At the turn of the millennium the first-person shooter (FPS) genre showed signs of maturing with games being released with much more sophisticated AI, an increased focus on setting and story, and fancy new physics based engines that introduced new bombastic gameplay elements into the genre. With this new direction that now sees the biggest titles in the genre sporting realistic looking environments, weapons, and engaging stories, any game that opts to focus solely on action and a skill set perfected by the Quake series, is immediately classed as an ‘old school’ shooter.
That is, a game for those of us who played Doom II on a 386 or 486 based computer in the early 90’s, through to early dial-up multiplayer sessions of Quake a few years later -- games that relied on quick reflexes, circle strafing, jumping, and a lot of running backwards. Hard Reset falls into this category, and does so quite cleverly. Its budget price puts it somewhere between a big studio release and small independently developed game one might find on Steam or Xbox Live Arcade.
As an ‘old school’ shooter for the PC, from a pedigree of developers who worked on some great games within and outside the genre (such as Painkiller, Bulletstorm and The Witcher) Hard Reset is highly enticing, even as a single-player only experience.
Running on its own proprietary engine, sporting some great futuristic cyberpunk-style visuals, Hard Reset is a game focused solely on action. And although the level design follows a very tried and tested corridor based approach that is linear to a fault, it thankfully features an interactive environment and selection of weaponry that places the game firmly in this century.
Taking place sometime in the future, in a fictional city with a fictionally stupid name (Bazoa, or something) the story is centred on AI and robots going crazy (or something), with the main protagonist sent to basically take care of the situation – as an elite government agent.. or something. Presented in the similar graphic novel style first made popular with the Max Payne series, the story itself makes little sense and seems to feature a ridiculous amount of technical jargon about matrices, assimilation, and other such nonsense. Funnily, the main character seems to be just as confused as he can most likely be found shouting profanity or calling the situation “a load of bullshit” before taking to arms to rid the next section of robotic enemies.
Immediately your first encounter within the game will be with a group of enemies that is not only larger than you might expect, but they also move faster, come in multiple sizes and can bring an abrupt end to your stroll through the night-time neon lit dystopian city streets of Bladerunner-ville. It’s here that you’ll notice a lot of environmental objects to shoot -- some that explode in an isolated incident of debris, fire and heat and some that cause a chain reaction of screen shaking chaos (best to keep your distance when these occur). Other objects also serve to shoot out Emperor Palpatine-style lightning bolts to freeze robots in their tracks -- which would no doubt scream out “father, please!” if they had voices.
Surviving the first few waves within the game is no easy feat, as the skill set required is most likely dormant in most modern gamers and may need re-awakening. We’re talking circle strafing, jumping, running backward, changing weapons, running for ammo and health drops -- all good stuff. And although shooting stuff to make them explode is a key component of most encounters, thankfully environmental damage serves as a mere helping hand, with most outcomes relying on how to best use the weapons at your disposal.
Unlike most contemporary shooters, Hard Reset thankfully allows you to carry a rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, plasma beam weapon and many more kill-things all at the same time (imagine that!), even though there are only two basic weapon shells. All the weapons found within Hard Reset are classified as either projectile or energy based with upgrades serving as new weapon modes on either of the two primary weapons. This means that the grenade or rocket launcher is an upgrade or different weapon mode of the existing rifle, utilising the same ammunition albeit a lot more of it. So technically, it’s a modern two weapon system, but one with an additional 10 weapons thrown in to keep you happy.
It’s a great forward thinking approach as players earn a type of XP with each kill or by picking up glowing orange orbs, that can then be spent to purchase a single upgrade each time your character sort-of “level ups”. The only downside being that switching between weapons can be a process of timed keystrokes, and spinning mouse wheels. Clearly there’s nothing really “old school” about this approach but it allows for new weapons and abilities to be purchased based on a players’ particular play style and helps keep the game feel fresh through its relatively short run time.
But the best thing about the quasi-XP system is that it allows weapon purchases and upgrades to be tailored to specific play styles that are readily comparable to those one might use when playing Quake. Any game purporting to offer ‘old school’ shooting fun needs to get the weaponry right and Hard Reset doesn’t disappoint. The grenade launcher has a secondary fire upgrade that allows you to throw out a gravity grenade of sorts that sucks up all nearby robots allowing you to take out a group of enemies with a single well placed grenade shot.
In Hard Reset, certain weapons are more suitable for smaller enemies, such as the lightning bolt type blaster that shoots out a field of electricity that makes any swarm of power-saw wielding tiny robots short circuit. Other weapons such as the aforementioned grenade launcher or the never endingly awesome rail gun that lets you shoot through walls are better suited for the larger bulkier robots who can also pack a punch both in firepower and in their ability to charge at you like a crack head spotting some fallen pocket change.
Hard Reset is not an easy game, and is clearly designed to appeal to the more hardcore shooter crowd with a ‘hard’ mode that more than lives up to its namesake. The game however doesn’t offer the player the ability to save their progress and instead implements a checkpoint system that may deter players early on. Its implementation for the most part is handled quite well, but does result in a lot of replaying of sections that tests memory, in terms of where and how you’ll get ambushed, as well as overall skill.
Apart from the overly long boss battles with no mid-point checkpoints, the fact that by the end of your time with Hard Reset you’ll be an expert in disposing of endless waves of robots without having to replay as many sections as earlier on, speaks in favour of this approach. In other words you won’t be reloading quick saves when battles don’t go your way, so man up and stop being such a pussy.
But it’s a shame that the developer didn’t include a multiplayer mode, as the replay-ability outside of trying different weapons and tactics, is certainly not all that it could be. As a PC exclusive with a price that is directly proportionate to the time and fun you’ll get out of the game, and one that runs smooth no matter what is happening on screen, Hard Reset comes highly recommended. Just remember that in some cases, the way forward is to run backwards.