Developer: Flying Wild Hog / Publisher: Flying Wild Hog / ESRB: NA / Price: $29.99 / Played On: PC
If I told you Hard Reset’s development team, Flying Wild Hog, is made up of former members of People Can Fly (Painkiller, Bulletstorm) and CD Projekt (The Witcher) you might start to understand what kind of game it is. An unapologetically old school shooter, Hard Reset is, in many ways, a throwback to the way games were but with enough modern trappings to keep it fresh.
Like the PC shooter elders that are its clear inspiration, Hard Reset keeps its storytelling quick and simple. Basically, you’re a cyberpunk dude in a sweet cyberpunk world armed with cool cyberpunk weapons. There are robots that need blowing up and Internets that need saving. Comic book style cut scenes are delivered between each level and are filled with so much abstract technobabble it’s pretty impossible to keep track of the actual events of Hard Reset. Luckily, understanding what’s going on isn’t as integral to the experience as playing the game.
The first-person shooter genre has evolved since DOOM but Hard Reset doesn’t seem to care. It’s a fast-paced, old-school PC game. It has secret rooms and levels that end with screens scoring your performance. There’s no reloading, no regenerating health, and, at some points, it’s insanely difficult. Really, your only objective is to destroy lots of robots and, in doing so, cause lots of explosions. One properly placed bullet into an exploding barrel or electrified computer terminal can initiate an orchestrated chain reaction of explosions that’s both magnificently beautiful and conveniently destructive, even if it can cause the frame rate to plummet dramatically. Hard Reset is an entirely one-note experience. No puzzles or turret sequences break up the action. It’s just shooting shit in the face.
There are some welcome modern features in Hard Reset though. You only carry two weapons: an energy pistol and a traditional assault rifle. However, each weapon has multiple forms. As you progress you pick up and earn NANO, which acts as the game’s experience points. It allows you to install and upgrade your weapons with various modifications. For example, your assault rifle can transform into a shotgun. Or a rocket launcher. Your plasma rifle can drop an energy field that stops enemy robots in their tracks or launch electric motors. I kept experimenting to find the most effective weapon upgrades for a given situation, which ensured combat was fresh and I was motivated to reach the next upgrade station.
Hard Reset is a short game. Like, really short. According to the in-game timer, my first playthrough took me less than four hours to complete. That being said, the four difficulty settings and fact that you can’t acquire every single upgrade in one playthrough should be motivation enough to attempt complete the game more than once.
Hard Reset’s setting is ripped straight from the head of William Gibson or Phillip K. Dick. The city’s dark, grungy architecture is beautifully contrasted by the excessive use of neon lights. Big glowing advertisements and bright, futuristic-looking computer terminals blanket the city. I’m a sucker for this kind of cyberpunk look; I mean Blade Runner is my favorite movie of all time.
Hard Reset looks so good that a less knowledgeable person might accidentally peg the game as from a much larger developer. Flying Wild Hog’s proprietary dynamic lighting engine looks fantastic. And small touches like the way your guns animate when switching from one form to another or the fidelity of a scampering robot do a lot to bring this world to life. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this is a game from a small Polish developer.
Hard Reset obviously uses a keyboard and mouse but it also supports the use of an Xbox 360 controller. I often find the 360 controllers to be more ergonomic and comfortable, but the fast-paced nature of this particular game lends itself much better to the traditional PC controls of a mouse and keyboard.
A few technical hiccups here and there, a super-short campaign, and an almost nonexistent story weren’t enough to hinder my enjoyment of Hard Reset. I’m always pensive about games that attempt to recreate the feel of a much older game. Oftentimes even nostalgia isn’t enough to overlook archaic game design but Hard Reset manages to strike a perfect balance that old and new school players alike will appreciate.