Alright, clearly I have now established my credentials as the greatest man ever to shoot things in a game. But in case there was any doubt remaining, I am about to talk about a second game where you shoot things. Next step is obviously leveraging this into selling my own-brand nuts.
Hard Reset starts really promisingly, dumping you into a cheerful pastiche of a futuristic street, all cleaning robots and overly-personal advert terminals that, like, satirise how we’re all tools of consumerism, man. All of the public services have evidently been turned over to the bureau of explosives, and the world is consequently full of things that explode and spread electricity all around. While this would normally prove a liability, it is in fact a great boon, as the world is also full of psychotic robots that want to kill you. To start with, even though you are armed with an implausibly massive machine gun, you can’t damage them much at all. Your fights are spent running away from the tiny, adorable robot heading towards you with a gigantic sawblade for a face, casting desperately around for the next thing you can explode to take him out. This is fun! Firefights are initially less about accurate shooting and more about situational awareness, using the environment to kill the robotic baddies, and this is helped by some good early level design, nice open spaces with plenty of destructibles around. It’s a series of connected physics playgrounds of increasing difficulty.
Allied to this is a constant hunt for upgrade juice which lets you tool up your starting two weapons to fulfil pretty much any function you care to imagine. You gain it from besting baddies and just finding upgrade canisters lying about, with basically every path that isn’t going in the direction of the plot having such a canister at the end. I should add that I really liked the way that interaction was handled in the world, in that there was pretty much only move, jump and shoot. Even Serious Sam has a crouch button but in Hard Reset they realise that such a button is a sign of weakness. They’ve done away with the use button by having your cursor extend onto the computer terminals dotted about which I thought was a nice touch. The weapon upgrades were perhaps the most compressed way of fitting everything into this simple system, accessed via terminals, a branching series of options appears as holographic menus in the real world. It’s well-executed and consistently represented.
If you’re listening carefully at home, you will note my use of a thesaurus for “Initially”. The game starts really well. About half-way through, you meet the last new enemy type, a heavy-artillery like robot that takes an absolute age to blast into tiny pieces, and after that, they either ran out of money or ambition, as the setpieces gradually become less elaborate. The series of connected open areas become a series of linked corridors and your sense of immersion over reasonable ambushes is chipped away as you just fight the same battles over and over again with the same baddies. A couple of horrendously dull shoot-the-weakspot boss fights don’t help but what really kills off my enjoyment of the game is the upgrade system.
See, I’ve been tricking up my machine gun. Now it can fire grenades, and mines, and my energy weapons now have an electric capability and a railgun module. I have boosted shields and health, I enter slo-mo whenever I’m about to die, pickups last longer and I’m just in general ten times better-equipped than before. Add in the lost imagination for level design and this means fights are over quickly and a bit boringly, to be honest. Run around, hurling grenades into the ranged fuckers, then dodge out of the charging ones while you do the same. It’s all about the guns now, my environmental use has gone to zero. There’s a big compass arrow at the top that only now do I realise is constantly telling you where to go. The little hint guy that flashed up on your screen at the start continues to flash up, giving pointless advice that I’ve clearly figured out by now if I got this far into the game. They are pushing you more and more swiftly towards the game’s conclusion, yet another shoot-the-weakspot boss and then that’s it…it’s disappointing.
A shout out should go to the cutscenes that play between each mission for their incredible lenth, seriousness, and pointlessness. Despite watching them attentively I have pretty much no idea who you are (he’s called Fletcher and he has some kind of ability to absorb AI that is never really used but he is a patrolling bog-standard soldier) or what you’re doing (robots attack but then it’s apparently a plot from inside and the professor helps you or something and then you escape?). Special mention to the two words used most frequently that illustrate their direness: FUCK (because Fletcher is hard-boiled) and AI MATRICES (because…um…technology?). Constantly I was being told about these AI Matrices and I still have no idea what they are, but I think I absorbed them, somehow.
Hard Reset is a joyous explosion of physics being pushed through a funnel. No matter how much it struggles, or what flashes of inspiration it displays, it gets inexorably more cramped and formulaic until you come out onto the other side and there’s just broken dreams and a ridiculous cutscene left. I still want to reward that early promise though.
3 Stars, 9 hours played (finished it on Normal)