Platform: PC (Steam)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer/Publisher: Flying Wild Hog
Buy Extended Edition on Steam
Nowadays for indie developers, the number one rule seems to be resounding: Don't make a first person shooter. However, the guys at Flying Wild Hog have blissfully ignored this rule and crafted a game in a genre usually reserved for AAA developers. Hard Reset doesn't attempt to compete with any big titles like Call of Duty, and even lacks multiplayer. What it does attempt however is giving you a good single player experience. Does it succeed in offering you value for your digital cash, or is this just a waste of time? Read on to find out.
Hard Reset isn't much of a story driven game, but the basic premise is that you're some kind of war veteran, dragged into a conspiracy in a world where humanity has become almost extinct and machines have taken over most of the Earth. What little there is of story is told via comic-book style narratives between levels and mostly serve as glorified loading screens. For better or for worse, this comic book style narration greatly contrasts with the realistic in-game visuals, similar to games like Max Payne and Mirror's Edge, though for an indie game, at least it's done with some style and half-decent voice acting. The cutscenes feel like they have little to no impact on the actual game though and feel extremely forgetable after a while. They are however, thankfully, skipable. If you want a story-driven FPS, you'll definitely have to look elsewhere.
While Hard Reset literally came out last year, in terms of gameplay, it feels delightfully oldschool. The controls are dead simple and the game has more in common with 90's shooters like Quake or Doom than it has with Modern Warfare or Halo. Gone are buttons for crouching, melee and even flashlights. What you get is a very stripped down raw first person shooter where the controls are basically moving, aiming and shooting. It even does away with regenerating health, limiting you to finding health and ammunition on the battlefield left by either enemies or scattered about the levels. It certainly attempts hard to be an oldschool shooter and in many aspects succeed in that.
However, the game does feature some unique aspects. For instance, instead of giving you an arsenal of weapons, you have two basic firearms. CLN is the projectile based weapon while NRG fires off electricity. At first, this seems to be very limited, however, you soon realize that the game does, like many modern shooters, have some RPG elements to it. You get experience points for killing enemies, and by using the environment to defeat your opposition, be it by blasting away at explosive barrels and cars or turning electronic terminals into lethal tesla coils, you earn more experience than you would by simply blasting away at the enemies themselves. Scattered about on the levels are also XP packages you can pick up, and unlike many modern shooters, Hard Reset does a very good job at rewarding exploration as a lot of these XP packages, especially larger ones, are often hidden secrets. On harder difficulties, finding these secrets are essential to gaining an upper hand against your enemies. While Hard Reset does feel linear at times, it offers a lot of exploration and replay value for obsessive compulsive players. The fact the developers have hardcoded a lot of achievements into the game also helps in adding replay value. Progression through the levels usually doesn't involve too much of a puzzle, and if you feel lost, the hint mode will easily show you what to do next.
When you have accumulated enough XP points, you achieve an upgrade point, and this is where the game's RPG elements come into play. Your two main weapons can be upgraded with several mods that grant you additional weapon functions, such as a shotgun, RPG, energy mortar or even a homing smartgun. How you choose to upgrade your weapons affects how you approach the game and adds to the replay value as once the game is finished, you'll want to start over just to find more upgrades. You can also upgrade your suit to become harder to kill.
Enemy AI isn't terribly advanced and, for the most part, the enemies are stronger in numbers than individually, and the enemies do tend to end up becoming very predictable as most of them have some kind of gimmicky attack. Small enemies will attempt to cut you with blades, walking robotic bombs explode upon impact, gorilla-like robots charge you like a raging bull and will pummel you until you're nothing but a pool of blood, and other enemies have similar patterns. What makes the game stand out a bit however are the boss fights, each one feeling memorable and satisfying, though for the most part they are pretty simple as all you have to do is fire at the weak spots. Not all the machines are evil however and sometimes you'll come across a friendly robot or two, adding a lot of charm and life to the game.
Once you've finished the single player campaign on any difficulty, you can either start over again in EX mode where you get to keep your upgrades from your previous playthrough, or try to get a high score in Survival mode where you'll fight waves of enemies, getting the chance to upgrade in between waves. Both of these modes add replay value to the game, but don't expect any multiplayer options. Hopefully, the team will be working on a sequel some time soon, and hopefully will add some new gameplay elements.
Hard Reset is, by all means, a gorgeous game. While it's certainly no Crysis, for an indie game, it looks stunning. If you're a fan of cyberpunk movies like Blade Runner or The Matrix, you will adore the design of Hard Reset as it borrows heavily from both, especially Blade Runner. Unlike modern shooters like Call of Duty or Gears of War, it has a lot of glowing neon colours to feast your eyes on and the perpetual night only adds to the tense cyberpunk atmosphere of the game.
The sound design of Hard Reset is about as stylish as the visuals. The background music really adds to the cybernetic atmosphere, featuring heavy loads of distorted electronic sounds and deep synthesizer basslines. The music also changes to a more rocked up soundtrack during combat and changes to a more atmospheric sombre mood during exploration.
Weapons have satisfying sounds to them and overall the world around you is filled to the brim with electronic sounds, everything from the robotic advertising terminals to the robotic enemies you fight. It's a game best played with headphones if you want to get the best out of it.
The only thing lacking a bit is the voice acting during the cutscenes. It's cheesy, but not particurarily entertaining and largely forgetable, not helped by a lazy script.
Hard Reset is a fun little FPS that, while completely incapable of competing with the juggernauts of the industry, does have its quirks that makes it a decent single player experience. If you want a break from modern shooters and want a truly oldschool cyberpunk shooter that brings the genre back to its basics, and looks really good, then Hard Reset is for you. If you want a story-driven FPS with a multiplayer portion however, you're better off leaving it alone.