Flying Wild Hog gleefully embraces the joys of the circle strafe in its just-released PC-exclusive first-person shooter, Hard Reset. It's not the only thing the game has going for it, but it's the element that most clearly lays out what sort of experience you can expect to have as you play.
- Throwback gameplay harkens back to a simpler time for FPS releases
- Beautifully conceived and rendered cyberpunk world
- Weapon upgrades offer a surprising amount of depth
- Consistently challenging, but it's never overwhelming
- Old-school FPS play is tough to adjust to at first
- Lousy story is a missed opportunity
Hard Reset Review:
PC-exclusive Hard Reset is built around a story, that much is clear. The story even looks pretty cool in the unfolding, with developer Flying Wild Hog using a sort of motion comic-inspired presentation, similar to the cutscenes in the Max Payne games, only with more going on. If only the story did justice to those lovely comic book-style panels. There's potential here, thanks largely to the game's futuristic setting, but the narrative never really manages to coalesce.
Give Me The Gun
Hard Reset is at its best when it gives you a gun and a combat scenario in which to shoot it. Fortunately, this is the sort of thing you can expect to be doing for roughly 90 percent of the game. Amidst the back-to-basics FPS conventions -- we're talking magically spawning enemies, multi-colored pickups, secret rooms, end-of-level scoring -- there's a little bit of RPG-style customization as well.
Our heroic gunslinger comes armed with just two weapons to start with. That actually never changes: throughout the game, you'll swap between the bullet-fed CLN weapon and the electric-powered N.R.G. firearm. You never have to reload, though a steady supply of ammo pickups -- blue and red flavors, one for each weapon type -- is a requirement.
Your Armory Awaits
Fortunately, the two guns you're armed with can be upgraded to fill a number of roles on the battlefield. At the start you'll just have a basic machine gun with the CLN and a fast-firing plasma gun with the N.R.G..
Terminals scattered throughout the game sell upgrades for both yourself (health/shield boosts and the like) and your weapons. Weapon upgrades allow you to literally transform your two firearms with the press of a button, allowing you to, for example, use the CLN as anything from a shotgun to a grenade launcher. Each individual weapon-within-a-weapon can also be further upgraded. Currency takes the form of N.A.N.O., which appears in the game as orange pickups.
The game wouldn't be half as fun as it is if the world you're shooting up robots in weren't such a pleasure to look at. Hard Reset's cyberpunk-inspired setting is brimming with cool ideas and an impressive level of attention to detail. From the basic design of the battlefields -- which offer a lot of space to move around in -- to little things like holographic terminals that activate when you get close to them, it all feels very polished.
Firing up Hard Reset for the first time, you may be initially thrown by what seems like an extreme level of difficulty, even on the game's normal setting. Part of the fault there lies in the weapon selection you start with; the early enemies you face are just too quick for sustained fire weapons like the machine gun or plasma gun. The CLN's shotgun upgrade helps considerably.
Unique, Like A Bloody Snowflake
Beyond that, Hard Reset is a game that you really can't play like other popular first-person shooters. The quality of the production screams AAA FPS, but the reality of the gameplay really is more in line with the likes of Serious Sam. This is a run-and-gunner in its purest form: encounter a horde of baddies, back up while firing, move to a new position, rinse and repeat.
It's a perfect fit, really, for gamepad-style controls. My Xbox 360 controller was immediately recognized, with the B and X buttons automatically assigned to switching between your two main guns while the left and right bumpers manage jumping between each weapon's current form. A jumps, right trigger fires and left trigger aims down sights (when that's an option). There is no crouching in this game. That alone should tell you a lot.
Hard Reset really boils down to moving from arena to arena, blasting apart robots as you go. While the basic action never really changes, the appeal of this game lies more in the beautiful presentation and the surprisingly deep set of options offered in the array of weapon upgrades. Between the basic transformations, secondary fire and attack boosts, you have a considerable number of robot-destroying options to explore.
Polish developer Flying Wild Hog uses its own game engine for this, and the results are so impressive that it's hard not to wonder where the studio will be focusing its talents next. The pace remains pretty consistent throughout, serving up a tolerable level of difficulty that sometimes ratchets up, but never too far. The checkpoint save system works fine, though the pacing here could have been tighter. There are more than a few combat encounters that could have benefitted greatly with a checkpoint to break things up.
The core game is rather short -- roughly six hours -- and it ends with very little warning, but there are four levels of difficulty as well as an EX mode that unlocks after you beat the game. The bonus is essentially a "new game plus," allowing you to restart with all of your upgrades intact. The short length would be an issue if this weren't a $30 downloadable game, but you're actually getting a fair amount of content for your money.
I'm going to make this one really easy: Hard Reset is a beautiful and ridiculously fun first outing from Polish developer Flying Wild Hog. The simple gameplay and head-scratching story will drive some away, but they'll be missing the point. If you like simple -- but not simple-minded -- first-person shooters that are light on complexity and heavy on explosive action, you should have a blast exploring the Blade Runner-inspired cyberpunk world of Hard Reset.