In the golden age of shooters, story and puzzle solving didn’t take a backseat to action – they rode in a different car altogether. We fell in love with them regardless, defending humanity from aliens/Nazis/robots/demons/robo-demons/Mecha-Hitler in the shoes of silent heroes represented by the barrel of a gun and not much else. Such is the power of the first-person perspective. Hard Reset is a return to that simpler time, with only modern graphics and a simple upgrade system marking the passage of the last two decades.
This budget-priced FPS tries to tell a story about surviving the robot apocalypse, but the muddy narrative is an unwelcome distraction from blowing up said robots. You won’t do much exploring or divining the secrets of the ruined city you run a linear path through, but that’s okay – the simple act of annihilating the enemy’s murderous mechanical legions is a blank slate on which you can draw a thousand unique designs.
I literally (and embarrassingly) burst into spontaneous ditties singing the praises of my four favorite weapons during the course of the game. The EMP sticky grenade launcher clears out swarms with ease, and its alternate stasis grenade fire begs to be abused. The rocket launcher is brutal enough by itself, but upgraded with laser targeting and a secondary cluster bomb effect it becomes a Swiss army knife of obliteration. The perfectly accurate, wall-penetrating railgun evokes fond memories of Quake, and the X-ray scope makes it completely unfair in certain situations. The assault rifle‘s efficient ammo use and versatility make it a perfect fallback weapon.
The weapons don’t have explicit combos like Unreal’s shock rifle, but I found myself flipping through my entire catalog of destruction in the majority of my encounters nonetheless. Once the game hits its stride an hour or so in, the designers do a wonderful job of shuffling the limited deck of enemies and settings to keep you on your toes. The half-dozen types of exploding objects are scattered liberally throughout nearly every area, and creatively using them to take out enemies in bunches is fun.
Encouraging the player to use different weapons and tactics without resorting to overt tools like ammo restrictions or enemies that are invulnerable to certain attacks is a remarkable feat, and Hard Reset maintains an exceptional level of variety throughout its four-hour campaign.
Which brings us to the sad fact that you can pound through the entire game in an afternoon. I don’t generally bag on a game for its length, but my timer showed 3:43 at completion. That’s borderline unacceptable despite Hard Reset’s $30 price tag. You can play through at higher difficulties (though pushing it past normal is rough – these are Doom II difficulties, not Halo 2 settings), but that’s it. No alternate paths or interesting side missions exist, though changing your approach to the upgrade system would make sections of the game play quite differently.
Hard Reset may only be four hours long, but they’re four good hours. I respect a game that picks one thing and does it well, even if it means skimping on or outright skipping the rest of the modern FPS checklist. Delivering combat on a level that Resistance or Halo could learn a thing or two from is an exceptional achievement for the first effort of a new studio. I won’t fault budget-conscious gamers for skipping this, but I can’t wait to see what Flying Wild Hog does next.