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Mainlining Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . This is a game that took me by complete surprise. It doesn't have car chases or shootouts, but every element of spying is just as thrilling. It's a game where all you do is manipulate operating systems and hack websites, yet it tells a compelling story that feels like it was ripped straight out of the headlines. Mainlining is one of the best point and click adventure games I've played in years. Rating: 85%
Mainlining
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For decades, point and click adventure games have largely involved moving slow characters around the screen and interacting with pretty much everything. But lately we've seen developers moving away from that format, opting instead to emulate the kinds of products and devices we use on a daily basis. Last year, I reviewed a game called Replica, which attempted to recreate the feeling of looking through a stranger's cell phone. Now we get Mainlining, an immensely clever graphic adventure where we use an outdated version of Windows to hack the internet and arrest some criminals.

Developed by a UK-based indie outfit named Rebelephant, Mainlining gives players access to a spy computer and lets you do all the work. The story takes place not long after the BLU Pill Act has gone into effect, giving MI7 unprecedented powers to hack into websites, monitor GPS activity, dig through people's computers and dredge up any personal data that is accessible online. It's a science fiction setup that closely resembles the real world, making some of what happens in the story downright frightening.


It all starts with the blue screen of death, forcing the MI7 agent to restart the computer and reinstall a bunch of software. We do this while fielding an instant message conversation and checking our emails. The goal is to use everything on the computer to solve a series of thirteen missions, each connected to a shady activist group called Thorn. We're tasked with figuring out who needs to be arrested, finding the evidence to put them away and pointing the police in the right direction.

What I like is that the game doesn't feel as episodic as its structure suggests. Every new case is connected to what happened before it, telling a full and fascinating story that forces us to grapple with a lot of real world issues. We see how easy it is to sink deeper and deeper into the surveillance state; all while finding justification for every action. It's a thrilling and thought-provoking adventure that constantly treats you like an adult and hopes you'll go along for the ride.

Using the fake version of Windows is surprisingly simple. It has obviously been simplified (giving us only a few programs to play around with), but it eerily feels like the real thing. We're able to surf the internet for suspicious websites and pull up the map to monitor the whereabouts of each suspect. The real power comes with the Mainline program, which looks like MS-DOS and allows us to hack any IP address. It all looks like busywork, but I was honestly taken aback by how much fun it was to scroll through command prompts and move folders around the screen.

Mainlining (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

I also really like that the game plays with other operating systems. As we arrest those involved with Thorn, we'll be able to access their computers and use their apps. This completely changes both the visuals and the interface, mimicking both Apple's OS and Linux. It's funny to think that while other developers were fine tuning their race cars or looking for realistic gun sounds, Rebelephant was busy studying the finer details of operating systems.

Mainlining is the type of game that could have very easily been too wonky for its own good. But instead of overwhelming the player with too much information, each case is streamlined and accessible for pretty much every type of player. In fact, the times I got into trouble were mostly caused by me overthinking the solution. That's not to say the game is easy, but it also doesn't have the dopey puzzle logic you often see in this type of graphic adventure. There's a good balance here, though I can imagine some players speeding through the thirteen cases in just a few hours.

This is a game that took me by complete surprise. It doesn't have car chases or shootouts, but every element of spying is just as thrilling. It's a game where all you do is manipulate operating systems and hack websites, yet it tells a compelling story that feels like it was ripped straight out of the headlines. Mainlining is one of the best point and click adventure games I've played in years.
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