Developer: Flying Wild Hog
When a bunch of Painkiller and Witcher developers collaborate on a cyberpunk balls-to-the-wall shooter, you know that the end result is going to be a bit special. Not to mention all kinds of insane. 2011 has been a sensational year for indie games with an incredible lineup of innovative new experiences, but Hard Reset is that rarest of beasts: an independent FPS based on the old school values of blowing loads of stuff up with massive awesome guns. Serious Sam and Painkiller both subscribe to this hardcore mentality (and mentalism)... and Hard Reset is definitely brutal enough to hang out with the big boys.
As corporate fixer Major Fletcher, players will delve into a gritty cyberpunk world, unravel a conspiracy and generally slaughter everything that moves. Hard Reset throws hordes of ravening robots at you at every oppotunity, with scythe-bladed automatons, eerie cyborgs and massive gorilla-esque combatants descending on you from all angles and trying to separate you from your internal organs. The action revolves around furiously circle strafing, corralling enemies into groups and brutally pressing the advantage, and it's gloriously, refreshingly, wonderfully intense. Standing still for even a second can mean certain death, but awakening your dormant old-school FPS skills leads to a pulse-pounding dance of destruction. As you'd expect, there are also a number of truly titanic bosses to contend with. The environments teem with explosive items to destroy multiple enemies with as well as copious numbers of secrets to find, brought to life by a bespoke engine that makes the experience crackle and surge with enormous explosions, fountains of debris and gratuitous, outrageous carnage.
It's worth discussing the engine in more detail before we go any further. Hard Reset is capable of rendering dozens of simultaneous enemies at high or ultra graphics settings without any hint of slowdown or chugging even on medium-spec gaming rigs, along with some fantastic lighting, physics and particle effects. Naturally it pales in comparison to some of this years biggest FPS properties, but compensates by being incredibly stable. Seriously, I was able to Alt-Tab between multiple applications without incurring any drop in performance, and for a game that prioritises fast-paced action, Flying Wild Hog's priorities are spot on.
Killing enemies and collecting secrets rewards you with Nano: experience of sorts that occasionally rewards you with upgrade points. These tokens can be exchanged for new weapons, improvements, secondary fire modes and survivability improvements; providing you with a constantly-evolving (and epic) arsenal of machineguns, energy weapons, mortars and rocket launchers that can be tailored to the way you play. In an interesting twist, however, your weapons only draw on two ammo reserves - bullets and NRG - and these two ammo types can be switched between with the Q and E keys in order to access their respective firearms. It's a neat idea that stops you juggling lots of different ammo types... but can be a bit fiddly to switch between as changing to an alternate ammo source requires an extra key press.
The story is fairly entertaining as far as it goes. Major Fletcher's adventure is stereotypical sweary cyberpunk nonsense at its least inspired, but luckily it doesn't impinge on the gameplay. On the contrary, the plot is delivered through animated comic book cutscenes that resemble the work of Ashley Wood. The gritty visual style complements the tone of the game very nicely indeed, though the voice acting leaves much to be desired.
It's time to take the mechanised bull by the horns: this is not an easy game. It's not designed to be. Hard Reset will punish you with insane, ridiculous swathes of truly terrifying enemies - with their sheer ferocity proving to be just as challenging as their raw numbers. Reflexes and circle-strafing skills will be pushed to their limits, but the experience never feels cheap or unfair. You'll consistently feel like an utter badass thanks to the epic weaponry and the gratuitous level of visual feedback, not a pathetic weakling.
The difficulty is amplified by a conscious design decision that Flying Wild Hog made early in the development process. Hard Reset doesn't support quicksaving or manual saves, instead relying on a checkpoint system in line with modern shooters. Community forums buzz with furious debate about whether this decision somehow panders to console players or provides a cheap and lazy way of increasing the level of challenge - and it's certainly galling to replay entire lengthy boss fights after falling at the final hurdle. In this reviewer's opinion, the absence of quicksaving doesn't negatively affect the game in any meaningful way, but a save/load menu would have been appropriate due to the persistent upgrade system. Having to lose a huge amount of nano points and even entire upgrades upon death is absolutely gutting, and the ability to try out weapons before deciding to spend your hard earned cash would severely reduce the level of frustration. The hassle of manually saving and loading would stop players relying on the feature every few seconds, and let's face it, we've all got to leave abruptly or suffer from power cuts every once in a while.
In terms of real problems, then, Hard Reset's only major drawback is repetition - but not in the way you might expect. There's nothing wrong with a game focusing on one thing and doing it well (in this case, the combat), and we actually prefer games to capitalise on their strengths rather than diluting the experience with half-baked gameplay elements. However, the limited variety of enemies and their attack strategies make the experience feel much more repetitious than it actually is, and a handful more adversaries would have gone a long way towards remedying it.
The campaign can be completed in as little as four hours on its easiest difficulty, but most players will need double that in order to contend with the increased challenge of the default setting as well as finding time to locate all of the secrets. A new game plus mode allows upgrades to be carried between playthroughs, making for substantially increased replayability. Considering the budget price, I'm convinced that Hard Reset offers appropriate value for money.
After all, chances are that you'll play it more than once just for the sheer, bonkers, brilliant hell of the whole thing.
- Intense, wonderful carnage
- Excellent weapon selection
- Outstanding - and stable - bespoke engine
- Lacks enemy variety
- Fiddly weapon switching
- Occasionally frustrating
The Short Version: Hard Reset is an uncompromising, unforgiving and unbelievably outrageous FPS experience. If modern shooters haven't been scratching your itch for unbridled destruction, this the reboot you've been craving.
Note: I am reliably informed that it's possible to bind a quicksave key using the in-game console, but I personally couldn't get the review build to recognise the "save" command. Not only that, but these saves would technically overwrite the level checkpoints and potentially create dead games (i.e. situations so dire that you'll have to start the level from scratch). Do so at your peril.