Hard Reset Hands-On Preview -- When Blade Runner Met PainkillerBy Kevin Kelly - Posted Aug 16, 2011
Hard Reset burst quietly onto the PC gaming scene recently, with only a few outlets reporting about the launch title from Polish developer Flying Hog Studios. They're made up of people from People Can Fly, CD Projekt RED, and City Interactive, and they've developed their own brand-new engine entitled "Road Hog." The game itself is single-player only, and has been spawned out of Wild Hog's self-proclaimed love for all things cyberpunk. They cite William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Philip K. Dick as inspirations. While Dick might not have lived to see Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep become the film Blade Runner, there's also a very heavy dose of Ridley Scott's adaptation in here as well.
Hard Reset takes place in the future, in the year 2436 to be exact. You play as Major Fletcher, a grizzled veteran who enjoys drinking, shooting, and while he's good at his job, he's taken it for the money. He patrols Bezoar City in the European District, protecting the Corporation from the Machines. One of the Corporations key assets is The Sanctuary, a network that holds billions of digitalized personalities. This storehouse represents the potential for the machines to break through the limits of their programming. Think Skynet wants to take over the brains of everyone stored in The Matrix, and you get the idea.
But despite the story, Hard Reset is one of those rare games that manages to wow via graphics alone. Every time I've fired this preview build up, someone always stops by to say "Whoa, what is that game? It looks awesome!" And it does indeed look awesome. However, the introduction and cutscenes, told in a comic book-style, are the weakest part of the game. From hammy voiceovers to subpar visuals, these are not really worth watching for story points. You'll find that almost immediately you'll start skipping through to get back into the shooting.
And make no mistake: Hard Reset is a shooter. The development team points to games like Doom and Quake as influences, and while they like to point out that it's not on rails, it isn't an open world, either. You'll have to hunt down switches and disable equipment if you want to progress through each level in this game. But the key mechanic is, to borrow from Demolition Man, murder, death, kill. Of course, you're killing machines, so there isn't nearly as much guilt attached. Bezoar is the last surviving human city, and it's up to you do defend humanity.
Hard Reset starts you out slowly in an desolate alley filled with junk. As you move forward, you'll notice small little orb-like bots coming to life and coming to attack you. You'll also see a chance electric arc sparking from a nearby piece of equipment and see how it fries the innards of the machinations. That's a mechanic you'll want to keep in mind through the rest of the game. Your starting ordnance doesn't do too much damage to these things, so electricity will quickly become your best friend. That is until you save up enough N.A.N.O., or the energy/currency in the game that will allow you to upgrade your weapons and your combat abilities.
Throughout the game, you'll run into upgrade stations, where you can purchase new abilities and augment your weapons. You're armed with both a ballistic weapon and a plasma-based N.R.G. gun from the get go, and you can cycle easily between the two. Each weapon has three stages of upgrades, with the first being the actual weapon itself. So for the combat shotgun for instance, you have to first have enough N.A.N.O. to purchase this at a station. Doing so allows your current gun to "morph" into a shotgun. Further weapon unlocks and upgrades have the same effect. With the shotgun, you can unlock it, add a flechette secondary attack that paralyzes enemies, and you can also damped the recoil on it.
Managing your weapons is key, because N.A.N.O. can be very hard to come by. You'll normally only be able to afford one upgrade at a time, so picking and choosing is important. In my initial runthrough, I poured everything into my ballistic gun and ignored the N.R.G. side of things, which was probably a mistake. I may have a rocket launcher now, but it would have been handy to have some different options available when facing the boss battle in the preview. Besides weapon unlock and enhancements, combat upgrades involve things like adding awareness of where enemies are, and outfitting you with a personal shield.
The rest of the game is run and gun. There's no cover system, so you'll need to strategically put things between yourself and your foes, or take them out at range. Most enemies drop powerups that will give you health, armor, and ammunition, which are all indicated in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. You also have a limited sprint that can be used by hitting the shift key, and the spacebar jumps. Not that there's much platforming, but I did have to scramble through one level with collapsing walkways.
Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, from buzzsaw-wielding basketball-sized whirligigs, to bull-charger bots that will stomp towards you at high speed and run you over. The smaller bots tend to attack in packs, while the larger units are more solo. Although that's not to say that you won't be fending off a pack of smaller foes while larger enemies pound you. Speaking of getting wounded, your vision will obscure with blood until you hear a sickening crunch that probably means your skull gave way. Your health doesn't regenerate, although your shield does, so you always need to keep a close eye on the health meter and constantly search for powerups.
Towards the end of our preview build, we had to do battle with an enormous machine-statue that comes to life and lumbers into the expansive square we were in. Energy barriers were erected after we walked in to start picking up powerups, and they also closed us off from the upgrade station. This guy is several stories tall, can spawn plenty of the smaller enemies, and is a complete pain in the ass. But that's a pain in the ass that comes with excellent graphics and gameplay.
Hard Reset comes out for PCs only in September, and it supports play with both mouse and keyboard and a gamepad. If you're interested in learning more, check out Flying Hog's website for the game and return to a day when PCs ruled the gaming space.