Hard Reset is a very weird game. In terms of gameplay it seems like a game that has been yanked out of its time period and dropped in a strange and foreign land. Modern first person shooters are fun, but they are really different from their precursors, like Doom or Quake, who were more focused on insane action first and foremost, and realism later. Characters seemed to skate rather than walk; carried weapons mixed the standard with the insane, and enemies depended on horde tactics and firepower rather than a good AI.
This made old shooters insanely fast and brutal, but the experience of these older shooters isn’t exactly on the minds of most mayor developers nowadays. Enter Hard Reset, a game that is an old school FPS, through and through, with modern day graphics and physics.
Doing what Hard Reset does takes guts. The game’s developer, The Flying Wild Hog (formed by refugees from People Can Fly, the developer of the action packed Painkiller and the simply epic Bulletstorm), has made a huge gamble with this game. Hard Reset has no multiplayer. Yep, you read that right. No multiplayer at all, just a singleplayer campaign that pits our protagonist, Major Fletcher, against an angry horde of robots and terminator-like cyborgs.
The game follows a cyberpunk aesthetic, and dear god it’s beautiful to look at its depressing locales. The action happens in a huge megaplex, with buildings reaching up into the heavens, and neon lights giving the foggy and grimey streets an eerie light. Vending machines harass you even during fights, offering you discounts for being such a good customer, and announcements in Japanese are heard in the distance.
I cannot begin to express how spectacular the game looks, lights, explosions and lighting effects really want to give your eyes an orgasm. It’s simply breathtaking.
The story is presented to us in cinematics done in a very dark and edgy comic book stile and, while nothing spectacular, they fill their objective admirably, and fit with the general aesthetic perfectly.
The gameplay though is where the game really shines. As mentioned; it’s a true classic first person shooter. Enemies rush you in hordes, there is no cover system beyond hiding manually behind thick (and non destructible) scenery and health does not regenerate without the use of med-kits. As with many classic FPSs, you have a huge weapon selection, but they way it’s implemented is simply brilliant.
Major Fletcher only carries around two guns, an oversized assault rifle and a weird looking plasma pistol. However, through the game you’ll recover upgrade points from downed enemies and secrets within the map, which you’ll be able to use in an upgrade terminal to buy additional weapon modules allowing you, for example, to turn your assault rifle into a shotgun, or even an RPG, with a mere button press. Flipping through weapon configurations can be done with the mousewheel, but it’s kinda wonky and unresponsive mid-fight, making the preferred method to change weapons the numbers on your keyboard, like in classic Doom.
You can also buy addons for your weapon mods, like a laser tracker for your RPG or an X-Ray vision sight for your Railgun, or general upgrades for your character, like extra life from med-kits or extra shields. You’re also going to need all of these upgrades, and wisely using your upgrade points is imperative. Fights are brutally difficult, and not all weapons are equally effective, which can bring to many moments of frustration. This makes looking for secrets almost imperative, as without them your arsenal will be quite limited. Thankfully, said secret caches are usually shown to you through fences or ledges, not making them directly accessible, but telling you when you should start looking for them.
The game places also a big focus on doing “environmental kills”, the city were the action takes place is a workplace safety manager’s nightmare; everything explodes, crumbles or has dangerous electrical currents running through it. If you time and aim your shots right, you’ll see (with your jaw on the floor) how the whole area bursts into flames, sending robot pieces anywhere and everywhere (many times your own body parts will be included in the package).
However, as impressive as everything is, the game has some unavoidable flaws. Some are more on the nitpicky side, for example, as mentioned, changing between weapon mods with the mouse wheel is unresponsive, it’s easily avoided by using the number keys but many gamers may not necessarily be familiar with this way of changing weapons.
Also, and again, as mentioned, the difficulty is brutal. You can downgrade your difficulty level mid game, but if you do, the change is permanent, this game plays for keeps.
A somewhat bigger gripe it’s that for a PC game, it’s lacking a quicksave function, leaving you to depend completely on checkpoints. Because of how long and hard many fights are, you’ll be sometimes pulling your own hair in frustration because you have to re-start that whole area with the cyborgs with grenade launchers AGAIN. To add insult to injury, the game keeps track of the number of times you’ve been killed on the level, and grades you on it, as if it was pointing and laughing at you.
Enemy types are not that varied, sure they have some different aesthetics, but the real enemy count is probably around 5 or 6, though I’m counting from memory. Because of how frenetic the game is, this is rarely a problem, but some extra enemy types would have been welcomed.
The biggest problem, at least for me, is that the game seems to end in the middle. You have probably noticed through this review that I’ve barely touched upon the story; in part it is because it’s basically an excuse for the game, the other reason is this: while the story is formulaic, the way it’s presented makes it engaging after a while, and things seem to take more and more gravitas. However, after the second boss fight, we’re treated to a cutscene that would indicate the start of the third act of the game; however, that’s it and the credits roll. What?!
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that the developers run out of money and decided to wrap up what they had as neatly as possible and try to get enough money for a quick sequel with the rest of the story. However, I cannot prove this, so we will have to wait and see.
Graphics – 5/5: Aesthetics in this game are simply breathtaking. The developers would probably make pretty penny if they released their graphics engine!
Sound – 3/5: Both music and sound stay in the background, accompanying the action but going unnoticed. Good, but not great.
Gameplay – 5/5: Simply epic. Fast, furious and brutal. Playing it is an adrenaline rush I have rarely experienced since the times of Doom.
Longevity – 3/5: While the campaign is short, it’s fun enough to deserve a play through on a higher difficulty level, however it still tops at around 5 hours and it has no multiplayer for those who use it to squeeze more hours of fun from a game.
Overall: 4 out of 5
I really really want to love Hard Reset; it has so many successes in execution that I am pretty much willing to overlook its various small flaws, although the truncated ending feels like a betrayal to me. I really hope that the developers get their act together and put out a quick expansion or that they survive to make another game of this time, they certainly have the heart in the right place.
- Jose Luis Perez Zapata