Before anything: before content, before critique, before commentary…first, a confession. I have not finished Hard Reset. The final boss fight consists of a spider-mech firing an unavoidable death laser while hordes of horrifyingly tough enemies swarm you again and again until you burst like a balloon full of entrails, and I’ve yet to make it past the third wave before a hard wall made of bricks entirely composed of my own mortality rushes up to punch me in the face.
Understand that I’ve been playing this game on normal difficulty. Yes, this game is hard. This game, a throwback first-person shooter by developer Flying Hog, has kicked my cojones up and down the cyperpunk metropolis setting with every tier of enemy at every level of gameplay. And I loved every minute of it. Honestly, it’s so refreshing to encounter a game that not only refuses to pull punches, but one that doesn’t have a problem with throwing a couple sucker punches to boot. Even the most basic enemies will swarm you with rotor and sawblades galore, and it’s immediately apparent upon entering the game that, protagonist or no, you are still only one big sack of organs ripe for robot destruction.
The idea that Flying Hog had when creating Hard Reset was to create a single-player-only first person shooter that captured the feeling of the shooters of yesteryear—DOOM, Quake, and the like. There’s no regenerating health—you rely on health packs from kills and the environment to stay alive. No magic shield, either; armor is just a semi-useful statistic to absorb a couple minor hits before you melt into a sanguine popsicle. The action is brutal, fast, and constant.
The enemies are difficult, as noted before. Just one of the armless, bipedal ‘Gorillas’ is a big, tough force to be reckoned with. Overall the variety of enemies is fairly small, but each type is diverse enough in weaponry and tactics to keep encounters fun. The levels are appealing, if atmospherically repetitive, and the custom-made engine is smooth and keeps pace with the game’s fast-paced action.
Hard Reset isn’t ‘pure’ old-school. You start with two basic weapons—a machine gun and a plasma shooter that’s about as strong as throwing waste paper at enemies—and further weapons and upgrades are ‘unlocked.’ Like ammo and health packs, the game’s currency is found in the husks of destroyed enemies, scattered around the environment, or in secret areas. You can go to upgrade stations (with one of the most clever HUD displays I’ve seen in a while) and either unlock new ‘settings’ for one of your two basic weapons, or upgrade the ones you have. Each weapon consists of an initial unlock, a secondary fire mode unlock, and a utility unlock. For example, a new setting for your machine gun gives you a grenade launcher, its secondary fire mode is a ‘gravity grenade’ that pulls enemies into it, and the utility upgrade increases the area of effect of this weapon. All of the weapons are incredibly powerful, but balanced out by the fact that enemies are incredibly tough (the game takes a logical approach to fighting robots, in which firing little bullets made of metal at them doesn’t do much because they are themselves made of metal. Logic triumphs).
As far as the story goes, there isn’t one. Don’t even worry about it. The story cutscenes between levels are actually skippable from minute one. The plot involves something about a Matrix-esque personality databank, some robots out to do…something to it, and something something explosions. The writers basically grabbed a sci-fi dictionary and glued a bunch of cool-sounding terminology together into a jumbled mess and said “good enough.”
And it is. Hard Reset isn’t about the plot. It’s not about a big hero saving the planet and becoming the savior of humanity. It’s about a guy with some guns blowing up robots. You’re the generic, motivation-less action hero from FPS games of yore, and Hard Reset delivers an adrenaline-pumping throwback shooter with all of the best elements from the technology of today.