Hard Reset is about as grounded in '90s shooter design as a game can get, but that doesn't work against it. It can be tough, even after the recent patch that tweaked a number of things, but I found that the challenge was surprisingly fair. If I suffered a death, it was because I approached it the wrong way. Yes, it lacks the polish found in other triple-A, first-person shooters nowadays, but it's incredibly well paced and offers enough replay value to make it worth a look.
It's a pretty great-looking game on the PC, and its cyberpunk world design evokes film classics like "Blade Runner." The unfortunate thing is that the plot doesn't tend to match, revolving around a somewhat generic human versus robots tale that can be compared to a number of other sci-fi projects in and out of the video game marketplace. It offers up a twist roughly halfway through, but the characters do so little to endear the player to their plight that the twist doesn't have much of an emotional impact. The dialogue is often cheesy and downright laughable, with a tendency to drop the F-bomb just because it can, and not because it offers any weight to the sentence. Most of the dialogue is poorly executed; it's possible to like it in a "so bad that it's good" way, but I found that it detracted from an otherwise serious story.
A positive note about the plot is in the well-crafted comic book-style cut scenes that intersect each level. They seem reminiscent of the work artist Ashley Wood did for Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker on the PSP. I really enjoyed the art style, and it complemented the in-game design quite well. It has a very run-down, futuristic look with a great use of panel placement. I'm not always a big fan of motion-comic effects for video game use — I didn't think Motorstorm: Apocalypse did this very well — but Hard Reset really pulls it off. Again, it's a shame that the story couldn't maintain that same quality.
Thankfully, the gameplay manages to hold up throughout. Admittedly, Hard Reset is quite short, even for a first-person shooter title. You can clear it without much difficulty in about five hours, and the ending feels quite abrupt. If additional content had been axed from the release, it wouldn't surprise me in the least. There is an EX mode once you complete it, and that's great because the upgrade system begs to be explored. You can bring all weapons and body upgrades into your new playthrough, and that dials down the difficulty but gives you more opportunities to play around with the wonderful toys.
As the hero of Hard Reset, you are equipped with two primary weapons. One is a classic gun, which is similar to a standard assault rifle in other shooters, but with a slightly futuristic spin. The other weapon you carry is like a plasma gun and doesn't rely on the same ammo type as your standard weapon. Both of these weapons can be upgraded by finding in-game currency scattered around each stage and by visiting one of many upgrade modules in every level. Upgrading your weapon can actually transform it into something else, like a shotgun, grenade launcher, mortar, etc. Each of these weapons also comes with a subset of upgrades. You can make alternate ammo for different weapons or add scope capabilities, along with a number of other enhancements.
In addition to the weapon upgrades, you can also upgrade your armor, head's-up display, health, and a few other non-weapon enhancements. It's pretty much impossible to max out everything in one playthrough, since the currency is doled out in small amounts and is often hidden throughout each stage. Running through a second or third time in EX mode is necessary if you want to see everything that the game has to offer.
Gameplay consists of blasting away at a number of enemy robots, most of which will focus on melee and charge you head-on. The challenge stems from how many enemies are thrown at you, and it can be pretty easy to get overwhelmed. It begins by tossing the smaller, knee-high robots that look almost non-threatening, but upon closer look, you can see that they pack saw blades or other tools that can whittle away at your health. Then you're quickly introduced to large, human-sized robots that charge you head-on or come in swinging. These guys pack quite a punch and remain a thorn in your side for some time. Eventually, you'll come across variations for both, along with enemies that can fire guns back at you or even shoot off rockets.
Considering the amount of enemies you encounter, it can be easy to think that you'd run out of ammo, but there's a big emphasis on environmental hazards in the game. You've got standard explosive barrels, which are scattered liberally through each level. There are also a number of computer terminals and other electronics that spew out dangerous currents when shot, and that can instantly kill a lot of the smaller enemies. Making good use of the hazards is the key to taking down many of the large groups you encounter. It can be pretty impressive and fun to watch the mayhem play out, especially since the game design does a great job of chaining together these destructive elements.
As I stated earlier, the game is decidedly old-school in its design. There is no recharge cycle to your health; instead you have an on-screen health counter that tells you how many life points you have, and you need to find health containers to re-establish your points. There is a shield function that refills over time, but its recharge is pretty short, and the shield doesn't create much of a buffer for damage. You have a limited sprint and jump function, but no ducking. There's also no cover system in place and very little room to hide. It's more effective to strafe and run circles around enemies, since most will rush at you. It feels very much like a take on the Serious Sam games, and quite a few folks have already made this comparison.
Finally, there's no online mode and no co-op of any kind. I can understand the disappointment, since we've grown used to the feature in just about every modern FPS, but since this is not a full-priced game, I'm OK with its exclusion. If nothing else, the campaign feels like it had the proper amount of attention poured into it, and aside from the lackluster story, I really enjoyed it.
Hard Reset might not be the shooter for everyone, but I think it's worth checking out. My review is based on the game post-patch 1.01, which eliminated the weapon cooldown system and allowed users to change difficulty mid-game. That's worth mentioning because I could certainly see how a weapon cooldown system would be an awful thing, and I don't think that eliminating it has ruined the gameplay balance. If you either shied away from playing Hard Reset due to the issues prior to this patch or just haven't gotten around to checking it out, I would definitely urge you to do so now. It's a fun shooter for a reasonable price, and if you loved classic FPS games, you'll enjoy Hard Reset.
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