Hard Reset is a game both far ahead and far behind the times. If this was a physics problem, it would be placed correctly in time. The game puts you in the shoes of a corporate soldier named Major Fletcher in a megacity called Bezoar and, well, stuff happens. While the game has a plot (revealed through some cool-looking comic book panel art), it’s pretty clear that the focus wasn’t on telling a story (unless you subscribe to the Hideo Kojima school of writing where nothing should make sense, ever). Hard Reset is a first-person shooter with some distinctively old-school sensibilities, and that comes at the expense of a story. The game is about shooting things, blowing up robots, action above all else.
And for the most part, it does that action very well. You start the game equipped with a pair of guns – an assault rifle and a plasma gun – but you’ll soon find you can upgrade both of them to roll out and transform into other useful tools of annihilation like a shotgun, RPG launcher and a railgun. Each weapon draws from a pool of its own ammo that is shared throughout each of the weapons’ transformations (i.e. the same bullets that power your rifle will work for the shotgun, grenade launcher and RPG). As you kill things and progress through the game, you’ll pick up the game’s currency, N.A.N.O., which you can spend on upgrades at stations scattered through the levels. These can upgrade either of your guns or your combat gear (which includes things like extra health and ammo capacity). It’s quite similar to the upgrade menu in Frozenbyte’s Shadowgrounds.
Class of ’99
The gameplay itself feels a lot like playing old-school Quake – you’ll focus on frantic shooting and strafing rather than getting accurate headshots (which would be moot, since a lot of these kill-bots don’t have heads to shoot). The action sequences are pretty satisfying, but they unfortunately all feel very “canned” and lacking spontaneity or surprise. Basically, you advance through a level, and when you enter a new area, a group of enemies will swarm into it. They don’t patrol beforehand or make their presence known; they effectively don’t exist until you enter that new area. To me, this kind of limits the gameplay options. Your railgun has a sniper scope that can detect and attack enemies through walls; kind of a waste when they only show up as you do.
On the other hand, the game gets you to focus on using the environment to your advantage, which translates to “shoot the explosive barrels and anything that has electricity in it”. This can be a lot of fun, as the early levels brim with explodey and shocky things, which mysteriously (and unfortunately) seem to dry up for a few levels in the middle of the game. The lack of environmental options gets particularly unpleasant during boss fights, where your only choice is to shoot the glowy part until something falls off, usually while being swarmed by the little melee-attacking bastard robots (the fact that you sometimes get stuck on a box while trying to dodge them isn’t amusing either). The environmental damage is a lot of fun and something you get used to using to your advantage pretty quickly – which is why it’s so jarring when it disappears.
And unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that disappears. The game/plot ends abruptly. It shows another of those comic cutscenes and you presume the next level is loading, and then bam, credits. And without any multiplayer options, there wasn’t a whole lot more reason to dive back in after my six hours of play. I think for some players, the lack of multiplayer modes would be a dealbreaker anyway.
On the plus side, there isn’t a bad thing I can say about the graphics – the game looks spectacular. The levels are colorful, the textures are detailed and sharp, and shadows and particles look amazing. This is the kind of thing you couldn’t do on a current-gen console without seriously cheating. The visual design is also really cool, mixing elements of Blade Runner and Judge Dredd (the comic version, not the Stallone flick) for the architecture and “look and feel”, and with a Total Recall meets the Terminator vibe for a lot of the cybernetic baddies. The graphics are stunning, and rank up there with the Witcher 2 for “reasons the consoles can’t compete”.
The Final Verdict
I don’t want to sound like I’m being too hard on Hard Reset: I genuinely enjoyed my time with it, but it was too brief and felt like it could have been so much more substantial. Wild Flying Hog did a hell of a job, especially for an indie developer. This is a good trial run, and maybe Hard Reset 2 will be able to go toe-to-toe with the big boys. If the game’s premise – an action-heavy cyberpunk shooter with sexy graphics – appeals to you, then by all means check out the demo. If you’re on the fence though, you may be better off saving your money and maybe getting it in a Steam sale.