Id Software gave the growing modding community a lot of attention when they made Doom. Valve did the same with Half-Life and after, and the entire MOBA genre came from people messing around with Warcraft III.
Most players are, of course, just that: players. When we look at a line of code, we only see numbers and letters. But there is a long history of games that try to give you the feeling of being in full control of a computer and using that control to cause destruction or stop it. Some of these games simulate hacking by having the player type in real lines of code. Others, on the other hand, simplify hacking so much that it’s like a magic trick you can use with the push of a button. Both are fun, and you’ll find both on our list of hacking games below.
SYSTEM SHOCK 2
System Shock 2’s hacking minigame is not very interesting. Basically, it’s a simplified version of Minesweeper where you have to connect three mines in a row to hack. It’s not that hard. When it comes to simplified hacking, I much prefer the weird pipe puzzles in BioShock, which is its spiritual successor. But System Shock 2 is known for having hacking as one of many skill trees that the player could choose to work on. In the first System Shock, the player was given the role of a hacker. In the game’s sequel, they were given the tools to play a hacker.
After System Shock 2, a lot of sci-fi role-playing games (RPGs), especially those that focus on being an immersive hacking simulator, added hacking skills as a way to reach a goal. None of them show hacking as it really is; you don’t type in lines of code (and NieR: Automata abstracted the process to the point that it became a twin stick shooter). But you can thank System Shock 2 if you like to avoid fights and set up turrets to kill enemies.
Uplink was first released less than a month after 9/11. It is a throwback to a simpler time and looks like a hacker movie from the 1990s in the way it shows how to break codes. Here, unlike in System Shock 2, hacking is the only thing you can do. It’s the whole point of the game, so your screen looks exactly like the one your player sees (a presentation that many other entries on this list have borrowed).
After getting a message from a dead hacker, which is a surprising common theme on this list, the player can choose to go after a bad group that is trying to destroy the Internet with a virus. But it’s interesting that you can choose to skip the main story and instead focus on doing freelance hacking jobs.
DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION
The Deus Ex games are the opposite of the Star Trek games. Every game with an odd number is good. People thought the first Deus Ex was a masterpiece, but the game that came after it, Invisible War, was a big mistake. But Human Revolution, the long-awaited third game in the series, was praised as a return to the series’ usual style.
As in System Shock 2, the main character, Adam Jensen, can put points into hacking. This lets him avoid fights and look around in places he shouldn’t. The interface is just as interesting. Players capture nodes on a grid to make a path from one point to another. In the 2016 sequel Mankind Divided, the system was mostly the same.
WATCH DOGS LEGION
Watch Dogs, which came out in 2014, had a very boring and grumpy main character. Watch Dogs 2, which came out in 2016, had a more interesting and likeable main character. Watch Dogs Legion turns up the volume by showing a near-future London, and instead of just one playable character, why not a whole city?
It’s not that different from Watch Dogs 2 in many ways, but the fact that you can control a whole city’s worth of crooks and scum gives you new ways to sneak into jobs, no matter what they are. You might need to get some information from a roof. Why not use a drone from a construction site to fly up there? Maybe you want to be a granny who doesn’t stand out but is also a very good secret agent. No matter who the best recruits are in Watch Dogs Legion, you’re sure to find some memorable Londoners to add to your team, or to lose if you turn on “permadeath” in the game.
You can also do the Lambeth Walk (oi!) with your friends in the multiplayer mode of Watch Dogs Legion. This is where you go on heists with other Londoners and steal valuable items from Albion before going to the pub to have a good time.
Operation Tango is all about working as a team. One person is a computer genius who can access all kinds of systems and networks from afar, while the other is a field agent who is trying to stay safe in dangerous situations. Since you can’t see what your partner is doing, it’s very important to talk to them if you want to get out alive.
Operation Tango’s asymmetric gameplay perfectly captures the thrill of remotely hacking into systems and figuring out how to use menus while your teammate’s life is on the line. You’ll feel like a pro hacker if you can keep your cool when things get tough.
In Hacknet, you play as a hacker who has access to a database full of Easter eggs and code that can be changed. After a ghostly event in which a dead hacker sends you an automated message, you go on a number of hacking missions. As you play, Hacknet teaches you UNIX commands that are similar to the ones you would use to, say, empty someone’s bank account in the real world. The Labyrinths expansion, which came out in 2017, added fun ARG elements and new tools to play with.
WATCH DOGS 2
Watch Dogs 2 is an action-adventure game with an open world that lets you hack, shoot, and sneak around. The second Watch Dogs game is probably the most popular game on our list, but it’s hard to say how accurate it is when it comes to hacking. You can cause chaos in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where Silicon Valley is. Even though it’s fun to hack a lot of devices in an open world, that’s not how hacking works. While you are driving, you can hack into another car and make it lose control and crash in a matter of seconds. Players can also control a drone that can easily scan all the electronic devices and hack them in a matter of seconds. During the hacking process, users have to figure out some simple puzzles that have nothing to do with real hacking and can get boring after a while. On the other hand, you can finish a mission in different ways in the game, but most of the time you need to be sneaky. The story and characters aren’t as interesting as in the first game, but it’s still fun to play because of the side quests and sense of humour.