Written by  :  ponzo (85)
Written on  :  Aug 10, 2012

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Fun, but short and shallow

The Good

Advertised as an old-school shooter, Hard Reset is a fast-paced FPS that puts you in the role of a soldier, fighting against a robotic rebellion. The game is set in a gorgeous cyberpunk world, reminiscent of films like Blade Runner. Despite being made by an independent studio, the graphics look great: you walk your way through futuristic streets, metros and buildings, in a world filled with flying space ships, robots and explosive barrels. Speaking of explosions, the effects look amazing, with debris flying everywhere during the fights. The game oozes with atmosphere and you can see the attention to detail the developers have put in it. Despite its graphical prowess, the game runs very smoothly, although I have a fairly powerful machine and I'm not sure how well it scales.

While the plot of the game isn't anything to write home about, the presentation is what stands out: the story is told via animated comic style panels, shown in background while the level loads. You can skip them as soon as the loading is done, so it's not intrusive and it can simply be ignored. It reminded me a bit Max Payne's cutscenes.

The gameplay frantic. It's a brainless shooter in the style of Painkiller, without any of the modern fps-fads: no reloading, no crouching, no regenerating health. It's pure fast action, with a few puzzles thrown here and there: nothing too cerebral, mostly "press button to open door" or "blow up barrel to deactivate barrier" -- you can even activate hints, if you can't be bothered to think. The encounters are played by running around, shooting and avoiding projectiles and enemies. The game is challenging, and you're expected to die a lot, something that is missing from recent titles.

What sets Hard Reset apart from the likes of Painkiller or Serious Sam, is its weapon system. The game features only two weapons, but they can take different shapes and functions: shotgun, machine-gun, rocket-launcher, plasma gun and so on. These two weapons can be upgraded at upgrade machines (that work the same way as the terminals in Doom 3) to have alternate fire and different functions. The currency used for upgrades is XP, that can be earned either by killing enemies or by finding (not very) hidden XP caches. In fact the game puts back secret areas, as a nod to old-school FPSes (more on those later, in the "bad" section).

Hard Reset provides ways to kill your enemies using the environment, with lots of electric equipment lying around and the usual explosive barrels thrown in good measure. Most of the stuff you see can be blown up, exploding in a cloud of debris. Enemies attacks are either melee or projectile based, without annoying hit-scan enemies.

At the end of each level a stat screen is shown, giving a little replayability to the game, if you're into scores and achievements.

The Bad

Despite the nice presentation, the story is bland and confusing. The ending it's non-existent and it comes so abruptly after a boss battle, that I thought that it was just a loading screen and there would've been another level after it.

The two weapons gimmick, while cool at first, can be confusing. The shape-changing animations look great, but it's often difficult to tell one weapon mode from the other, because they all look too similar.

There are several design choices that I wasn't keen on. Despite its "old-school" inspiration, the game is ridden with modern days FPSes problems: the slow movements and low jump (leaving you not enough time to avoid enemies' attacks), the short length (approximately 5 hours?), the linear gameplay (so linear, that you can have a navigation arrow pointing you where to go next) with plenty of invisible walls, the checkpoint system and lack of quick-save, the annoying achievements pop-ups, the silly on-screen effects (blood, sprint) that cover the action making difficult to see, the huge weapons that cover half of the screen, the lack of modding tools (that in my opinion would've helped a lot).

Progress in the game feels very artificial: you go from one small arena through another, stopping for a press-a-button puzzles, and start again fighting. Unfortunately the way the game locks you in arenas feels very artificial, killing the impression of being in a futuristic city: you may be fighting in streets and skyscrapers, but the linearity of it makes them only feel like cramped levels. The secret areas are laughable, being most of the time in plain sight or very signposted. A far cry from the intelligent level design of Doom and Quake.

The graphic is great and very detailed, but it's sometimes detrimental to the gameplay. The environment often gets in your way and you end getting stuck on the props. Similarly, the explosions and distortions look great, but they can make enemies difficult to see.

The game lacks enemy varieties and your encounters are always based on the same kind of robots and no human enemies, which can bother some people (for me, it didn't matter). The most frequent enemies' strategy is to run at the player trying to hit him, which ends being frustrating because of your slow movement and lack of a melee attack. There are a few boss fights, that I found forgettable and boring -- but I'm not a big fan of boss fights in general.

Aside from the story and a swarm mode, there isn't much longevity in the game, without considering scores and achievements (which I'm not a big fan of).

The Bottom Line

In the end, Hard Reset is a fun game, if a bit shallow: aside from its great visuals and the weapon gimmick, it brings nothing new to the table. If you want a fast-paced arena-based shooter, you should go with Painkiller: longer, bigger variety of enemies, fun and different weapons. Hard Reset is a good time-waster for an evening, but it lacks longevity and enemies variety. unfortunately I think that all the talking about old school gaming did the game more harm than good, because it lacks on what made old games fun for me: the good level design and the pace. But it's a good start and I hope to see more from the developers.