What are the best hacking games on PC? Game developers have long valued the ‘hacker ethic’ – the will and skill to grab a game by the scruff of its code, rip it apart, and put the pieces together in a new way. Id Software prioritized the nascent modding community when they were creating Doom. Valve courted it from Half-Life onward, and the entirety of the MOBA genre stems from folks futzing with Warcraft 3.
Of course, most players are just that: players. We see numbers and letters in a line of code, not meaning. But, there’s a lineage of games that have sought to deliver the fantasy of being in complete command of a computer’s functions, of using that control to wreak destruction – or to avert it. This list includes some of the best PC games, either entirely about hacking or featuring the skill as a heavy component, whether part of the sci-fi world of a multitude of space games, encouraging teamwork in one of the best co-op games, or putting you in the hacker’s seat of an RPG game, so there’s something for everyone in our list of the best hacking games.
Here are the best hacking games on PC in 2024:
Grey Hack is an online MMO game in which the world is always alive, and any decision or change you make will go on after you switch off and could have consequences. In Grey Hack, you can access a network of procedurally generated computers and use Terminal and Text Editor in your exploits. The massive world includes opportunities to attack other players, take on side missions, and earn money and reputation to level up your hacking skills.
System Shock 2
The hacking minigame in System Shock 2 is nothing special. Basically, you play a simplified game of Minesweeper where you must link three mines in a row for a successful hack. It’s pretty basic. However, System Shock 2 is notable for implementing hacking as one of multiple skill trees that the player could pursue. While the player was cast as a hacker in the original System Shock, they had the toolset to roleplay a hacker in its sequel.
Many sci-fi RPGS released after System Shock 2 have followed in its footsteps — especially those with an immersive hacking simulator bent — offering hacking abilities as one route to accomplish a goal. None present hacking realistically; you’re not entering lines of code (and NieR: Automata abstracted the process to the point that it became a twin-stick shooter). But if you enjoy avoiding fights and rigging turrets to remove enemies, you have System Shock 2 to thank.
The System Shock 2 remake retains much of the hacking mentality of the original, although the process has become much more streamlined, making it more of an automated procedure than before. It’s still good, though, as our System Shock 2 review can attest.
Released initially less than a month after 9/11, Uplink is a throwback to a simpler time, emulating the aesthetic of ‘90s hacker films in its presentation of code-cracking. Unlike in System Shock 2, hacking is not one option among many here; it’s the whole game, and as a result, your screen is an exact representation of the screen your player interacts with (a presentation that many other entries on this list have borrowed).
After receiving a message from a deceased hacker (a surprisingly common theme on this list), the player can target a criminal group using a virus to destroy the Internet. Fascinatingly, you can choose to opt out of the main story entirely, focusing instead on completing freelance hacking gigs.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The Deus Ex games are the anti-Star Trek — every odd-numbered one is good. The original Deus Ex was acclaimed as a masterpiece, but its follow-up, Invisible War, was retrospectively regarded as a major misstep. But, Human Revolution, the series’ long-awaited third entry, was hailed as a return to form.
As in System Shock 2, hacking is one skill that protagonist Adam Jensen can dump points into, allowing him to bypass fights and rummage around where he shouldn’t. The interface is similarly engaging, with players capturing nodes on a grid to build a path between two points. The system returned, mostly unchanged, in the 2016 sequel Mankind Divided.
Watch Dogs Legion
While 2014’s Watch Dogs stumbled out the gate with an extremely bland, if grumpy protagonist, Watch Dogs 2 was a more lively and likable effort. Watch Dogs Legion turns the dial to eleven, showing a near-future London, and instead of having just one playable character, why not a whole city?
Fundamentally, it’s not massively different from Watch Dogs 2 in many ways. However, giving you control of a potential city’s worth of rapscallions and scoundrels opens up new infiltration possibilities, no matter the job. Perhaps you need to nab some intel from a rooftop? Why not use a construction worker’s drone to fly up there? Maybe you want to be an unassuming granny who happens to be a highly skilled secret agent. No matter who the Watch Dogs Legion best recruits are, you’ll find some memorable Londoners to add to your roster – or lose if you enable Watch Dogs Legion’s permadeath.
You can also do the Lambeth Walk (oi!) with your mates in Watch Dogs Legion multiplayer – take on heists with fellow cockneys and make off with some valuable Albion loot before retiring to have a good ol’ knees up at the local pub.
Operation Tango is all about teamwork; one person plays a computer genius remotely accessing all sorts of systems and networks, while the other is a field agent, trying to navigate hostile situations on the ground safely. You can’t see what your fellow agent is doing, so communication is paramount to make it out alive.
