Platform: PC Games
Category: 3D Gaming, Action Games, First Person Shooter, Shooter
OBVIOUS WARNING IS OBVIOUS: YARR, THAR BE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, MATEYS!
Set the wayback machine to, ooooh, around 1993 or so. FPS, back then, was an almost completely different beastie, with levels that you got scored on, enemies that were invulnerable except for very specific weak-points (not always located on their body), and each area had more explosive barrels than Far Cry 2 (yes, such a thing is possible. Barely). Now picture that ancient twitch-a-thon with modern graphics (say, comparable to Doom 3). And upgradable weapons. And cyberpunk stylings. That, reader, is most of what makes Hard Reset such a nostalgia trip. Is this a good thing? Actually, yes.
The story is nothing you haven't heard before if you've read any Cyberpunk or Space Opera. You are CLN-16, a merc working for “The Corporation”. In a metropolis known as Bezoar, CLN-16, among others, guards a billion digitised people (and living ones) from The Machines, an AI hivemind that's out to evolve, at the cost of absorbing most of the human race. To give you an idea of how grimdark this game is, visuals and setting wise, a Bezoar is a mass (often a stone) that is trapped in your intestines or stomach or such. And that fits, because, as Cyberpunk fans may expect, the city is grimy as all heck, and so are its inhabitants. However, the story does appear to end rather abruptly, with no tying of loose ends, which is an annoyance.
Visually, the game reminds me of UT3, with the in-game graphics having little, if any, middleground between grimdark and neon-shiny. Despite this, and the slightly copy-paste feel of some of the early levels, everything is pretty clear, visual-code wise. If it moves, and is even slightly metallic, it's most likely an enemy. If it glows dark red anywhere, it's explosive or ammo. And if it's dull green/yellow, it's the weak point of whatever the heck it is you're fighting. In between missions, there are animated comic sequences that let you know (roughly) what the heck is going on, and despite my slight disparaging of the story earlier, it does draw you in, if only to ask... “What the hell?”. And the art-style of these segments, being very similar to the cover-art of the original MGS (greyscale, mostly shadows) definitely helps set the tone.
Gameplay wise, it's an old-school FPS with some modern touches, and it fits surprisingly well. Mainly, it's “if it moves, kill it, and if it isn't dying, look for the obvious weak points”, with most of your level objectives being “Go here, blow that shiz up”. If you don't like that sort of thing, steer clear. But while the enemies mostly follow predictable patterns (Cutters are small, fast, and melee you, Gorillas charge you and hit like a freight train, and the large rocket robots mostly wander slowly and pound you with heavy damage artillery), the gun system amply compensates in two ways. First, the upgrade and unlock system is quite simple (Unlock new kit by collecting shinies, some of which are hidden, killing things, and doing achievements), and secondly, it does away with the whole silly “I carry fifty guns” by having two guns. That transform.
Yes, you heard that right. The CLN Rifle transforms into a shotgun, grenade launcher, RPG, and prox-mine launcher, while the Plasma Pistol turns into a tesla gun, a zap grenade launcher, a rail-gun, and a gun that shoots homing orbs. Of the two, I've mainly used the CLN Rifle, and gotten to the second actual boss (Atlas) without too much trouble, and, of the two, it's mainly the more accurate (if slower). You can't unlock the final two guns of each set unless you've mostly upgraded the earlier stuff, which sort of means you take one path or the other at first, then diversify after Atlas (unless you like having varied, but relatively weak guns, of course). The abilities can also be played with, as they do things like increase your magazine (for both guns), heal you, give you a “panic mode” (where you get more accurate when badly hurt), and improve the HUD to show enemies and Nano (the game's shinies).
If I had one complaint about Hard Reset, it's that it lives up to the first part of its name. It's quite tough, especially from mission 3 onwards, and requires you to be very alert, unless you like getting gang-banged by three Gorillas. But, I suspect, with time, you learn enemy patterns, and also learn which body parts to shoot off first (The game has a hit location system, but seemingly without the head... friendly hint... take the tiny legs out from under Gorillas ASAP, to slow them down), and death isn't exactly a big deal (You lose points from your end result, and can go back to the last checkpoint. Big Whoop, says the man who's died 14 times on normal and is, at the time of writing, 8th of 50 reviewers... now the game's closer to release, I'm much lower on the table, not being "Hardcore").
The achievements are mostly sensible, and all are achievable (and, for achievement hunters, there are some hidden achievements too). However, some of the checkpoints are badly placed (Parking garage and Atlas level, I'm looking at you!), which makes for some frustration. On the one hand, quicksave is an option... on the other, you currently have to edit keybinds to do it. While I can understand the checkpoints making the game more difficult, I can say with some confidence that, so long as too much quicksaving impacts your score the same way death does, it would be an improvement.
Overall, this is a game that does exactly what it sets out to do: Be an oldschool manshoot, but with modern elements in the mix that make it more enjoyable, and a suitably bonkers Cyberpunk plot (albeit without any real hacking... ah, well, can't have everything). If you like that sort of thing, or think, from the article, you might want to give it a go, I'd happily say “knock yerself out!”, and the game gets my thumbs up. Although I am going to restart and try to beat Atlas with a Rail-gun... just to see if it's easier (considering my other option is RPG with slow laser-guidance... I suspect so). The short nature of the game at first seems a turnoff, but, remember, this is mainly score attack, and the number of upgrades means you can play the game differently each time. If only the story weren't cut off so abruptly, it would have gotten an 8.