September 13, 2011

Review – Hard Reset

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Brad Johnson @ 6:45 pm

Review Hard Reset
I’m going to be honest with you: I have no idea what Hard Reset is about.

Indeed, the problem is even more fundamental and more deeply rooted than that: I have legitimately no idea what is happening in this game.

As a disciple of electronic entertainment simulations, I’ve endured some pretty miserable narrative constructs. I managed to make some kind of broken, incomplete sense out of games like Vanquish, and endured the emotional incompetence of Gears of War, so I feel like I’ve run the gauntlet of bad videogame stories and come out the other side with my sanity mostly intact.

Hard Reset, however, elevates poor storytelling to an artform—though, fortunately, it doesn’t make the game any less fun.

Review Hard Reset
The truth? I played this game for five hours, observed all the cut scenes, listened to all the dialogue, and here’s what I can tell you: there are robots, and you fight them.

There’s some kind of larger narrative at work here, but I can’t tell you what it is. Nothing makes any particular sort of sense, except the most basic of instructions, like “Shoot that generator in order to move forward.”

The player is some kind of cop in an awful, unpleasant future, and he’s required to blast lots of robots and will eventually rogue because… well, who knows.

What’s important is the robot blasting. That’s what this game is: blast the robots. In fact, I’ve devised a flowchart to educate you on the gameplay experience of Hard Reset:

Review Hard Reset
For the task of blasting, Fletcher—the gruff protagonist—is afforded two weapons. That may seem like not a lot of guns, until it’s revealed that Fletcher’s two guns are actually ten guns, just waiting to be unleashed through the game’s progression system.

Fletcher, through enemy blasting and the searching of the world, acquires points that can be spent at upgrade terminals. The terminal offers Fletcher the opportunity to upgrade his combat equipment and his two weapons, either to incorporate new weapon modes, secondary firing options, or enhanced munitions.

The options are robust, providing rifles, plasma grenade launchers, and weapons I don’t even have names for—all of which include particular advantages for fighting the robot horde.

Make no mistake, they’re advantages you’re going to need, because your options in combat are limited. If you take a moment to review the provided flowchart, you may notice that nowhere on the chart does “Take cover” or “Regenerate health” appear.

This is because Hard Reset is a decidedly old school experience. Fletcher can strafe, Fletcher can jump, and… nothing else. If you thought perhaps you might duck behind a car and wait for your health to restore itself, you’re in for a rude awakening—because, guess what? You can’t even crouch. Fletcher does have a regenerating shield, but its usefulness is miniscule—especially since, once the battle begins, the fighting doesn’t stop till it’s over.

Enemies are numerous, tough, and they charge the player like mad bulls from every direction. Every battle is a frantic, strafe-happy melee where the player must somehow weave his way through the sea of enemies, firing madly and surviving their brutal attacks only by the littering of health and ammo pick-ups left by their corpses.

Review Hard Reset
What’s more, the environment is dangerous—but it’s dangerous to both parties. The city is overflowing with terminals, generators, cars and other volatile objects that can and will be detonated by the immense battles. Walls collapse, tanks explode, and electronic devices spew bolts of lightning across the streets, battering enemies and the player alike.

The enemy encounters become so chaotic that it can be difficult to discern which threats are coming from which party, and there’s a fantastic sense of visceral interaction here. This is bolstered by a cool physics system that sees enemies and environmental objects crunching and shattering in a grimly satisfying way.

As the flowchart suggests, though, this is more or less the whole of Hard Reset. You’ll move from environment to environment, smashing metal bodies and collecting experience points, upgrade, and move on. If you’re looking for any of the trappings of modern shooters—like vehicles, turret sequences, or set-pieces—you won’t find them here. Hard Reset owes more to Doom than it does to Halo, even featuring an old school post-mission statistic screen, where you can learn exactly how miserably you performed.

Besides pure shooting, Hard Reset’s other offering is some truly exceptional art design. In stark contrast to the authentic, realistic future-world of Deus Ex, Hard Reset paints a grim, cartoonish caricature of the future—a grey and neon world where massive machines churn in the distance, airships hover overhead, and buildings stacked upon buildings ascend endlessly and blot out the sky.

In the streets, automated terminals ask Fletcher to buy things, and beg, bargain, or berate him when he moves on; advertisements for strip clubs and propaganda posters decrying deregulated prostitution litter the world; there’s always something to look at, and it’s always something awesome.

Your hardened battle through the cyberpunk streets will run about four or five hours, though your playthrough may also be extended by the game’s crushing difficulty.

Review Hard Reset
I expect many players are not prepared to suddenly find themselves playing a game that isn’t designed to hold your hand all the way to victory. Most of the time, this difficulty is of the “challenging” variety, rather than the “unfair” variety; it is simply necessary to understand the flow and groove of gameplay (and the ideal application of weapons) to achieve victory—but that’s not always the case.

There remain some significant trouble spots. I found it was far too easy to be cornered by enemies—literally, to be trapped in a corner with no way out. Larger enemies would simply plow me into a wall and hold me there, beating me to death. Additionally, annoying ankle-biters are too common, leading to some situations where a toaster nipping at your heels unnoticed during a frantic battle can spell doom.

Meanwhile, the same mechanic that makes Hard Reset fun can also make it aggravating, with the interplay between Fletcher’s weapons, the environment, and the enemies sometimes draining the player’s health so quickly as to be somewhat baffling. It’s extremely possible to drop from full health to completely dead in less than three seconds, leading to some truly frustrating situations.

Another hiccup is that, because all ten weapons are reconfigured from the original two, it’s easy to confuse which gun, exactly, you’ve equipped in the heat of battle. While the idea of guns transforming into other guns has some novelty—and is something games like Metroid Prime have done well—the design work just doesn’t cut it here.

At the end of the day, Hard Reset is a flawed product, but still a fun one. There’s definitely something here for old school PC gamers looking for the sort of pure-shooter that has long since gone out of style in the industry, while those who aren’t familiar with the days of Doom may find the experience a little overwhelming in terms of difficulty.

Bottom line: don’t come to Hard Reset looking for a grand opus or fulfilling narrative, but if you’ve got a hankering for robot blasting in a really cool looking world, you’ll probably have a blast here.

Flying Wild Hog




Release Date
September 13, 2011


*A copy of this title was provided by the developer for review

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