Hard Reset came out last year as a PC exclusive from indie developers, Flying Wild Hog, whose member pedigree includes the Painkiller series and, more recently, Bulletstorm. It was a download-only title that promised a return to the glory years of the FPS, and despite its issues, it came close to fulfilling that claim. Kalypso Media has brought out the Extended Edition to retail shelves. If you already own Hard Reset, the extra content is a free download. For those who might have missed out on the game the first time around, everything's now on a handy disc.
Players need to punch in an obligatory CD key and then register for an account on Kalypso's servers. This is because the launcher screen pops up when it detects a network connection, eagerly poking at your attention span for the required information although you simply want to sit down and shoot some bad robots.
Hard Reset's story is told in between levels using comic-book speech bubbles and stark, hand-drawn sketches dramatically drifting across the screen. It's mostly incomprehensible, though there's something about rampant AI, internal AI, and then something about rebels. You're basically there to kill lots robots and help save the last of humanity. The main hero also has a habit of dropping f-bombs so often that you could probably make a drinking game out of it.
Though the story is largely forgettable, the scenery isn't. The artists of Flying Wild Hog have taken Hard Reset's engine and have molded something beautiful out of the scarred metal and cybernetic mishmash of limbs. The city of Bezoar has ads that bark at you with an intentionally badly synthesized voice; the glowing neon lights of closed storefronts and the hovering Blade Runner-esque propaganda blimps seem out of place in a simple shooter. It's an amazingly crafted cyber-urban wasteland twisted up with alleyways, tunnels, twisted pipes, and legions of killer robots looking to make you a part of the backdrop.
The craftsmanship is also present in the depth of environmental booby-traps. Generators mounted on walls or kiosks can be blown apart for dramatic effect. Wild arcs of electricity block the rush of tiny robots for a few moments. An air conditioner can often be a convenient explosion of electronic death. Touchy barrels and gas cans are also left everywhere, tempting stray shots that may kill you and the enemy.
Weapons are divided into two classes: a slug thrower and an energy (NRG) gun. Both are WMD versions of Swiss army knives. By finding nanomachine caches that can be used to purchase upgrades, each weapon can be expanded into doing more. The slug thrower can neatly transform into a rocket launcher, double-barreled shotgun, or grenade launcher, for example. On top of that, they can be upgraded with more tricks, such as having those grenades act as mini black holes that suck in everything for your waiting rocket. The same goes for the energy weapon, which can be turned from a shooter into a devastating rail gun with an X-ray vision scope.
The controls are a little rough around the edges. Swapping between your gun classes is as easy as hitting the W or R key. The number keys, by default, are used to cycle through unlocked options, and the right mouse button has a few other options attached, depending on your weapon choice. While it's nice for my fingertips to have all of this at their beck and call, it can be a little cumbersome to wield in the heat of Hard Reset's fast-paced carnage. I usually settled on only one gun, cycled through its options, and once I burned through its ammo, switched to the other one.
Getting about using WASD is as easy as hopping on top of a crate in the game, but only if you don't run into the mass of invisible walls everywhere. Jumping up and shimmying across tiny, three-inch-wide ledges might work in some cases, but jumping over the railing and onto a ledge beyond it is a no-no. Even squeezing around a metal post or over a lump of rubble that is no higher than your ankle is denied because of the crazy amount of linear fencing. There's only one way to head through each level, though there are a few secret things that encourage a little extra exploration until the invisible hand of the designer pushes you back in line.
For a hardcore shooter hearkening back to the old days, Hard Reset doesn't do a few things that other respected FPS titles from Doom to Half-Life 2 have wisely included, such as allowing the player to quick save whenever s/he wants to. Instead, Hard Reset uses checkpoint saves so it feels like I'm back on a console. Indirectly, it also adds to the idea that this is a "hardcore" shooter by inflating the relative difficulty with repetition.
In the first hour, I pretty much saw all the robot types that would be endlessly pumped out for most of the game (with a few exceptions later on), and nearly all of them follow the same behavior of jumping in my face at every opportunity, so the shooter turns into a contact sport. The tiny, two-legged saw blades that charge blindly at you quickly wear out their welcome, as do the large, bull-rushing automatons.
Hard Reset is the equivalent of an extremely violent man with a hair-trigger temper. It's the Hulk without Bruce Banner's restraint. Opening a door, stepping into a room with a nano cache of credits, or flipping a switch — any of those actions gives it a reason to try and kill you. It made me paranoid in the early stages until I realized that it was the norm. It doesn't make any apologies for dumping enemies into your lap and pushing your skills, even when I tried on the Easy difficulty level.
The Hard Reset: Extended Edition adds five more levels to expand on the story and layer on even more of the samey action that I'd missed out the first time around. Hard Reset still does a few things that only a few other shooters have even tried. I loved spending time on picking out the right upgrades for my weapons (though you can't undo this, so choose wisely), and the whole cyber-aesthetic of its world is incredible eye candy. There was only one time when the engine flipped out on me when it didn't render any walls or floors at the start of the subway area, but restarting the game quickly fixed that.
If you're looking for multiplayer, there isn't any. There is an EX game mode in which you can replay the entire campaign with all of your upgrades, though doing so largely depends on how much you liked smashing through its legion of robots the first time around. It even has in-game achievements broken up among the difficulty tiers.
Hard Reset ends on a cliffhanger, so if you paid attention to the story, it might not be the denouement you had wanted. The exploding robots and eyegasms that cause frenzied clutter can get in the way of figuring out the origin of the next shot.
There are nuggets of gaming gold in Hard Reset: Extended Edition when the encounters don't feel so repetitive and the boss fights can be exciting, tooth-and-nail struggles. FPS fanatics should try out thisrough start to a potential series — as long as they don't mind getting punched in the face every so often by its Hulk-like anger. After the numbness sets in, they might not care.
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