Be the hacker, catch the perp, save the day!
Mainlining, a quirky point-and-click hacker game, comes aboard the Nintendo Switch as one of the few hacking games available on the platform. While its design is darkly funny and nostalgic for computery days gone by, the Switch port is clunky at best.
ASL, bad guys?
At its core, Mainlining follows a simple concept. Find the name, location, and nastiest crime of a sketchy creep. Then, reel them in for more information on catching the next baddie. You, the expert MI7 hacker, do this via a very cute set of applications on a Windows XP era desktop, including a fairly impressive Terminal, “Discoverer” (Internet Explorer browser), and even a semi-interactive Map ala Google Maps. Hacking websites, poring through files, and lining up the clues, it can be really satisfying to catch the right perp and put them away.
I created my login, delved in, and immediately engaged with the storyline. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a superstar hacker solving mysteries and stopping cybercrime? Each case adds a bit of complexity, new applications or features to interact with, and requires you to pay special attention to details. You snoop through messenger conversations, emails, photos, and transaction statements. All I wanted to do upon completing a case was see how it followed on to the next one. Plus, they’re all connected…(*spooky fingers*)
What do you want, game?
Ignoring the awkward port, which I’ll address later, a major frustration was the way completing a mission worked. While the concept of gathering a criminal’s name, location, and a single piece of evidence seems simple enough, on a few of the cases, it simply was not apparent which location or piece of evidence was the one the game was asking for. Despite the criminal having committed multiple crimes, and having apparent evidence for several of these, the game would only accept a certain file for no apparent reason. This took me out of the game pretty significantly, and left me feeling like I was just guessing what the system wanted me to select.
There’s old-school references and a dark sense of humour lurking everywhere, which adds some much needed fun to a fairly stark narrative. For instance, someone’s dad is a My Little Pony fanfic writer, there’s a knockoff dialup noise when you connect to the internet, there’s a guy named “Bud Blaze” with a 420-related password, etc. The ambient sounds in the game are subtle, but ominous, and I actually really enjoyed the overall visual and audio design.
Some of my favourite features included the cases where you tracked people moving around on the Map in “real-time”, the incredibly persistent receptionist that’s trying to ask you out, and being able to snoop through perp’s computers for evidence. And, of course, seeing their questionable private files.
From Kickstarter to kicking controllers
Mainlining originated from a Kickstarter campaign in 2016, and has been on Steam since early 2017. It has great reviews on Steam, but you can tell from the Switch version that it just wasn’t designed for a game controller. Clicking, dragging windows, and typing with the controller is frustrating as all heck. And heaven forbid you accidentally mis-click or press “X” at any time, and close a window (losing all the content you created within it, swearing, swearing, etc.).
The port seems to have also created a few bugs. Most notably, the Enter key on the in-game keyboard only worked for me about 60% of the time. This is infuriating when you’re trying to finish a hack and get the files you want downloaded. Combine this with slow-ass touch-screen typing, accidentally closing windows and losing all of the notes I’ve taken, and accidentally going to the Main Menu in the middle of a case and having to start over again, and let’s just say it was an effort not to throw my Switch at the wall.
Personally, I think Mainlining is a fun hacker game that should have stayed on PC. Bringing it over to Switch has made the slightly messy gameplay a lot weaker due to the difficult controls. I spent all of my time using the touchscreen awkwardly with my tiny lady fingers, and avoiding the controllers as much as possible (something I’ve never had to do for any other game).
I want to love this game, because I can tell so much love went into creating it. Unfortunately, it does fall a bit short in the gameplay, and very short in the Switch port. If you want to give this cute hacker game a try, I’d recommend getting it for PC. It’s definitely worth a quick play if you’re into the genre.