I imagine that hacking is quite a tedious activity, with days, if not weeks, of boredom punctuated by the odd dizzying high. In games, though, it’s normally achieved by running around being sexy and adventurous, with super spies dodging surveillance cameras whilst wearing form-fitting leather outfits.
This cliche is leaned-into pretty heavily in SpyHack — a point and click adventure by devs PyramidGames. You sneak around futuristic installments, using various devices to manipulate door locks and the various AI systems, with some cool tricks up your sleeve to spike and destroy when needed.
Alongside the cyber-infiltration, you have to keep an eye on IRL guards, who can be neutralised in lethal or non-lethal ways. Spotting their patterns and staying outside of their cone of sight is the usual dance of timing, care and planning that you need to defeat dumb security guards with hawk-like vision.
Hacks themselves tend to consist of familiar minigames: match this symbol to that symbol in a time limit, spike remote devices to open locked doors or send messages, and the Bondian gizmos can be utilised in reasonably fun combinations.
Sad to say, then, that SpyHack is a seriously disappointing game on many, many levels. The core gameplay experience is an average one, superseded by decades of high-quality adventure titles using similar game mechanics. The fantastic Invisible Inc. is not merely the latest but also one of the greatest, and SpyHack falls way short of that benchmark.
As this game actually lives on Switch, though, it does at least have a niche appeal on the platform. Unfortunately you’re quick to discover why, as the thumbsticks are clumsy and imprecise when tasked with clicking tiny icons on a small screen. Tapping on the touch screen is not much better an alternative, as it’s physically awkward and besides, you need to be in contact with the sticks and buttons all the time.
It doesn’t stop there though. The Switch really struggles with frame rate — irrespective of whether you’re in handheld mode or docked — which is bizarre considering the game is quite basic on a technical level. It feels as though it’s running at sub-30fps: lining-up the cursor is a chore, scrolling the screen is jerky, and level manipulation in general feels like hard work.
Adding insult to injury, when you die from discovery and the level reloads, it can take over thirty seconds to get you back into the action. That may not sound a lot in the abstract, but when you first start off in a stage, you’ll find yourself messing-up pretty quickly. Loading and gameplay can feel like a 1:1 ratio, and you’re inches from throwing the bloody thing at the wall.
SpyHack is a game that needed a good while longer in the oven, just to reach a basic level of technical proficiency. Gameplay tweaks and a few fresh ideas wouldn’t have gone amiss, but a straightforward, no frills adventure would have suited the Switch down to the ground. With this level of jank though, I’d suggest it’s best to search for your cyber-adventure thrills elsewhere. Wearing a Lycra catsuit whilst searching: optional.