Preview: Hard Reset

There are a few things I look for in shooters: visceral, riotous violence, superb visuals, and excellent storytelling. This trifecta is unbeatable by my standards, and something few shooters fail to possess. However, there’s a good mix of all three in most of my favorite FPS titles, so I can deal. When I can’t have all three, I’ll allow one or the other when selecting a new run-and-gun fest to add to my library. I hoped to find my Holy Trinity of Shooters in Hard Reset, a suspiciously low-key release with preview builds floating around the email accounts of video game writers everywhere. Hard Reset, with its tongue-in-cheek moniker, comic-book inspired narrative panels, and gorgeous neon hues, came out of nowhere. One day, I hadn’t even heard of Flying Wild Hog or anything about an upcoming shooter with such a memorable name, and the next I’m jetting through preview code.

This swift presentation and eagerness to get the mixed-potpourri of a demo out to writers seemed a bit fishy to me. Here, try our game! You can have it for little or no work, and there’s no embargo. But you can’t take any screenshots! We’ll see to that — just use our assets! It all seemed like a ploy to get as much positive coverage as possible without unveiling too much of the negative that might put off potential buyers. Play our game and tell everyone how great it is without actually seeing the project as a whole. Needless to say, I was more than a little suspicious.

But with the promise of Serious Sam-styled action and a good old-fashioned robot barbecue, I was eager to dive right in. Upon firing up the preview build (complete with a watermark featuring my email address), I was greeted to a wild rush of cool neons running the gamut from ice blue to fiery red. Comic panels accompanied tried-and-true typical cyberpunk environments, skyscrapers, and Bezoar City, a dying city overrun with malevolent machines threatening to overtake the last remnants of the human race. Enter Major Fletcher, your wingman through this tumultuous journey. Fletcher’s a former good cop gone rogue, on the run from the robots who would have his head on a platter. While the piecemeal plot immediately available to me did a shoddy job of keeping me informed and abreast of the situation, it found plenty of opportunities to stress to me Flying Wild Hog have done their cyberpunk research.

But as the comic book-inspired cut scenes conjured nostalgic visions of XIII and the aesthetically pleasing environments consistently stopped me every few minutes (you mean we can have color besides various shades of brown still?) I realized Hard Reset was quickly falling victim to some of the same pitfalls of games past. For instance, when I wasn’t pumping a few rounds of lightning into the particularly dimwitted robots and moving boxes to create new pathways, I quickly realized that, for all the fanfare, this game had just slapped a glistening new coat of paint on the same environments and mechanics I’ve played several times before. The only difference was that this time, things were a lot more beautiful.

For some reason, however, I cared very little about the fact that I’d seen all of this before. And despite how wrong I feel saying it, the raw firefights, luscious cool palettes, and deliciously sinister tone were enough to keep me playing. When I accepted Hard Reset for what it was and stopped trying to quietly criticize it for what it what it wasn’t, I realized how much I appreciated what was being showcased. Granted, I never felt as though I could really sink my teeth into the plot attempting to unfold, but I chalked Flying Wild Hog’s decision to showcase only a few areas stitched together up to saving the best for last. At least I hope.

It may not be much in the way of innovative, but Hard Reset shines in its relative simplicity. Except when you’re forced to constantly switch between weapons in order eviscerate those who wish to skewer your meatbag of a human body. Fletcher’s extremely minimal arsenal, consisting of the NRG weapon equipped with destructive lightning force and the CLN weapon encompassing all your typical shooter needs (assault rifles, shotguns, etc.) proved to be more than adequate defense against the moronic robots who would charge in a straight line after you. However, it became a chore to flip back and forth between modes that did little to distinguish themselves from one another. I found myself wishing for more traditional means with which to defend myself as I would quickly scroll through available armaments and silently curse how inconvenient it was to find the right mode of fire with robots breathing down my neck.

Roaming through Bezoar City are plenty of ‘bots available for target practice, many of which are either tiny, sprightly, and easy to fend off, and then the big guys who have nothing better to do than run into walls, run into the environment, and nearly kill themselves trying to get to you. Like I mentioned before, they’ll simply jet toward you as you do your best to gun them down as quickly as possible. And with the potential for intellectual combat through the several uses you can find for both of the guns in your arsenal, it can be just plain boring to slog through these terribly taxing technological tyrants. I quickly found myself hoping for something a little bit different.

Then I was matched with the Atlas. Tearing a page straight out of God of War, this mammoth man-like threat is one of the high points of the preview code, but simultaneously one of the longest segments in all. While you’re herded off to a tiny arena to fight this Goliath who chooses to fight not with his size but actual cannons (why does he rely on weaponry when a human is easily crushed?) you’re forced to dodge his predictable attcks and aim for painfully obvious weak points that will bring the roaring behemoth to his knees, and how. Upon your inevitable victory it’s easy to feel as though you just completed something monumentous, but when you realize sometimes those charging, ramming robots prove to be more of a challenge, you have to wonder how the complete Hard Reset is going to approach enemy variety. And what of a yo-yoing difficulty? Judging from the snippets of gameplay threaded into one here, I can’t say for sure.

What I can definitively say, however, is that Hard Reset continually proved to be a visual marvel; a veritable work of art compared to the dust-browns, terra cotta reds, and grays of today’s modern shooters. It doesn’t attempt to challenge FPS conventions and it’s rife with some of the most by-the-book game design I can think of. But despite it all, though I know that it should equate to a negative experience, it didn’t. The low points, for me, were quickly negated by a hefty amount of polish and wicked potential, which I’m hoping isn’t squandered on needless multiplayer or a narrative that can’t quite fill in the dots. For a game that’s went through the announcement-to preview-to release with what seems like dizzying speed, I was quite pleased. But I’m looking for a little bit more than that. Impress me, Flying Wild Hog!

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