From the opening replica of the Blue Screen of Death, Mainlining's retro PC looks charm you with warm nostalgia. Beyond these happy feels though lies a narrative which is interesting enough to keep you engaged throughout your hacking adventures.
Mainlining can be described as a point-and-click, hacking, espionage, narrative-driven adventure game. In truth, the game plays as a series of cases where you, as a government agent, must solve soft-hacking puzzles to drive the narrative forward.
These puzzles revolve around finding enough evidence of a misdemeanor, through hacking websites and computers, to get a criminal convicted of that cases' crime. This begins relatively simple, with enough instruction to guide you, and develops layers of requirement, and multi-tasking, as the narrative moves forward.
These never become complexing enough to properly challenge you but they do require you to apply some solid logical thinking. However, do not panic, as the mock desktop in which the game is played from includes a notes program to help those without Holmesian memories. This becomes an essential program from the first case.
Thankfully, the individual case narratives and the over-arching elements are more than enough to keep you playing. Each case has a different narrative flavor. These range from finding out who knocked out British Intelligence's internet, through to some full on espionage fantasy.
The little details in each case are so clever, and intelligently hilarious. The e-mails and chat messages from your co-workers are full of character, and the websites you end up trawling through are packed with side jokes and jabs at a wide range of internet culture. These are almost worth playing Mainlining for alone.
Furthermore, Rebelephant have done an amazing job at replicating a PC operating system. The start menu, program windows, and even the recycling bin feel realistic enough that anyone who can use a computer will be able to navigate through Mainlining's interface.
The sounds are truly a touch of class however. Without these, the very limited world in which you play in (just the computer screen of your character) could become more than lifeless. You grow to love the finely created notification sounds telling you that something is happening.
Mainlining suffers from it's own fine finishing touches. It is all the more noticeable when something is amiss or lacks that finesse shown elsewhere in the game.
The near perfect simulation of a 90s Windows computer means that when something doesn't work as you would expect from a familiar program, or website, it can jar you from the in-game world. Equally, some key game elements feel over-simplified. For example, the arrest system feels like it could use more fleshing out in comparison to the process of gathering evidence.
Mainlining does enough across the board to make it more than worth your time. It doesn't overstay its welcome, and stays long enough so your time doesn't feel wasted. While Mainlining doesn't push the envelope of hacking puzzles, it's narrative is enough to hold you. Ultimately, Mainlining is an impressive game which deserves your attention.
(Full Disclosure – GameOrNought was provided with a copy of Mainlining)
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