Hard Reset Review: Slick Presentation Meets Old-School Gameplay

by Mike Bendel September 10, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

Set across a flashy dystopian world where humans are at war with AI-controlled machines, Hard Reset marks the first effort from upstart Polish studio Flying Wild Hog.  At its core, it’s a twitch-heavy first-person shooter, drawing a hefty amount of inspiration from the likes of old-school standouts like Serious Sam and Painkiller under the guise of a cyberpunk setting. Fluid movement is central to the experience in these games, and Hard Reset nails it in that regard. For an indie title, Hard Reset oozes production values, rivaling even big-budget triple A blockbusters in many respects. From a development team of ex-The Witcher 2 and Bulletstorm pedigree, this comes as little surprise, however. Oh, did we mention it’s PC exclusive?

A rarity

The story in Hard Reset is delivered through comic book-style cutscenes at the beginning of each level. We won’t spoil it, but don’t expect any hard-hitting narrative — this is a pure gameplay focused shooter first and foremost.  It does nothing to hide that fact. Where Hard Reset bucks the trend is that there’s little to no hand-holding, aside from brief tooltips that pop-up on screen. Mere minutes into the first level, players will find a hulking machine charging at them down an alley. Enemy attacks come in overwhelming swarms. Not quite to the level of Serious Sam, but it comes close in later stages, with the odds sometimes being 15 to 1. There are countless situations where players will find themselves outnumbered by dozens of machines armed with saw-like blades and rocket launchers. When entering a new area, usually at the drop of a hat, you’ll find yourself  frantically shooting at anything that moves.

Slick presentation

Standing among the best-looking PC games to date, Hard Reset is a technical marvel, backed by copious amounts of polish. In particular, the city environments are a sight to behold. The cyberpunk setting has been done in a video game before, but not quite like this. Flying Wild Hog has turned the dial up to 11 when it comes to detail — there’s scattered pieces of trash and dumpsters that add a foreboding sense of decay to the world, in addition to spacecraft that loom overhead. Bright lights are also plentiful, illuminating the surface. Combine all that with a myriad of particle effects strewn on screen when in the midst of battle, and the result is breathtaking. Stills only scratch the surface when it comes to showing how incredible this game looks in motion with everything cranked to ultra settings. It’s clear that a lot of work went into the underlying engine, which will no doubt serve as a fantastic base for future titles from Flying Wild Hog.

Performance is also exceptional:  I had no trouble maintaining 40-60 frames per second at the ‘beyond HD’ resolution of 2560×1600 with a single AMD HD6970 and Core i7 920. Backing down to 1080p gave me a locked 60 with MLAA enabled. For those that prefer, FXAA is also available. Oh, and alt-tabbing was seamless – without a crash, which is always a plus.

Unique approach to weaponry

Although Hard Reset represents a ‘back to basics’ approach in many respects, its weapon system is actually quite unique. Initially, your tools of the trade are a primitive machine gun and plasma-equipped N.R.G. weapon. Upgrade stations, which are scattered across levels, allow players to enhance or expand on base attributes. You can purchase a mortar upgrade for the plasma weapon, which at the scroll of a mouse wheel, allows players to shoot detonating pulses of electricity — like a grenade launcher. That’s one upgrade, and there’s several of them in the game, ranging from an RPG attachment for the machine gun and railgun modification for the plasma. While all available enhancements are visible, non-specific parts are required to purchase upgrades, which will be found as you progress. On a first playthrough, however, you probably will only find enough parts to purchase close to 3/4 of the available upgrades — which opens a door for replayability.

Nostalgia aplenty

The pacing will certainly evoke nostalgia if you grew up on classics like Doom. Stages are rife with secret rooms, often hidden behind a weak wall structure that can be brought down by pumping rounds of ammo into a conveniently placed explosive barrel.  In another nod to 90s FPS design, these rooms only contain ammo or health packs. Finding them does not lead to shortcuts or branching paths. Stages are strictly linear. Additionally, objectives in the game are rudimentary — consisting only of pressing a few switches. That’s as complex as it gets. Frankly, we’re not complaining. Breaks in the action would detract from the experience in this case.

Not forgiving

Hard Reset is a tough-as-nails shooter at Normal difficulty. Even at the Easy preset, it may still not be a cakewalk, depending on your skill level. Having played through it on Normal, I found the difficulty challenging, yet manageable. There were however, a few tough spots that took several attempts to clear. These instances forced my patience and made me longing for a quick save option. Instead, the devs opted to force a checkpoint system. For the most part, it works well, but I felt more checkpoints could have been added. When you’re up against a lengthy boss fight that consists of multiple waves and slip up once near the end, it’s back to square one. Note that there is a way to quick save via console command, which I found out later. Why this wasn’t bind to a key or added as an option that can be toggled is beyond me, however.

Other quibbles

While much of Hard Reset is extremely polished, there are a few gameplay oddities. After firing a mortar, for instance, there’s a brief one-second cooldown period before you can switch over to an alternate weapon. If you try and switch weapons during this point, there’s absolutely no user feedback — the game feels like it’s unresponsive. It may seem trite, but split-second timing in this game means everything.

The difficulty could use refinement, particularly in the later stages. When the game dumps dozens of rocket launcher touting machines, plus huge hulking robots that charge faster than you can run, it comes more down to luck rather than skill.

Final word

While much of Hard Reset takes the tried and true approach design-wise, it certainly felt like a fresh experience. Gunning down legions of killer robots has never been so satisfying. While the end felt a bit abrupt, the entire experience clocked in at around 5 hours for us — sans deaths. It’s respectable for a no-frills action shooter, not to mention the asking price at $29.99. An EX mode is unlocked after completion, allowing players to start a new game while retaining all weapon upgrades, adding a bit of replay value. Minor faults aside — no PC gamer should miss this one.

The good
– Beautiful presentation, top-notch lighting and particle effects
– Excellent, fluid gunplay
– High-octane pacing
– EX mode allows players to start a new game after completion, retaining upgrades obtained in the previous playthrough
– Budget-friendly price

The bad
–  Checkpoint system could use refinement for a few areas, makes tough areas get repetitive.
–  No official support for quick saves


Verdict: Buy, 4/5

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