Thursday 26 January 2012

Hard Reset

The Title Screen

Hard Reset is a single player only, First Person Shooter (FPS) by The Flying Wild Hog. It features a campaign and a "survival" mode. Developed as a PC exclusive, the game was marketed as a return to the "old style" of shooters. It is available only on Steampowered.

It is important to clarify that general idea of "new is better" should not be just assumed; we are referring to styles of gameplay. A small movement has arisen recently to develop games that break away from the modern approach of the more successful shooters, and incorporate values and gameplay featured in the early FPS games that launched the genre.

Each style has its pros and cons and a good player will judge a game from its own merits, not on whether the game does, or does not, conform to a popular style.

The First Thing
After an uninteresting menu and introduction cinematic, my attention was immediately drawn to the art style of the game itself. The cyberpunk setting is well thought out and detailed. Not just a backdrop, it is a clear intention by the developers to immerse the player in their portrayal of the future. Whether cyberpunk looks nice is a maiter of opinion, but the developers had a vision and implemented it well.

The cyberpunk world of Hard Reset

Plot & Devices
Set in the future, Major Fletcher (you) is a soldier working for the 'Corporation'. Artificial Intelligence has allowed computers to create their own race of robots and are now at war with the humans. Upon hearing of a robot attack, Fletcher is called away from his bar to fight. A series of revelations follows where Fletcher uncovers the truth behind the Corporation, why the robots attacked and who he really is.

It is a very thin and clichéd cyberpunk plot: robots are bad, corporations are bad, the future is gloomy and the solution is killing everything. After a brief introduction, the plot is unfolded mostly during loading screens in the style of a graphic novel. Unexplained technology and shallow characters make it is almost impossible to engage with an over-complicated and clichéd plot - leaving the player bored. The graphic novel is a nice idea, but falls flat; often resorting to fairly strong violence in an attempt to be interesting.

The graphic novel plot device

The Game
As Hard Reset is a PC exclusive it allows for specific developer focus of certain areas often sorely lacking in console ports. The standard keyboard and mouse controls are tight and simple. The mouse has no acceleration and is smooth in all in-game menus. The player can sprint, jump and move (no crouch) and all keys can be rebound. I played on a keyboard and mouse, but pad support is also available. 

Without the restriction of ageing console hardware, the graphics are of high fidelity and with settings maxed out it is one of the better looking games of 2011 - without resorting to console techniques such as enclosed spaces for less rendering. In keeping with the cyberpunk theme, electricity and explosions are frequent and well animated. Defeated robots will explode, scattering their parts everywhere and streams of lightning spew from weapons and the environment.

Upgrade Menu (for the rifle)

The game features a unique weapon and upgrade system. Fletcher carries two weapons permanently: a rifle and an electrical weapon. Neither require reloading and consume their own ammunition. Each weapon can change into 5 'modes' and the player can unlock these with an XP system; each mode also has 3 upgrades or alternative fires. Each weapons ammunition is used for all modes, for example : 
The rifle holds 200 bullets in total. Mode 1 (Machine Gun) uses 1 bullet per shot, mode 2 (Shotgun) uses 10 bullets per shot, and mode 3 (Grenade Launcher) uses 25 bullets per grenade. 
Players can choose to spend their upgrades on the weapons or Fletcher himself. Switching between weapons and modes is fast and encouraged in the later difficulty; where a variety of weapon use will prove most effective.

Fletcher has non-regenerating health and a small regenerating shield. Health, the two ammunition types and N.A.N.O (the XP) is found in drops around the level and from enemies. I found ammunition conservation mostly not important, but health management was. 'Secrets' reward in extra drops and are found either through jumping or behind destructible walls. 

The two weapons

Hard Reset is not an easy game. The enemies do not have great variety but they are durable and hit hard. Initially I was surprised at how long some early enemies survived; do not expect to simply charge through. The game provides very little cover and encourages tactics and movement. Some enemies have attacks that need to be dodged, and others are best taken out with a combination of weapon modes. The game uses a checkpoint system and progression is linear.

The soundtrack is not particularly noticeable, but the sound effects are nice. The guns and enemies feel solid and explosions are believable and not over-the-top. There is voice acting but much like the plot, it is not particularly memorable aside from a scientist you encounter a third of the way through the game.

Wrap Up & Negatives
Only two negatives really stick out for me. Having no plot is not always a negative, but a terrible plot is; especially when development resources could have gone elsewhere. This is made worse by the second negative which is that the game is short. It took me 6 hours to complete and that will disappoint a lot of people. Right now, Hard Reset is priced on Steam for £12.99 but on launch it was sold for around £20 which is a little unreasonable.

The game is linear but hides it well inside interesting level design and an appealing art style. Occasionally things can feel a bit too dark and gloomy but that is the mood they were trying to set. It also rains a lot in the future. Hard Reset offers different difficulty settings and a level summary which is useful for completionists. You can not earn all available upgrades in one play through and can start a new campaign with your previous upgrades.  

If you like FPS and you're a PC user, get this game. This is a game developed for you and it feels right. Just ignore the plot and enjoy the 'old style' of shooting that take some skill and tactics. Playing this game highlighted to me how often we play games that were never designed for us and just ported - often poorly. 

The game left me wanting more and I will be keeping a keen eye out for the sequel. I just hope the lack of plot and the high starting price did not kill off that chance.

Oh, and more deadly, giant Tron-statues please.

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