Monday, 16 July 2012

Hard Reset

Post-Launch Review
Hard Reset
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Released: September 13 2011
(originally posted Feb 8 2012; updated July 16 to include DLC)


Hard Reset is a science fiction (or cyberpunk, if you prefer) FPS game that draws heavy visual inspiration from Blade Runner. You are Fletcher, a Corporation police officer struggling to protect Bezoar, the last human city, from a violent robot incursion.

At Launch

Hard Reset received mixed to average reviews, averaging out in the mid-70's. Reviewers loved the visual aesthetic and the intense action, as well as the old-school feel. They criticized the relatively short length (five hours for me), the difficulty, and the lack of multiplayer (which is stupid and I'll have a full article about soon).

Post Launch

Two major updates were been released. The first was bug fixes, balance updates, and visual tweaks. The second contained more of those elements, but also added 3DVision for NVidia users, as well as a survival mode with two maps (accessible through the main menu via New Game → Survival Mode).
A third free update added 5 new missions that continue the game's story, set outside the city of Bezoar.

The Good

Blade Runner
The influence of Ridley Scott's famous science fiction movie could not be more obvious. The futuristic, neon-lit city; the sound effects and ambient audio; the robot and AI plot elements. But Hard Reset isn't just Blade Runner all over again, which is good. It manages to be one of the best looking FPS games I've seen because of the great, if not entirely innovative, art direction. It's not totally realistic, but it doesn't have to be. Almost everything looks awesome.
You have two guns. One fires bullets assault rifle style, and the other fires plasma energy in the same style. Through various upgrades, you can add four additional weapon modes and an alt-fire for each mode. You've got classics from the laser-guided rocket launcher and railgun to some more unusual stuff like electric arc grenades and a shotgun that works on an arc rather than bullet spread. My favourite is the rocket launcher, since it's powerful and all weapon modes draw from the same ammo pool, so you'll never be out of rocket ammo unless you're out of all bullet ammo — and ammo is common as dirt.
You old-school fans may have noticed that the two-modular-weapons mechanic cleverly avoids the logical holes associated with the Bag of Holding where your typical theoretical physicist could carry upwards of a dozen guns and high-yield explosives.
In-World UI
This is a minor detail that I thought was really cool. The upgrade machines have a holographic UI, and when you approach, your crosshair becomes a cursor. It's a seamless menu that blends really well with the game aesthetic.
Survival Mode
There are only a few levels for survival, but really, you don't need too many. In survival you start with no upgrades. Each wave gets progressively harder, as expected. Clearing a wave rewards you with one upgrade of your choice. It's pretty simple, but then, so is survival mode in general. It's fun, and just as much of a challenge as the main game — if not harder.
Free DLC
Five free DLC missions add to Hard Reset's story, adding 50% more gameplay. You can continue right along with your existing upgrades.
The new missions include some new environments outside the city of Bezoar. You see a little bit of the plant life that's survived, but most of the content takes place in and around a huge scrap processing and factory area. There are even new enemies to fight, including some tough minibosses and of course a brand-new end boss.
Sorry the plants are obscured by GIANT EXPLOSIONS.

The Neutral

Old School
This is under neutral, rather than good or bad, for a few reasons. I'll break it down.
Good: secret areas. These are very old-fashioned, requiring you to sneak around building ledges and jump up terrain that looks inaccessible, and otherwise go out of your way for a little bonus and a “You found a secret!” message.
Good: none of this cover-based crap. There isn't even a crouch button. It's all run-and-gun, fast-paced action. In fact, movement is so important that you're likely to die in a few seconds flat if you don't keep circle strafing.
Neutral: difficulty. Hard Reset is hard. In fact, it's so hard that there's an achievement for clearing any level without dying, which I didn't manage even on normal mode. As always, whether or not the difficulty is good or bad depends on personal preference.
Neutral: environmental attacks. There's plenty of stuff to detonate that'll help you against the robots. So much, in fact, that it can be very difficult to avoid the blast radii yourself, especially when circling and sprinting round the big guys.
Bad: storytelling mechanics. You have story related cutscene, and then you have combat. The two never cross over. There's hardly any dialogue during your missions, and then only from radio voices to which your character doesn't even reply. This is one of the main reasons that FPS games have evolved to use scripted sequences and cutscenes so heavily: so that you don't go plot/gameplay/plot/gameplay, and the two are more mixed.
Voice Acting and Dialogue
The voiceovers are a little iffy. The main character swears a lot for no reason, and he almost sounds uncomfortable doing so — he tends to rush over the swears and not put much emphasis or emotion into them. Some might find the sinister doctor's VA to be awkward, but I really liked that aspect of the performance — his cadence and inflections are weird, and make it seem like he has different linguistic priorities than you. It makes him sound unique and memorable.

The Bad

Loading Times
If you were to play through the game in one sitting, you wouldn't even notice the load times, since levels load during the cutscenes. However, if you're a normal person and play a bit at a time, you'll be facing load times upwards of 30 seconds to a full minute or more. Even worse, levels aren't totally continuous once loaded — at each checkpoint the game pauses to save for a second.
No Ending
Hard Reset doesn't even pretend to end. You get a big boss battle, a bit of a cutscene, and the game just ends. If it weren't for the “you finished the game” achievement popping up, I would have been shocked to see the credits roll instead of more game. It's like watching Star Wars and having the movie end on the explosion of the Death Star without the award ceremony or finding out if R2 is going to be all right.
EDIT: Hooray, this problem has been fixed!
The five free DLC missions continue Hard Reset's story, adding to and slightly modifying the game's original ending. Fletcher escapes from Bezoar and begins to find clues that a human resistance has in fact survived in the robot-controlled wasteland outside... and also that the machines have been building themselves a general.
The new ending is much more satisfactory, though it's still not a conclusion - there's plenty of story left to tell, apparently.
The Verdict
Recommendation: Play it.
Hard Reset costs twenty bucks on Steam as of this writing, and is totally worth that price if you're up to the challenge. If you liked the look of Blade Runner, you'll like the look of Hard Reset — the game manages to be bright and dark, clean and gritty all at the same time. Gameplay is action-packed and very intense. It was tough, even on normal mode, but I had a lot of fun.


  1. Nice, maybe I'll check this out when I have more time. I like your photos and also, if I may say so, your writing has become a little more fun to read lately, not sure why, but good work! Also, what is with sci-fi and the use of the name Fletcher? I see it everywhere! (Referring to your last photo)

  2. Picked this up for $5 or $10 during the winter sale, it's a blast. Quality over quantity.

  3. Good review. I think that is a fair enough assessment of the game only comment is that the numerous pictures and small paragraphs can get a little overwhelming? That could just be me. The writing style is nice and friendly which I envy.

    I wouldn't mind your opinion on my review as I am trying to start out a career in game journalism. Have to start somewhere!