Most of the time when I write a review I tend to give the reader a little bit of information about the origins of a game, an in-depth look at the storyline, or some sort of backstory on the development. In this case, Hard Reset makes it a little difficult to do that. Hard Reset is a shooter in every sense of the word – it’s like a driving game with no brakes. You’ll start off the game holding down the trigger, and you’ll not really stop until the credits roll.
The thin amount of story that ties Hard Reset together comes together courtesy of a comic book style presentation prior to the kickoff of the first level. It briefly explains that the game takes place in Bezoar City at some point in the future. Polish developer Flying Wild Hog drew obvious inspiration from Blade Runner, Neuromancer, and other Cyberpunk novels from the past in the development of this title. Just like in those two titles, megacorporations rule the world, but you aren’t here for that – you are here to shoot stuff! Flush with neon, sharp angles, crazy weapons, and more mechanical menaces than you can shake a stick at, it’s time to take Hard Reset for a spin.
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer
Hard Reset is a very simple shooter. No sidekicks, no cover, no random encounters, no heavy motivation for killing anything in particular. Point, shoot, rinse, repeat until you are the last person standing, then head to the next area to do it again. While that sounds completely dull on paper, in practice it’s actually a bit of fun. I think a lot of that comes courtesy of the upgrade system.
Completely opposite of conventional shooters, Hard Reset hands you two weapons at the beginning of the game, and they are pretty damned good. The CLN rifle just vomits lead at the enemy, and the NRG gun is a blue orb that spews electrical bolts. You won’t pick up another weapon, instead picking up upgrades to those two weapons that allow them to become a rail gun, shotgun, rocket launcher, or a gun that can see and fire through walls. Adding rapid fire, zoom, a stasis field, cluster missiles, and many more options to your primary weapons makes you far more effective at killing the waves of enemies that pour at you continuously. There are a total of 10 weapon upgrades, giving the player a ton of unexpected variety.
For those of us who grew up on Doom, the formula is tried and true. Enemies hang out and wait for you to trigger them, and then they run at you with the sole purpose of killing you dead. You’ll start off fighting off little bots with blades hanging off the front, reminding me of the little guys in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade games. Soon you’ll square off against a linebacker-looking bot with lots of armor that runs towards you at high speed. You’ll encounter variants of this bot with weaponry as the game progresses, as well as a few humanoid types. There is a pair of bots at the 2 and 4 hour mark to split up the game, but that is pretty much the cast list. Let me tell you though, what the game lacks in variety, it makes up for in volume. It’s a good thing your cybernetic legs allow you some incredible sprinting speed (pay attention Adam Jensen!) because you’ll need it to pick up the health and ammo packs, as well as to get a better firing position.
“A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly”. – Neuromancer
If there is one area where Flying Wild Hog really excelled it is in the art direction of Hard Reset. The game is absolutely beautiful. It isn’t Crysis 2 beautiful, but it is very slick in presentation, giving the player much to eyeball in the environment while they should instead be gunning down waves of robots. In this environment we get another method of mayhem – electric death. Sure there are plenty of opportunities to blow up cars and barrels, but Hard Reset also allows you to shoot the various neon-emitting machines in the environment, spraying arcs of electric death at your robotic oppressors.
The puzzles in Hard Reset are as straightforward as the rest of the game. If there is a force field, you’ll find what you have to blow up to shut it down by following the pulsing blue cables. If you need to shut off a machine, click the off button with your mouse. You aren’t playing Hard Reset expecting RPG-level puzzles are you?
There are two areas where I think Hard Reset fall down – weapon switching and brevity. The setting for Hard Reset is obviously a labor of love, and a great deal of effort was put into the look of the game (if not the storyline wrapped around it), but the game is just shockingly short. In total, it’ll take you less than four hours to blow through the game. It seems a waste to build something this pretty and then have it be ostensibly as simple as Serious Sam. Sure, both titles are great for blowing off steam by chunking tons of enemies, but Hard Reset could have been so much more. The other area that hurts is switching weapons. The game only gives you two, so tapping the Q and E keys toggles between them, but sometimes I’m reminded of old school 2D fighters when I do. If I’m in mid-animation, there is absolutely nothing I can do while I wait. In fact, as the enemy count begins to rise, most of my deaths were not caused by a zeroed ammo counter, but by being backed into a corner while my weapon slowly raised into position.
“Sometimes it’s good to remember.” “Being hurt?” “Being stupid. – Mona Lisa Overdrive
Hard Reset is a look back at a bygone age. There is a nice visual treat waiting for you at the end of the 4GB install, but that’s one hour per gig you just downloaded. The game is simple for when you want exactly that, but you can’t help but feel like it could be so much more. The few nagging issues in the game aren’t enough to wave you off, and I will remind you that the game is only 30 bucks via Steam. When you think about an 8 hour title costing you $59.99, that tends to put it into perspective. Thankfully, you can check out the demo on Steam as long as you realize that the demo is exactly what you’ll get with the full product – nothing more, and nothing less.