(PC Review) Hard Reset: Extended Edition

Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Flying Wild Hog
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: Philip Smith

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Minimum Requirements:
Win XP/Vista/7, P4 2.5 GHz or AMD Athlon 64, 2GB RAM, GeForce 8800GS/Radeon HD 3870 with 512MB RAM, 4 GB free hard drive space

Hard Reset, the first release from Poland-based Flying Wild Hog, is an old-school run-and-gun first-person shooter that embraces a dystopian template and arcade sensibilities. Set in the midst of a robot assault on The Sanctuary, a network home to the consciousness of billions of humans, you take on the role of Major Fletcher, a hard-nosed one-man army who sets out to stop the automaton onslaught in the only human city left standing, Bezoar. As you make your way through the wreckage and debris, battling all manner of robots and upgrading your kit, you will come to realize that the game has more to offer than just the admittedly gorgeous colorful explosions.

In many ways, Hard Reset is similar to People Can Fly’s Bulletstorm. Both titles rely on a style of design that focuses on fast, in-your-face action and a basic cutscene-driven narrative, as opposed to the new wave of shooters and their emphases on cover-based mechanics and highly charged, evocative storylines. The de-emphasis on narrative has allowed the studios to make the action itself the star of the show, which they achieved by embracing arcade-style scoring mechanics that keep your focus on not only surviving the steady stream of deadly encounters, but also on improving your performance.

Upgradable weapons mean that you always have to adapt to an evolving arsenal, as well as serve as an incentive for you to hunt around and brave possible ambushes in order to earn extra N.A.N.O. to push the upgrade meter up a level. Limiting the weapon count to two—the Swiss Army Knife-like CLN Firearm and N.R.G. Weapon—has the upside of allowing for multiple upgrade paths and capabilities without being overwhelming. However, the big difference between Bulletstorm and Hard Reset is that while the former focused on the lasso, a weapon that rewards practice in a number of ways, the latter forgoes an additional hook and instead focuses on the environment and how to best utilize it in order to do as much damage as quickly and as painlessly as possible. And while, in the end, People Can Fly managed to create a more engaging system, Hard Rest is a strong first effort from a new studio.

It isn’t just that the environment invites destruction that makes the five-hour campaign enjoyable, it’s how that destructibility plays into all aspects of the design, from the weapon and weapon upgrades, character upgrades, and myriad secret areas. The level design is often good, with passages feeding into areas where encounters are set alongside carefully placed environmental hazards, allowing for the clever use of the conspicuously omnipresent gas canisters, explosive barrels, and wall-mounted electrical outlets and pressure valves to make short work of the ruthless waves of saw-blade-sporting bi-pod bots and rocket-toting cyborgs. Other times, however, the design eschews the benefits of pre-planning and careful shots altogether in favor of all-out mayhem, which, given the screen-filling explosions and sparks, is often less exciting than the tense moments leading up to that one shot that wipes out a half dozen enemies. Bulldozing through the chaos has its upsides, but the adrenaline-fueled carnage that sporadically erupts is only fully appreciated when there is enough room to maneuver and sufficient enemy variety—criteria that isn’t always met. But more often than not, the sudden spikes of action are matched nicely against well-placed lethal objects of opportunity that reward observant players.

One of the most noticeable elements about Hard Reset is its wonderful visuals. The dark, futuristic Blade Runner-styled world, filled with hologram-emitting kiosks flashing advertisements on the streets and bescreened blimps filling the skies, is quite a sight. Unfortunately, there isn’t much life, or the appearance of it. This isn’t necessarily surprising given the story, but the near-total absence of any vestige of humanity in man’s last city, aside from wrecked cars, the random vehicle flying overhead, and the trash littering the streets, makes the world feel less like a city under siege and more like a series of carefully staged setpieces. There are bright moments, though, such as the cleaning bots whirring and zipping around as they go about their business, and humorous billboards advertising more exotic products.

But the most welcomed kiosks are the Upgrade Terminals. These handy stations allow you to trade in accumulated N.A.N.O. levels, attained by gathering this resource from defeated enemies and numerous cases scattered around the levels, for a new CLG Firearm, N.R.G. Weapon, or Combat Gear upgrade. Each gun has five different forms, and each form has several upgrades. The CLG Firearm is an assault rifle that can switch between a shotgun, grenade launcher, rocket launcher, and proximity-mine layer. The N.R.G. Weapon allows for a more exotic arsenal, with the plasma rifle capable of switching to a shock blaster, electric mortar, railgun, and smartgun. Combat Gear adds a scanner, a near-death enhanced mode, and additional health, shield, and ammo capacity. With the various upgrades, which consist of such augments as secondary fire options, increased regeneration speed, and magnetized rounds, there is plenty to spend your N.A.N.O. on—so much so that you’ll have to play the post-game EX mode to unlock everything. The chosen weapon sets not only determine how enemies are handled but also how secret areas are accessed, since there is no crouch, only the ability to jump and walls with spots susceptible to explosives. Ricocheting a grenade around obstacles is often the best way to get your hands on that extra health or ammo pack, and it’s always nice to up the N.A.N.O. count by stumbling upon a secret stash while having the right gear at the right time.

Another way in which the action is emphasized is that ammo and shield regeneration is heavily supplemented by canisters dropped by enemies. The various weapon types drain the ammo count depending on the ammunition being fired, which serves as a strong impetus to not only search about for secret areas but engage enemies as smartly as possible to ensure there are no untimely shortages. No one wants to hear the clicking of an empty chamber whenever a rocket is blazing head-on.

While the action manages to maintain a fairly steady note throughout, the story does wane a bit. Despite the game being fairly short, and the premise of rampaging robots being generally awesome, it didn’t take long before the cutscenes faded in the background as gruff men talk gruffly about gruff-sounding things—”gruff things” involving robots and their determined efforts to crush mankind, mind you, but forgettable all the same.

In addition to the campaign, there is the Horde-style Survival Mode. A handful of maps pit Fletcher against increasingly difficult waves of enemies, with only brief respites allowing for upgrading of gear and weapons. The only downsides to facing the merciless gauntlets are the lack of support for multiplayer and limited enemy variety. Without someone to share the trials with, or the momentum of progression to move things along and switch things up, the endless stream of enemies only reinforces how few enemy bot types there actually are in the base campaign. But as with most modes of this type, and especially in a game that loves scores as much as Hard Reset, Survival provides a nice draw to return to the game for a few more rounds after completing the story.

However, there’s a bit more to Hard Reset now, and that’s because this review is based on a new release of the downloadable version that includes the Exile DLC, which is the additional content from the Extended Edition boxed retail release. The pack includes new enemies, a new boss, new survival maps, and four new levels that take place outside Bezoar. Unfortunately, multiplayer wasn’t added, leaving the game a single-player-only affair. While the campaign doesn’t seem entirely compatible with co-op, and versus might well have turned out be fairly standard, if not enjoyable for a while, the lack of co-op survival is a real shame.

Hard Reset is a traditional shooter that should appeal to fans of run-and-gun gameplay. Numerous environmental hazards and weapon loadouts help to keep things interesting, and the included Exile DLC content beefs up the short campaign and limited enemy count. It’s still not terribly long, and while Survival Mode adds some longevity, as does the post-game EX mode, the lack of any multiplayer means your jaunt as Major Fletcher will be a relatively short one. Fortunately, the $14.99 asking price helps to temper some of the disappointment. I’m definitely looking forward to what Flying Wild Hog has in store for the future.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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