Hard Reset is a new and original FPS from Flying Wild Hog that came seemingly out of nowhere. Announced just a few months before its release, the slick visuals and Blade Runner-esque vibe had many people, including me, very excited. The game does have some shining moments, but at its heart it is a very basic gaming experience and I found myself wanting more from the title.
One of my big issues with Hard Reset is the wasted potential that is its “story.” I use quotes because frankly there really is no story of note. The narrative portions of the game are told via basic semi-animated comic book cutscenes with laughable voiceovers. There are corporations, and some scientists, maybe, and robots in a sector that has gone crazy. As you play the missions themselves, you are directed loosely by a disembodied voice, presumably your commander, who tells you what needs to be done next.
This is a real shame because there is a stunning beauty to the game world that just aches for a story to bring it to life. Even the image of your character as you boot up the game is haunting. Why is he bleeding? Why does he have cybernetics? He seems resigned to his role during the game, why is that? Unfortunately nearly no effort was put into expanding the world and characters; instead the game itself is a pure old school shooter with some interesting hooks. The game also ends rather abruptly and is incredibly short, almost as if the developer literally ran out of time and had to scrape an end together.
Digging into the game proper, things get a little better and the first really cool feature of Hard Reset is noticed right away — you have only two weapons. One is an electricity based weapon called the NRG gun and there’s a more traditional rifle called the CLN gun. At first I found it very odd that you only have the two choices, then I hit the first upgrade station. At these stations you can upgrade the default fire mode or add additional fire modes that can be cycled during play. You can also get alt fire options and enhancements to your physical shell. It is a system that channels both the Dead Space and recent Deus Ex: Human Revolution upgrades system in a very good way. As you destroy enemies or explore, you find NANO that can be spent on these upgrades, there are also many hidden caches that require some digging to find but reward you with large stashes of NANO.
The upgrades are varied and add the ability to fire things like grenades, rockets, electricity mortars ,or rail shots. The variety is quite diverse and really adds the potential for some strategy when you are battling the hordes of robots, and there truly are hordes. For example, if you see a group of smaller robots heading your way, you can fire a couple of electricity mortars, then switch to the standard firing mode and mow them down as they are being damaged.
Hard Reset is not a forgiving game; from section to section you will continually be swarmed by persistent enemies. The will flank you, follow you, and gang up on you any chance you get. I found that the game does spike a little too much in difficulty which becomes frustrating at times. I enjoy a game that challenges me but you have to wonder how this was balanced when you either die a dozen times before succeeding in one scenario and in the other you are facing a situation that is challenging but not oppressive.
Thankfully, one of the key features of Hard Reset is that you can use the environment to destroy your enemies. Scattered in every level are a wide variety of environmental and explosive hazards that can be triggered with some well placed shots. Power conduits or relays can shoot arcs of electricity, barrels and gas canisters can be detonated for fiery explosions. If you line up your shots you can chain together multiple environmental triggers to ignite an entire room and any unlucky robots caught there.
The system is intriguing and combined with the changing arsenal there are a lot of tactics you could employ if the game worked perfectly. As it stands, switching weapons and fire types sometimes lags and often in order to use the environment you need to backtrack and get the enemies in a killing spot. At times many environmental items are triggered accidentally and you are left with no tactics and a horde of robots on your tail. The fact that cycling weapons is inconsistent often hurts the flow as well because tougher battles require you to try and use weapon based tactics and if the weapons don’t switch you will often die trying to execute your attack.
I am harping a lot on the negative aspects of the game quite a bit and that is mainly because I see a great deal of potential in Hard Reset. The graphics and art design are really amazing across all fidelity levels which is a huge accomplishment. The weapons and upgrade systems are ingenious and the action, when it works, can be truly fun and hectic. With a better story including fleshed out characters, better difficulty balancing, and some tightening of the controls this could have been one of the best games of the year. As it stands Hard Reset falls short of being a great game and sits in a mediocre place because all of the pieces just don’t fit together as well as they could.
Hard Reset is rated RP (Rating Pending) by the ESRB – Titles listed as RP (Rating Pending) have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting final rating.