Hard Reset review

It takes less than ten seconds for Hard Reset to define the kind of shooter it truly is. There is no crouching, no cover, and no reloading. It has exactly two guns; one of ’em is an energy gun that shoots lightning-lasers, and the other is a rifle whose targeting reticule is always red. If the terms of its gameplay don’t paint a clear enough picture, we’ll spell it out: Hard Reset doesn’t care about anything other than killing everything.

Above: Rage, eat your heart out. Hard Reset looks incredible

The aesthetic values of Hard Reset, though, are what we noticed first. It’s what The Fifth Element might have looked like if Christopher Nolan had a hand in it. The graphical fidelity rivals that of Rage or The Witcher 2, and the soundtrack, born straight out of 80s sci-fi flicks like Tron, rounds out the awesome atmosphere. Attractive as it is, the world has a long way to go before we actually care about what’s happening in it.

Walking robots big and small rule the last bastion of humanity. Naturally, our main man Fletcher, robot-hunter extraordinaire and alcoholic asshole, is the only dude who can save it. Not that the story explains this in a comprehensible fashion, mind you. The plot, characters and voice-over performances are unanimously embarrassing, and the game would have been better off without context for our actions. The pew-pew-pew is excellent in its own right, and we eventually just started refilling our coffee between missions. Not to mention Hard Reset has the Judas of game endings – just as it lured us into the most alluring part of our beautiful friendship, it plunged a knife deep into our back and cut to the credits.

For developer Flying Wild Hog, the action obviously mattered most, because the vehicle propelling it is utterly worthless. Sick as it may sound, killing robots in games rarely meets the thrill of killing a human or monster or otherwise living thing. Robots in Hard Reset deteriorate when wounded, and they leak and bleed… whatever that substance is. Hard Reset nails its shooting better than most modern FPSs, and it gives us plenty of ways to play with our victims in the process.

Above: Even the usually predictable AI surprised us a few times

Fletcher only has the two guns, but he can widen their versatility in a quick and efficient way: kill robots, get cash, buy mods. Attaching new parts to our machine-gun, for instance, lets it morph into a rocket-launcher with a scroll of the mouse wheel. The upgraded energy gun is even more impressive – we grew particularly fond of the X-ray and homing missile combo.

Secondary fire modes reinforced our capabilities in combat as well. The paralyzing shotgun rounds and charged energy blasts played important roles in the thoughtful enemy encounters. Verticality and distance often mix up the typical shoot-down-the-hallway approach by forcing us to think of new ways to deal with different enemies. Using the environment to our advantage was important, too. An exploding barrel or electrical conduit was at least as dangerous as our grenades and beams. It helps that they’re everywhere, which also makes the world a dangerous place to play in. We were just as susceptible to standing too close to a lethal object as any robot, so we had to be aware and on our toes at all times.

When it wasn’t kicking us square in the balls, Hard Reset was one of the most exhilarating action games we could think of. Those challenging and satisfying enemy encounters frequently devolved into waves of too-strong enemies abusing their one-hit kill tactics, though. The enormous flexibility of Fletcher’s arsenal didn’t feel like enough on the too-tough default difficulty. On the lower one, it was empowering but easy. Pick your poison, because neither setting is as balanced as it should be. If we weren’t shouting deplorable profanity for the six hour duration of the Normal campaign, we were cruising along effortlessly on Easy for three. Hard Reset also restricts the use of quick-saves for whatever unholy reason, so we could only rely entirely on its spotty checkpoints to save us from losing our mind. They didn’t.

Above: This is Atlas. You know, the Greek guy… with missiles

Flying Wild Hog had some strokes of serious brilliance throughout Hard Reset, and it’s these moments that supported the weight of its confusing problems. This is the kind of hard-and-fast shooter that got us into PC gaming in the first place, and Hard Reset remembers where it came from while making some strides of its own. Its most impressive feat, though, is that it throws down the gauntlet and laughs in the face of every competing developer. We’re still trying to wrap our mind around this as an indie game, because, in terms of quality, it’s on the same level as any AAA shooter out there.

Sep 13, 2011

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