When reviewing a game it is important not to make superficial judgements, but the blurb to Hard Reset almost had me committing this cardinal sin of criticism. The thing reads like the synopsis to a hammy B-movie and made me think it would be yet another clichéd space marine romp. My gut reaction was partially correct, but Hard Reset is one of those odd titles that is able to somewhat escape its lacking premise through a rather excellent execution. There are certainly a few niggles and the initially weak concept does limit the game’s potential, but there is just enough good in Hard Reset’s presentation to make it worth playing for retro FPS fans.
Set in the distant future, Hard Reset takes place in Bezoar, the last sheltered human city on earth. A robotic menace has wiped out all other human life and is hell bent on taking humanity’s last bastion. The game casts you as a soldier for a private defence company who must defend humanity from the robot forces. It’s all very standard matrix rip-off minus the goofy coats and slo-mo, and the plot generally fails to evolve from the humans vs. mechs paradigm. What few plot bits occur are confusing and haphazard at best but, as with a large proportion of Hard Reset, the execution picks up where the ideas fall flat. Conveyed through highly stylized comic book panels, the cut-scenes are carried by smooth drawings and competent voice acting and they’re generally a joy to watch, even if I had no idea why I was supposed to care about any of the characters on screen.
In a game like Hard Reset though, the story is largely just for completion’s sake. Indeed, the main pull here is the shooting, and it has classic written all over. Much like Painkiller (which shares some of its development talent with HR), Hard Reset is a retro shooter that pits you against a horde of bots so fast and plentiful that it will probably induce motion sickness in the weak of constitution. It makes for a fast and furious game that is as satisfying as it is brutal.
The sad thing however is that the novelty wears off rather quickly. It’s refreshing to see the genre taken back to its roots, but many of the frustrating elements of the retro FPS are sadly present as a result. The streets of Bezoar are littered with explosive canisters and lightning spewing kiosks that, whilst helpful and satisfying when timed right, can easily destroy your health reserves when the chaos starts mounting. Likewise, the enemy spamming elements often give Hard Reset an eclectic difficulty. Some corridors will let you pick off the legion of freshly spawned enemies from complete safety, whilst other more winding catwalks will see you pincered and blocked in a matter of seconds with no hope of survival. I’m not sure whether it was the level design or the sheer quantity of enemies thrown your way later in the game, but there were certainly some serious spikes in difficulty throughout that made the whole experience rather uncomfortable.
The main problems with the retro style, however, are in the quantity. The game is just very short, lasting barely a single afternoon on anything below the hardest difficulty setting. As fun as the secret areas hidden in each map are, there is also no incentive for going through it a second time in spite of them, and the lack of multiplayer really makes HR a one trick pony. The Extended Edition offers a few hours of extra content with all new upgrades and enemies, but the lifespan of the game still remains below average. The new content is also not plentiful enough to be worth a second purchase for those who have played the original.
The variety of the game is also a serious issue. With only a handful of enemy types and a measly two guns, it’s very easy to get a sense of deja vu within minutes. The two guns are bolstered by a robust upgrade system, but the upgrades for the two guns are largely identical, so expect to have two of every type of conceivable attachment by the game’s end. It certainly streamlines inventory management, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of variety. The game’s bosses (the final one in particular) are definitely highlights that break from the norm, but they are too few and far between to prevent the rest of the game from feeling like a bit of a chore at times.
One thing Hard Reset manages to do unquestionably well is paint a pretty picture. The visuals are top notch, with the smooth animations complementing the game’s speedy mechanics effectively. The city of Bezoar is equally impressive with a fantastic atmosphere and attention to detail, even if it looks a little too Bladerunner for its own good at points. The music is similar, dynamically adapting to fuse with the on-screen action majestically, but also failing to rid itself of clichéd sci-fi dogma. Well executed stereotypes thus become the order of the day with HR but, whilst the technical excellence of the game is exciting at first, the lack of original ideas wears thin eventually.
Without wishing to decry the many things Hard Reset does well, it is sadly a game that feels ultimately premature. Whilst the initial hour of gameplay is refreshing, retro and comfortably familiar, this feeling of well crafted nostalgia later deteriorates to a feeling of repetition and shallow gunplay. The Extended Edition certainly helps to bulk out the package, but it is still not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The style is there, but the game just isn’t substantial enough to truly be worth the asking price, even in spite of the clear technical excellence and attention to detail that has gone into creating the city of Bezoar.
This game was review on PC.
Fast and furious, Beautiful visuals, Smooth gameplay, Solid upgrade system, Well placed secret areas, New content is a bonus
Very repetitive, Only two weapons, Eclectic difficulty, Average music, Ramshackle plot, Not much lifespan, New content does little for owners of the original game
Modelling itself liberally upon retro shooters like Quake and Doom, Hard Reset is refreshingly old-school, but sadly retains many of the frustrating elements of the classic FPS. Its execution far eclipses its premise, leading to a shooter romp that is very much a case of style over substance