Mainlining is a point-and-click hacking adventure, where you control an MI7 agent who has to make a series of arrests, while you try to catch a vigilante hacker group that is causing numerous problems for MI7. Funnily enough, all these daunting tasks are done as the protagonist sits on his desktop for what is pretty much the entirety of the game. A bunch of tools, apps and services are provided to you that are reminiscent of the technology used in our times
If you’re a fan of unique point-and-click games, then Mainlining is truly up our alley. The game puts and interesting spin on the hacking dynamic that will keep you enraptured during its short runtime… however, there are a number of flaws that detract from this experience, and some might find it harder to ignore than others.
Mainlining is available for $9.99 on Steam for PC.
As mentioned above, you take on the role of an MI7 agent with a knack for hacking through outdated systems and browsers. Seriously, the game takes place in 2010 and you start out the game with – ahem – *Rainbows* XP and what is the gaming equivalent of Internet Explorer. While this software is upgraded later on, it still does hamper the immersion a bit.
The individual stories present in most cases are interesting, odd and sometimes disturbing. But one thing is for sure – it is surprisingly well-written. A particular highlight is the case in which you have to arrest a vehicle owner who changed his name and moved back in with his parents. His mother is normal, but his father is a ‘PonyTales’ (basically the game’s parody of My Little Pony) fanfic author. It’s these moments that make each case in Mainlining stand out.
However, while these one-off stories are great, the overarching plot is somewhat confusing to wrap your head around. If you want, you can note things down to make it easier but beware: the in-game notepad will clear itself after every case. So if you are hell-bent on comprehending the plot, then I highly advise you to make your notes somewhere more… permanent.
The hacking in Mainlining is more like a glorified point-and-click adventure game, where you need to figure out IP addresses, download incriminating documents, peruse personal conversations and emails and – in the end – peg a suspect with his/her location and evidence in order to complete a successful arrest.
The hacking itself is simple, but oddly satisfying. Browsing around the internet will provide you with a bunch of sites to access and hack. These sites contain information that almost always helps in solving the case, and (as mentioned above) also provide some much-needed levity in a game that tackles such a mature topic.
However, the process of arresting is absolutely frustrating, and will remind you of the annoying trial-and-error that plagues this genre. You need three pieces of information in order to place an arrest warrant: A name, a place, and evidence. Problem is that you need to be extremely specific with your choices, since there is only one perfect combination to solve a particular case. While the name and location is pretty evident most of the time (although there are a few hair-tearing exceptions), it’s the evidence that is the most egregious offender of them all. There are a large number of files one can use as evidence in a particular case, and failing to meet this requirement will provide you with a new article that details the embarrassment of MI7 at catching the wrong criminal… before putting you back in the same situation, making you try a large number of combinations that is perhaps the game’s largest – and most glaring – flaw.
The hint system – if one can even call it that – is cleverly concealed as a chat box with your fellow MI7 agents, but that’s the only positive I can think of regarding this system. This is because the hint system is absolutely useless, and can even provide you with wrong information that will significantly slow down your process.
Case in point: Remember the case I mentioned before the vehicle owner? Well, during the case, it transpired that the person had changed his legal name, and the agent who was assisting in the case specifically told that if you’re going to arrest him, you’ll need legal proof that he changed his name. Lo and behold – you find a court document stating that the man had legally changed his name, and the gears click in your head as you submit this as evidence… only to find out that the arrest was wrong.
I was honestly stuck for a moment, as I re-read the instructions. There was no doubt about it – I had been requested specifically to provide legal proof of his name… and yet, when I gave up and saw the walkthrough, the evidence that I had to use was in no way related to the change of name. In fact, you could complete the case without ever finding definite proof that the man changed his name… which is mind boggling, because if I might remind you, the agent told me specifically to find this proof to successfully make an arrest.
And of course, one can’t mention the gameplay without describing the plethora of bugs – both large and small – that plague the game. This was more evident in the latter half of the game, which was released later and – consequently – was subject to less bug-testing than the previous cases.
Mainlining’s UI is deliciously retro, with well made pixel art that you slowly get accustomed to over time. Of course, such a minimalistic display means that visuals have obviously taken a back seat to the gameplay, but Rebelephant utilized a fairly varied color palette in order to make the game seem less drab. For the most part, this works splendidly and the visuals never get too repetitive.
There’s not much to talk in the way of sounds – most of the sounds you’ll be hearing will be the clacking of keys as you type in commands and hacks. There are a few other sounds as well, but nothing to write home about.
The music in the game is well done, with a touch of subtlety sorely needed in game where you spend your time sitting in front of your desktop. There are few different tracks that do play during intense segments, but since you’re just sitting on a desktop while this happens the effect is lowered somewhat.
Mainlining is a nice game with a different approach to the point-and-click style of gaming. Fans of this genre should certainly pick up the game, as should anyone who has even the slightest of hacking fantasies.
Keep in mind that there are a number of flaws and issues that can’t be ignored, and this might be a deal breaker for some people. However, if you manage to look past these offenses, then be prepared for a charming, fun trip into the tech life of an MI7 agent.
+ Interesting twist to the genre
– Arresting a suspect can be an absolute chore
+ Great world-building
– Hint system is the absolute worst
+ Simple yet fun hacking
– Bugs can hamper the experience