The PC-exclusive shooter Hard Reset is uncompromising in its old-school ways. There is no cover. Enemies bum rush you in disorganized hordes. Glowing green health packs and red and blue ammunition litter every environment. It’s comforting, in a way, to play a modern game that feels like it was developed ten years ago. It’s also frustrating, for as good as Hard Reset’s action can be, the overall experience is too short and uneven to break free of design flaws I thought we'd left behind.

Hard Reset takes place somewhere in Europe in 2436. You play as Major Fletcher, an Army Combat Veteran dispatched by the shadowy Corporation to protect mankind from the robot menace. The rest of the confounding Philip K. Dick-cum-Matrix plot is delivered via motion comic cutscenes in which Fletcher curses at whoever’s trying to explain his next objective. It’s a good thing developer Flying Wild Hog prioritized almost every other aspect of the game, as the cyberpunk mishmash does little more than distract during loading screens.

While narrative clearly isn’t their strong suit, Flying Wild Hog does know a thing or two about combat. Hard Reset’s weapon selection is limited at first glance – an automatic rifle and a lightning-based energy weapon – but multiplies fivefold after you begin the upgrade process. Each of the two primary guns can morph into four others, and the accompanying animations of these intricate transformations had me changing weapons often just for the visuals.

The two-gun design helps set Hard Reset apart from its modern shooter brethren. What weapon to use is rarely if ever dictated by the game. Grenades pull from the same pool of ammo as shotgun shells, electric mortars from the same as plasma blasts. The guns never reload, either (they simply empty until you find more on the ground), and you wouldn’t want them to. Every second spent not shooting increases the likelihood of slaughter at the hands of maniacal robots.

Hard Reset’s robot masses trip over one another to kill you. In fitting with the story of ambitious AI Hard Reset would love to be telling, the robots, while never tactical geniuses, become increasingly complex as their designs more closely resemble humanity. Enemy types conform to a sort of evolutionary ladder of AI: smaller creatures swarm you with tiny buzzsaws and helicopter blades, hulking mechs charge you shoulder first with little regard for the environment, and creepy humanoid soldiers wield shotguns and rocket launchers.You’ll fight them in corridors, in parking lots, on rooftops, and in blown-out office buildings. Environmental traps, glorified explosive barrels such as ATMs and hovercars, prove invaluable means of crowd control. Encounters are often cordoned-off affairs, with the next doorway or access panel inaccessible until all enemies are cleared. While this does make for some exciting arena combat chock-full of circle-strafing and backpedaling, it also highlights two of Hard Reset’s biggest issues: difficulty spikes and checkpointing.

I am not ashamed to admit that I ratcheted the game down to Easy mode about an hour in. Barely scraping by on luck has a certain dramatic appeal, but it loses its luster after the third or fourth attempt at the same room. It’s simply too easy for larger enemies to box you into a corner, trapping you on funky level geometry and pummeling you into oblivion.

The ability to quick-save might have ameliorated some of these frustrations, but Flying Wild Hog instead opted for checkpointing. This does allow them to better control the pace at which players progress, but the frequency of unpredictable difficulty spikes makes having to play any section (let alone a monstrous, extended boss fight) more than twice an incredible chore.

Despite my issues with Hard Reset’s pacing, I never wanted for visual stimulation. Hard Reset’s aesthetic – gloomy grey vistas of skyscrapers dotted with burning neon lights – beautifully marries Blade Runner with BioShock. Flying Wild Hog’s proprietary engine is no slouch, either, and it will reward high-end systems. Though reminiscent of Unreal, I noticed none of the texture pop that so often plagues Epic’s engine.

Hard Reset’s $30 price tag makes it a difficult recommendation. In the heat of battle, it’s excellent. It’s most of what you want from a shooter inspired by id classics and Serious Sam. But it ends abruptly after roughly five hours, teasing much in the way of your protagonist’s abilities while resolving no conflict and explaining next to nothing. A new game plus feature, dubbed EX Mode, makes tackling the higher difficulties slightly more palatable but doesn’t adequately compensate for the tumultuous difficulty curve and rushed ending. Wait for a sale or for Flying Wild Hog to deliver a more substantial, more polished sequel.

A copy of the game was provided by the developer for this review. Hard Reset is currently available on Steam for $29.99. You can find the hardware requirements below:

  Minimum Recommended
OS Windows XP/Vista/7 Windows XP/Vista/7
Processor 2.5 GHz Intel Pentium 4 / AMD Athlon 64 Intel Quad Core 2.3 GHz / AMD Phenom II x4 2.5 GHz
Memory 2 GB 3 GB
Hard Disk Space 4 GB 4 GB
Video Card 512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800GS / ATI Radeon HD 3870 or better 512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT / ATI Radeon HD 4870 or better
DirectX®: DirectX 9.0c DirectX 9.0c
Sound:  DirectX Compatible Direct X Compatible

 

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  • thesisko - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - link

    I played the game on Hard and found it challenging, but not frustrating. There are no robots which can't be avoided either by sprinting or using statis/gravity grenade so I have no idea what you're talking about there.

    For some people the difficulty will be just right or even too easy, you can't assume everyone has the same taste as yourself.
    Reply
  • Miggleness - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - link

    You're so elite! Reply
  • junkiefp - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - link

    I enjoyed it a lot! The graphics are amazing, looks 100x better than anything out on the consoles now. Big props to Flying Wild Hog! Hope to see more PC exclusives from them soon. Reply
  • radium69 - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - link

    PC Gamers Rejoice :)
    Yay!
    Reply
  • mythun.chandra - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - link

    This is really nice! More one-pager game reviews like this please! :) Reply
  • CrystalBay - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - link

    I have a fondness for this game, plus paid$27 on preorder... Reply
  • Arbie - Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - link

    I will never again buy a game with checkpoints. I loathe them. They have ruined more titles for me than any other single failing, even including stupid AI. I pre-ordered Crysis 2 never thinking that they would have adopted checkpoints on the PC, and it was $60 thrown away.

    I love shooters but don't have much time to play. So I never become skilled enough to progress without frequent re-spawns. If I can't "save game", the little time I have is wasted on repeating the same levels ad nauseaum. I give up.

    ==> An option for "Save Game" or "Quicksave" should be included on the "Difficulty" screen. Those who don't want it can leave it disabled, just as they can skip the "Easy" settings. Those of us who need it will have it. To NOT provide this simple feature is either stupid, arrogant, or lazy, and I won't reward a developer for any of those attitudes.
    Reply

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