Hard Reset: Redux Review
Hard Reset is a 2016 rerelease of a 2011 game, in the works since 2009, that was dedicated to reviving the FPS gameplay stylings popular in 1993. Much like the title of the game itself, the newly released console edition is a "hard reset" of the genre, giving people who miss the days of Quake and Wolfenstein 3D exactly what they've asked for.
While Hard Reset does have a plot, it is (I feel) intentionally straightforward and hokey. The cutscenes are well animated, reminding me of the Twisted Metal 2 endings with their cut-out comic book stylings, but from moment one in the game it offers you to skip them the second the next level is loaded. The story is there for those who want it, regarding robots in the future that need 'sploded, but if you are in a "blow up anything that moves" mood, you won't miss out without the firm grasp of the storyline. The game truly bucks most every trend of modern gaming, which sends you back to the days of finding a plumber on screen that can walk right and jump on turtles. You do it because the game leads you to it. You don't know why, you just do.
There was definitely a different strategy to FPS games at their inception. Modern shooters rely on auto-regenerating health, which streamlined the process and helped you get to the action and through the levels faster. Unfortunately, some poorly designed games then boil down to shoot, hide, wait, shoot, hide, wait, wash, rinse, repeat. Classic FPS games left health and ammo packs through the world, and picking them up meant using them: no inventory or cache of goods to snack on through the game. This mechanic keeps you wondering: do I need to pick up that for full health to get through the next room, or can I survive without and get more health for the pickup after this wave? This also translates to tons of hidden rooms to find and other random secrets to give you a sense of accomplishment when found.
Much like older titles with limited memory, Hard Reset only has a few enemy types. Challenge and difficulty increase as you progress by making them more difficult to kill, faster, or changing up the combination of enemies. While the full game has some boss fights, the biggest challenges center around seeing a wave of enemies and knowing their strengths and weaknesses, then manipulating and exploiting them to your benefit. There are tons of environment specific attacks, such as activating an electrical item that shocks nearby enemies or the ever popular Big Red Explosive Barrel. You have two weapons that get upgrades and new modes that basically give you an infinite variety of destruction.
The game delivers as promised, harkening back to classic game design and gameplay. Instead of trying to pull at your heartstrings with a sappy story or constantly trying to wow you with a new explosion or set-piece, Hard Reset gives you a toolbox of expected ways for the world to behave, and allows you to puzzle out how to get through it all (which regularly translates to "blow the snot out of everything that moves"). Unfortunately, the classic style of FPS does return with some faults. Killing the enemies and then hunting for secrets can be rather mundane, as there's nothing chasing you. Losing your bearings is unforgiving. If you don't know where your goal is, you'll be hunting away until you happen upon it. Perhaps my most frustrating experience was with the old "puzzle your way through a building" section, where I know I'm supposed to get to the top floor. There are stairs, with a waist-high hole in a grate that blocks the whole path, only big enough for enemies to get through. Can I squat and climb through? No. Can my giant gun open the hole a bit more? Nope. Instead, it's "activate machinery, go outside, cross to another building, solve puzzles there, cross back" only to find myself in the same building, next floor up. I was able to go back down the stairs and see the other side of the same grate. I felt that to be a bit of a poor design choice. A one-way door or dangerous materials the enemy can walk through would be one thing, but for the savior of the world to be foiled by a slightly-too-small-to-comfortably-walk-through hole just frustrated me. In the games it is trying to emulate, you would often at least see a secret through that hole, and remembering it with a smattering of backtracking once you get on the other side would lead to a cool new weapon or piece of armor.
Hard Reset is a solo game, no multiplayer to be found. Centering the battle versus the machines means lots of cool explosions and destruction without a lot of blood. Some of the battles can get difficult with the memorization and following of patterns of multiple enemies. There were a few instances I mismanaged my ammunition and had to get creative to dispatch my opponents as well. Hard Reset could be a game a parent may feel more comfortable sharing with a youth just getting into the genre, since good strategy allows a fun, less gore-filled introduction to the world of First-Person Shooters, and would allow a new player to learn the mechanics without dealing with the learning curve of online play.
Overall, Hard Reset oozes nostalgia. Hardcore gamers will probably blast through it in no time, but going back in and upgrading your weapons to more destructive levels on a second playthrough will bring them back for more carnage. If you're a huge fan of current FPS games and feel they've done nothing but improve in the last twenty years, you may be disappointed. If you are truly looking for a hard reset of the FPS genre to it's original glory days, Hard Reset is for you.
Thanks to the developers for providing a digital copy on Xbox One for review.
Final Score: 4.25/5