Key Enigma: Hack Forward | Review

There has been a global hacker attack that has stolen data, video recordings and information from important businesses and personal. Anyone with a smart device can be a target. You will be an investigator whose predecessor disappeared under strange circumstances and who must find those responsible for the leaks. But not everything is as simple as it seems and the safety of the world will come into play.

Rating: Impressive!
Completion Time: 8 – 10 hours
Date Played: June 2021
Party Size: 1
Recommended For: For an exciting, immersive boxed escape room!

How long does it take Mairi to hack into a nuclear power plant and save the world from imminent destruction… We finally know: It’s at least 10 hours over 2 months!

No but seriously, saying there’s a lot to do in Hack Forward is a massive understatement. I started playing Hack Forward in May 2021 and finally clicked my last click and hacked through the final, metaphorical firewall, at the end of June. Phew! We did it lads. We saved the world.

Hack Forward: Kickstarter to Household Name

In 2020, at the height of the global pandemic, Key Enigma did the incredible – they announced an epic 8 chapter immersive escape room adventure on Kickstarter and raised more than €115,000 to bring Hack Forward to life. Since then, the team have launched this game into English, Spanish, German and French too.

From the moment I received Hack Forward in the post I could tell that there’s a lot of love in this game. With a 6-strong team of designers, artists and narrative writers, I struggle to find any single flaw with it at all. The materials and the box are incredibly high quality and each new envelope I opened delighted me. The story is an emotional rollercoaster designed to make you laugh and cry all at once. The puzzles are challenging, but never frustrating or illogical. Just perfect!

But let’s get into it…

Meet the crew

Hack Forward is an alternate reality game taking place in the present day where you, a budding amateur hacker, stumbles into a plot oh so much bigger than yourself. The hacker group is comprised of 5 members:

  • HarDer
  • FlaBoom
  • White Lupin
  • Masquerade
  • Jigghack

One of them is your reliable leader, another is an intellectual always ready with a book quote, another member of the team is a video game programmer… And so on! It’s all very humanising and brilliantly written. Even though deep down I knew I was talking to a very sophisticated chatbot, the whole thing felt so real from start to finish.

Almost so real that when I took a 2 week break between chapters I felt genuinely guilty to come back late.

“Sorry guys, I know we have to save the world but I had to take my mum out to lunch last weekend.”

But despite the unconventional method of meeting, you and your five comrades-in-hack quickly become very close as you collectively uncover an enormous conspiracy. I mean, I was definitely the weakest link in the team, but it was kind of my fellow hackers to keep me around as long as they did. Where each character specialised in some area of hacking or knowledge, I was there to smile and nod. Yep, just smile and nod Mairi.

Eight Chapters, Eight Exciting Twists

Hack Forward plays out over eight chapters. Each takes around an hour to complete and there’s an optional break inbetween each. I definitely recommend taking the breaks, but don’t leave it too long before jumping back into the action. Your team need you!

One very cool thing about Hack Forward I found was that each chapter was very cleverly designed with a unique ‘vibe’. By this I mean they had very different styles of puzzles, to the point that you could pick up any chapter and play it as an isolated escape room game and still have an absolute blast. Together? This game is outstanding.

Without spoiling too much, here is a run down of each chapter:

Chapter 1: The Job

You’re greeted by a mysterious, unknown entity and offered an enticing job proposal. It’s an introduction to the mission.

Chapter 2: Meet Your Team

Here’s where the story really begins as you meet your fellow hackers. But not before they put you to the test and see if you’re worthy enough. They’ve sent you a box with five puzzles in it. Solve them and you’re on the team.

Chapter 3: Finding Leaks

This chapter was a good ol’ social media stalking hour of fun! Here the game steps into the world wide web and has you scouring Instagram, Twitter and Facebook in search of digital breadcrumbs to access forbidden accounts.

Chapter 4: The Key

Chapter 4 gets a little more hardcore, and I love it! The mission is simple, hack then change the source code. If you’re interested in more hacking style puzzles that involve accessing documents and dipping into codes, this is the chapter for you! This chapter also involved our first major twist in the story and some really, really exciting and gasp-worthy augmented reality.

Chapter 5: Expose the Enemy

This chapter was visually very impressive but I’ll be damned if I were paying attention. This was the chapter I used the most hints (*cough* and checked solutions) on. But hey, even if the puzzles weren’t my forte, I still had fun.

Chapter 6: Hacking Battle

*new character enters the room*
Gasp! Double gasp!
I found Hacking Battle really creative in terms of puzzles. Things I’d assumed were mere decorations suddenly became puzzles, and parts I’d ignored earlier in the game needed to be reused in delightful and creative ways.

Chapter 7: Double Agent

Is there a double agent in our midst? Perhaps…
You’ll have to do something a little different in this chapter to figure it out and it was by far my favourite part of the whole game, as the puzzles were largely based on the subtle nuance of “he said”, “she said” and figuring out who is lying. The puzzles that didn’t involve social deduction instead required you to think so far out of the box I felt giddy with excitement when I realised what I actually had to do to solve it! Well played Key Enigma, well played!

Chapter 8: The Final Plan

*dun dun dun* the grand finale! By now, you know the drill. Clock ticking, time to save the world (or die trying). This final chapter will pull in a lot of knowledge from the earlier parts of the game and still manage to surprise you with several twists. Choose incorrectly and you’ll have a chance to reset the chapter and give it another try too.

All in a Days Work?

Honestly, I won’t beat around the bush. Hack Forward was hard. Really hard. But why shouldn’t it be? For the price, this is an incredibly in-depth experience that takes you on a cinematic journey across the world. I’m glad it took me as long as it did to solve it because I didn’t really want it to end.

There’s a sneaky suggestion of time travel in Hack Forward – I won’t spoil it because it’s awesome. But it did get me thinking. If I could travel back in time, what would I do? I’d go back and chuck a bunch of money at Key Enigma’s Kickstarter, just so I could play this game sooner.

Anyway, so now that I’ve solved Hack Forward and returned to my normal life, I’m expecting a knock on the door from GCHQ, or NSA’s recruitment team any day now. I’m available for any and all hacking purposes and I’ll even provide my own pair of blue-red code cracking specs.

Hack Forward can be purchased for 69.90 Euros by heading to Key Enigma’s website here.

⚠️ Bonus Content Alert! ⚠️

Here’s a TikTok I created featuring content from Chapter 1 of Hack Forward:

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