Community Review: Hard Reset
By Joseph Christ on January 4th, 2013 (6 comments)
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Release Date: September 13th, 2011 (PC)
As you enter a room that is longer than it is wide, the first noticeable movement is from large twin exhaust fans in the center of the floor. A moment later, a swarm of machines infest the room from vents and air shafts on the ceiling. They look like lethal, over-sized wind-up toys, one type with circular saws on their face, and the other with helicopter blades on their head. They quickly overwhelm you, so navigating around the death traps on the floor while unleashing electric discharges at the machines at the same time is a must. The machines are persistent, but eventually are destroyed. Before you can catch your breath, the wall you are standing next to explodes outward, revealing a machine resembling a gorilla in form. Another wave of wind-up toys emerge from their previous entryways.
This is Hard Reset, and that was one such encounter out of many. Hard Reset is an old school action FPS in the same vein as Serious Sam and Painkiller, but with a dark sci-fi setting. Players step into the shoes of Major James Fletcher, and right into a merciless situation taking place in the megacity of Bezoar. An army of malfunctioning machines invade the city and Fletcher seems to be the only one capable of doing anything to stop them. Let me say right here, the story is throw-away. By the end of every encounter, you will only care about surviving the next one. Your heart won’t beat faster from the writing; your palms won’t sweat from the narration.
The environments in Hard Reset look great. The dystopian cyberpunk world has the look of Blade Runner, but the game runs at the speed of Doom. It is amazing that a game can look as beautiful as it does, but still runs fast and smooth, even when cars are exploding and electrical boxes are discharging all while machines are flooding the screen. The machines Fletcher is up against are ruthless, even devious at times. They sometimes lure the player into a hallway, and then disappear around the corner. They set ambushes, and there is nothing the player can do but proceed, headfirst into battle. Times like these add a feeling of horror that is unexpected from the genre. The machines aren’t mindless; they hunt the player, or corner them, if not swarm them at every opportunity.
Hard Reset gives the player two transforming weapon classes right out the gate, and both of them are equally important. The CLN Firearm uses traditional ammunition and can be upgraded to shoot like an assault rifle, a shotgun, a grenade launcher, a mine launcher, and an RPG. The NRG weapon is energy based and upgrades to such weapon types like a plasma rifle, a shock blaster, an electric mortar, a smartgun, and a railgun. Both weapons are situational, depending on the enemy type the player is faced with. While shotguns are good against slower machines, the shock blaster takes care of swarms of smaller machines. Each weapon type even has a secondary fire. Some of those slow down machines, or even stun them.
If you haven’t figured it out, Hard Reset is an unforgiving, challenging experience. As many films like to falsely advertise as being action-packed and adrenaline-pumping, Hard Reset can be accurately described as such. You will die swiftly, if not frequently, but you will always have the tools to conquer any situation. There are a few kinds of encounters throughout each chapter: the ambush, the jump scare, the combat puzzle, and the arena. Each encounter feels unique, and the game does a good job at mixing enemy types, forcing the player to change strategies at a regular pace.
The player will find health, ammunition, and upgrade points frequently, but this doesn’t make the game any easier. Either these items will be lying about, or dropped from a defeated machine, or placed just out of reach, forcing the player to mentally work for it. Upgrade points are spent at upgrade stations, which are only in certain places in each level. There are so many upgrades, a player will most likely not unlock everything on their first playthrough. As well as weapon upgrades, players can purchase combat upgrades for Fletcher. With these, Fletcher can improve his awareness of his surroundings, slow down time when his health is low, increase his ammo capacity, increase his health, and increase his shields.
The only real gripe against Hard Reset is how boss battles are handled. The game doesn’t convey much information on how to defeat them, and at the same time, they throw other enemies at you while you are fighting them. It would be a better design choice to allow the player to figure out how to damage the boss, allow them to take about a 1/3 of damage off, and then decide to throw extra enemies at the player, escalating the encounter. During a couple of boss battles, I found myself completely out of ammo and health by the time I learned how to defeat them. It’s not a huge issue, but having to reload a checkpoint in Hard Reset for any other reason than dying seems like a small design flaw that could have been easily solved.
When you break Hard Reset down to the core experience, it is an overall enjoyable, but stressful ride. The enemy encounters will keep you on your toes. If you stop moving in the middle of battle, you die. Even though checkpoints, health pickups, and ammo are plentiful, victory is won battle-to-battle. The game isn’t long, but it can be, depending on how often you die and how long you want to strategize each approach. If you like old school shooters in where you don’t need to reload your guns, where the action is fast and frantic, where each battle is challenging yet satisfying: get Hard Reset. There are not many games like it these days and this one plays as good as it looks.
Joseph Christ is the Reviews Editor and a Podcast Personality at 4Player. Specializing in reviews, editorials, drinking, and saying inappropriate things about gaming franchises that are beloved by millions, his satirical and sometimes edgy style offsets a more serious and penetrating substance lurking below the surface. He is also the host of the Cocktail Time Podcast. You'll follow his Twitter if you know what's good for you.
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