Hard Reset Review
It’s very rare to come across shooters quite as old school as Hard Reset these days, but when you look at its pedigree it’s not entirely a surprise. Polish developer Flying Wild Hog is comprised of former members of developers People Can Fly and CD Project Red who were responsible for games like Painkiller, Bulletstorm and The Witcher 2.
It’s always interesting when you know a little about the heritage of a game and sort-of-like family DNA, can see traits leaking through. In the case of Hard Reset it’s left us with a frantically fun but flawed twitch shooter that’s an impressively atmospheric throwback to the likes of Serious Sam and Painkiller from the nineties shooter scene.
Even its name – Hard Reset – evokes a mid-nineties action movie vibe – it wouldn’t feel strange if it had a ‘starring Jean Claude Van Damme’ tagline.
That’s especially fitting given how its lead character cyborg detective, Major James Fletcher, talks like a straight-to-video action hero as he traverses the cyberpunk megacity of Bezoar.
Quite why he’s fighting this invading army of malfunctioning robots is a murky tale told in cool looking comic book cut-scenes that get crazier as the game progresses.
To say that Hard Reset aesthetically pays homage to Blade Runner would be something of an understatement. Its brooding neon city skylines, deep dark alleyways lined with flashing vending machines and various tech-filled warehouses are overflowing with cyberpunk style, but anyone expecting the sort of deep ethical navel gazing of a Deus Ex: Human Revolution is barking up the wrong tree.
Hard Reset isn’t really about story. This beautiful, dark world and the impressive engine that drives it are all here to support its hard paced pyrotechnic and explosive shooting.
Make no mistake, this is a very traditional sort of shooter: as you gather ammo and health packs scattered in its corridor style levels, and fend off waves of robot foes that come relentlessly at you.
Hard Reset prides itself on frantic blasting action and isn’t afraid of being tough as nails. Thankfully you’ve a wide set of tools to survive with, and Hard Reset’s approach to weapons is almost sandbox-like as your two transforming guns each have five types they morph into.
The game’s bespoke engine really is stunning.
The kinetic based CLN changes into an Assault rifle, Shotgun, Grenade launcher, Proximity mine gun and Rocket launcher, while your NRG energy based gun is a rapid Plasma rifle, Shock Blaster , Electric Morter, homing Smart Gun and Railgun.
You also have combat equipment that increases your health or enables you to slow down time when injured to survive until you can grab the next health pack.
Each gun or piece of equipment, bar the basic assault rifle and plasma gun, has to be unlocked, and all have three upgrades apiece. These can be bought at upgrade stations using NANO points, which are scattered around levels or gained by spectacularly killing enemies. It’s an upgrade system that eventually lets you tailor your tool kit, and is fun to explore but can feel quite limited early on.
But for all the crazy weapons you have in Hard Reset none quite match the explosive environment around you. Every area is crammed with things for you to shoot that will decimate foes: explosive barrels that shatter robots to bits as they go up, electrical junction boxes that send arcs of electrical current into robot crowds, signs and rubble that will drop on their head.
The physics engine in Hard Reset is an impressive one, with key bits of the world being destructible. Mastering the art of environmental destruction is key, because your various robot foes are tough, and when they swarm you mere weapon damage often isn’t enough to thin the metallic horde.
Shooting then becomes all about switching between the various weapons you’ve unlocked and using the environment to destroy foes. Swathes of those horrible rotor blade bots swarming you? Switch to shotgun at short range or blow up a nearby junction box.
Missile bots firing at you from a high vantage point? A steady stream of cumulative plasma fire should do the job, and of course, when you have a big bad charging robot barrelling down at you nothing beats a niffy side step and a chunky rocket in it’s back.
What’s great about Hard Reset is that you pretty much throw the concept of reloading out of the window, all you need to do is make sure you have ammo and you can keep firing.
It makes for an intense experience that doesn’t let up, and when you’re caught up in the moment it’s fine, but that ‘in the zone’ feeling does wear thin.
Using the environment around you as a weapon is often the only way to survive.
There aren’t a great many robot types and as you get deeper into the game it just throws more of the ones you’ve encountered at you, often in overwhelming numbers. Hard Reset has no quick save feature, which seems very unusual for a PC game of this style, and many of its console style check points are a little frustrating.
You find yourself learning the patterns of the enemies each time you die, (they’re always the same) almost as if this were a scrolling shooter, and that can be addictive, but eventually gets a little grinding.
That’s especially true later on, when some of the scripted events can lead to instant deaths, and while boss fights are visually impressive there were times it reminds you of perhaps why many developers have abandoned the boss concept.
Let’s just say, if you haven’t kept up your circle strafing skills honed you’re done for in Hard Reset. Every game has an element of repetition in it’s play, the trick is making those mechanics engaging and breaking them up, but Hard Reset doesn’t quite have enough variety to manage that, and while levels are well designed they’re extremely linear.
That said, while Hard Reset is a bit of a one trick pony it does that trick quite well, and looks really good doing it. An increasing number of PC gamers are hooking up their PC’s to large screen TV’s to take advantage of the graphics their rigs can pump out so it makes sense that Flying Wild Hog included support for the Xbox controller in its game. We can attest to the fact that if any game was worthy of being big screen treatment it’s Hard Reset.
While Hard Reset is an enjoyable experience, it often feels like an impressive tech demo, especially with it’s raft of environmental and physics based effects. We really do hope Flying Wild Hog licences out its tech.
It’s an amazing engine, especially given its ability to shine so impressively even on mid-range systems, but Hard Reset’s game play range isn’t quite up to the standard of its engine and aesthetics. But for all its flaws there’s plenty to admire and enjoy here if you just want a brief old school adrenaline rush and fireworks galore.