Hack ‘n’ Slash starts with a brilliant premise, but quickly overwhelms the player with its erratic difficulty curve. You play an adventurer very much in the mould of Legend of Zelda’s Link. The twist is that instead of a sword, you have a USB stick, allowing you to plug in to enemies and objects to hack their code.
Connect to something and you are presented with a series of variables to alter to your whim. To open a locked door, you set ‘opendoor’ from ‘false’ to ‘true’; to defeat an enemy, you set its ‘health’ from ’5′ to ’0′, or change ‘faction’ from ‘bad’ to ‘good’ to convert it to your side. The idea is that to progress in the game you have to mess with its mechanics, and as you go you learn more and more about real coding, hacking and modding.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the game leaps up in complexity so fast and so often that within only a couple of hours it’s become incomprehensible to anyone not already experienced at reading code and algorithms. As a teaching tool it fails utterly – you’ll often not even know what a puzzle is asking you to do, let alone how to do it.
The art style and writing are initially charming, but as the difficulty rises, they start to get in the way. Busy visual elements seem like unnecessary distractions, and the character dialogue prioritises throwaway jokes over actually giving you any idea what’s going on or where to go next.
Adding to the frustration is an abundance of bugs. Part of the game’s charm is intended to be how breakable it is, with the autosave system allowing you to reset to an earlier point if you need to, but too frequently I ran into genuine lock-ups and crashes unconnected to what I was doing.
Like many Double Fine games, there’s a good idea here but it is let down by poor execution. Only the most hardcore programming nuts will get anywhere with Hack ‘n’ Slash, and even they may find it a little too much like hard work.