the game. Due to the worry that I thought the game was going to freeze, I generally tried to use the most direct way to solve the puzzles. If I wasn’t afraid of the game freezing, I might have tried some more unique ways to solve some of the puzzles which would have provided more variety.

The game also feels unfinished with regards to the length of the game/story. The story is not terrible, but it is not particularly engaging either. The game has a couple funny moments making fun of video game tropes but I never really cared for any characters. I personally found your red fairy sidekick to be kind of annoying at times.

What really hurts the story though is it ends kind of suddenly. The story at times just feels like act one of a three part story. The story starts to build as you are getting new powers. Then you just go fight the final boss. The game’s story just feels rushed like the game had to hit a release window and a lot of the story/gameplay had to be cut in order to meet the deadline. This is a shame because the game actually started to improve quite a bit towards the end.

Bang For the Buck

At the time of this post, Hack ‘n’ Slash’s retail price is around $15. Based on my experience with the game, it is not worth that much. The game is just too short in order to justify that price. I mostly stuck to the main path of the game and I ended up spending only around seven hours in the game. Those seven hours include a decent amount of time just trying to figure out the Lua coding used in the game.

If you know little to no programming you won’t get much out of the game. By the midway point you most likely will have trouble understanding what is going on. To make any progress you will likely have to follow a walkthrough since you probably won’t reach the end of the game otherwise. I know I wouldn’t enjoy that and I am guessing most other people wouldn’t either.

The people that will get the most out of Hack ‘n’ Slash are the people that just want to fool around with the game and see how they can break it. While you can’t change everything, you can change a lot of things which means that you can spend a lot of time fiddling around with the code if you would like to.

While I don’t think the game is worth $15, you shouldn’t totally ignore the game either. If you can find the game at a discount or in a game bundle I think Hack ‘n’ Slash may be worth taking a look at.

Final Verdict

I have very conflicted feelings about Hack ‘n’ Slash. I had such high hopes for the game based on the premise. A puzzle game based on hacking the game world could have made an excellent game. At times Hack ‘n’ Slash shows how great it could have been. Unfortunately the game fails to live up to its’ potential. The game suffers from some confusingly set up code, a lack of direction at times, a general lack of a polish, and a rushed story that ends abruptly. These issues make a game that could have been great into an average to an above average game.

Although the game is not perfect, it is still worth playing for most people at the right price. If you have no programming experience I would probably recommend not picking up the game since you will probably have a lot of trouble once the programming sections come up. Unless you don’t mind using a walkthrough to progress through the game, you will have a hard time finishing the game. If you have some programming experience I think you can get enough out of the game to make it worth picking up and playing at some point.

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