Through its asymmetric gameplay, Operation Tango perfectly captures the thrill of hacking into systems remotely and puzzling through menus, with the pressure and responsibility of your teammate’s fate on the line. Keeping a cool head under pressure will make you feel like a hacking pro.
In Hacknet, you are a hacker with access to flexible code and a database filled with Easter eggs. After a dead hacker contacts you via automated message in a ghostly inciting incident, you set off on a range of hack-centric missions. Hacknet simulates real-world hacking as you play, teaching you UNIX commands similar to those you would use to, say, empty someone’s bank account IRL. A 2017 expansion, Labyrinths, added intriguing ARG elements and new tools to play with.
Like Watch Dogs Legion, Quadrilateral Cowboy is a game about using hacking to get in, grab the thing, and get out without anyone realizing you were ever there. Unlike Watch Dogs Legion, the hacking in Quadrilateral Cowboy is much more like actual hacking.
Billed as ’20th Century Cyberpunk,’ Blendo Games’ stylish first-person puzzler casts the player as a hacker thief pulling off Ocean’s 11-style heists with the help of a portable computer or ‘deck’. You’ll open doors, turn off lasers, and control a mechanical quadruped — all with lines of code.
Most games abstract hacking to make it as quick and intuitive as possible. But typing commands loaded with numbers and odd punctuation is not an intuitive act, and Quadrilateral Cowboy doesn’t try to make it so. Instead, with a gentle learning curve and a smart tutorial, Quadrilateral Cowboy teaches you the basics of code and makes you feel like a badass for being a good student.
Night City is a massive playground of potential, as we expand upon in our Cyberpunk 2077 review, with plenty of places to explore, jobs to complete in return for eddies, and a whole city’s worth of valuable things to hack.
Since this is set in a first-person cyberpunk world, plenty of shenanigans can be had during combat. You can use Cyberpunk 2077’s quick hacking to ping any connected device or person on a network, then upload daemons to mess with them. Some may cause the affected enemy to drop their gun, while others may blind them briefly. You can inflict multiple daemons at once if you’re facing a tough opponent.
This crunchy 2016 hacking sim is a hive of scum and villainy that has drawn comparisons to EVE Online and Jurassic Park. Equal parts a hacker’s paradise and a social deception game like Mafia (the party game, not the open-world action series), Hackmud is the next step for master hackers who have cut their teeth on Quadrilateral Cowboy and our next entry.
Exapunks, the 2018 puzzler from Zachtronics, casts you as a hacker in an alt-past 1997, even if some of its alternative history elements feel awfully at home in the present. The cyberpunk world is ravaged by a plague called the ‘phage’, and our hacker protagonist needs to shell out $700 a day for life-saving medication. A mysterious AI promises to keep the doses coming if the protagonist works for her.
You do that by learning to code — courtesy of Trash World News, a PDF zine that comes with the game — and inputting commands to send little digital robots called EXAs skittering around virtual grids. Like Quadrilateral Cowboy, Exapunks wants to teach you a new skill, not just feed you the power fantasy you already have. The programming language it teaches you is full-featured enough to program your games within the game. Exapunks demands more work from you than something like Watch Dogs Legion but absolutely rewards your efforts.
Observation is the rare game that casts the player as the computer. As SAM, a HAL-like space station OS, your goal is to help Emma, the lone (?) occupant of the station, after a mysterious event leaves it powerless and stranded. SAM can swap between cameras, providing viewpoints around the station. Eventually, he gains mobility, too, taking control of a spherical camera and floating around the station in zero gravity.
Like No Code’s previous game, Stories Untold, Observation is intimately concerned with the ways the technology we use mediates the stories we can tell. It isn’t a hacking game, per se. But it does provide the best approximation of what it would be like to be inside the machine. Assuming that the machine completes complex processes by participating in WarioWare-like mini-games, that is.
Most of the games on this list attempt to make players feel the prowess of the skillful hacker. Telling Lies, however, focuses on the voyeurism. Like Observation, Telling Lies’ protagonist isn’t strictly a hacker. But, as a former FBI agent with access to a trove of stolen, classified video clips, she sure feels like one. After an initial cut scene that shows our whistleblower plugging a filched USB into her computer, it’s your job to enter search terms that will yield the trove’s secrets. To say too much more would spoil the fun; for all the time you spend fast-forwarding and searching terms, Telling Lies’ core mechanic is a mystery.
Now, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding somewhere to stretch those brain and finger muscles with so many hacking games in which to hone your skills. for more brain-benders, we’ve got a wider variety of puzzle games, or perhaps you’d like some of our favorite detective games. If you find yourself after something more sedate and less demanding instead, try one of the best life games or one of our favorite relaxing games to take your mind off the stress of hacking systems.