Choose right, and the culprit gets arrested before you move onto the next case in Mainlining.

Game review: Mainlining – play an MI7 agent sifting through piles of case information

It’s slightly too overwhelming for its own good and a little light on challenge – but the game is still a clever diversion



3.5/5 stars

Few things are more intriguing than a good hacking game. The idea is quite brilliant when you think about it: a PC game that recreates a PC interface, but simplifying the laborious code-breaking process and doing away with that legal nonsense.

They’re cathartic as well, allowing us to live out our dreams of being a secret agent in a John le Carré book, but far removed from the super-spies of Splinter Cell and the like (although I love those, too).

There’s a healthy amount of creativity to be found in Mainlining.

Mainlining doesn’t completely live up to my fantasies, but there’s still a healthy amount of creativity to be found. Gamers are tasked with playing a freshly recruited MI7 agent, given the none-too-exciting job of sifting through piles of information related to a series of cases. You do this via pointing and clicking through numerous software programmes within your interface, as well as a simulated internet, and part of the puzzle is the often real-life dilemma of balancing your many windows tabs with what exactly is important.

It’s a little bit Orwell (a similar click-and-arrest game from a month or so back) and a little bit Papers, Please (the surprisingly addictive customs officer game from a couple years ago). But it’s also its own beast and forces players to wade their way through a tonne of evidence before making their call on a potential suspect.

Choose right, and the culprit gets arrested before you move onto the next case. Choose wrong – and nothing really happens, you get to try it again. That’s probably true to life, considering the almost untouchable nature of a spook, but in the virtual world, the lack of consequences does remove an important facet of gameplay challenge.

Nevertheless, Mainlining’s overall intrigue, coupled with its incredibly precise mid-2000s visual design, keeps it going as a strong indie release. The developers have captured that aged sheen almost perfectly, in everything from its subpar Windows set-up to the dated news sites, all the way through to the archaic chat system. Pair that all with a tiny bit of tongue-in-cheek humour, where the dirty secrets of your suspects become smirking asides on gaming obsession and failed aspirations, and you have a solid product for the HK$80 price.

Mainlining doesn’t rank high among recent hacking games – it’s slightly too overwhelming for its own good, and doesn’t present enough of a challenge – but it is still a clever diversion.