Hard Reset

A Rage Quit Review

FBT gets his retro-on with this Quake-era throwback. And throws it back.

Set in a cyberpunk world and harking back to the Quake era, Hard Reset is one of those games described as ‘over the top’ and ‘old school’. It’s so old-school and over-the-top that you buy it for a while, before realising what’s missing from the good old days is a good game.

The year is … oh who cares. Our hero, Fletcher is a grunt working for a private security firm in a dystopian Mega City One. Fletch is assigned to investigate something and discovers sentient machines are attacking the city. Or they’ve been attacking for years, I don't know. All of this is half-heartedly explained during static Max Payne style cut-scenes where people growl and grumble about the state of the world and you stop listening. I think there’s a mad scientist involved, or he might not be; if it was being a parody or a self-referencing homage I’d be into it, but it comes across as serious so it falls into the trap of feeling dated rather than retro, which is hard to come back from. Instead of reminding me of the classic FPS shooter era, it’s making me want to go back and play it, which is a very different reaction.

Unlike classic era shooters, Fletch only has two weapons at his disposal, one firing shells and the other an energy weapon - it’s actually quite nifty; you unlock upgrades as you go, getting multiple attachments that alter their firepower or change it to shotgun, grenades, electro-arcs, EMP blasts, all sorts. Except … it gets insanely frustrating in-game swapping to the other weapon with one key, then cycling through its options with another, trying to find the shotgun or whatever you need; it’s not until I played this game that I realised how much you rely on visual cues to know which weapon you’ve brought up – I don’t have time to read the HUD, it should be obvious but the amount of times I think I have the shotgun and I have the grenade launcher instead. You can guess how that ended.

The world does look really good - it’s run down, rainy and neon with huge buildings bearing down on you. It feels enclosed but although we’re working our way through alleyways, corridors and warehouses it’s not rail-shooter linear. There’s lots of exploring, basic puzzles and doing things that unlock things. And they always unleash lots of metal things to shoot. Lots of them.

Fighting robots has never been interesting. But this game adds a level to them – annoying. Every shooter starts you off small, gives you opponents that quickly become easy before retiring them for the big-boys. But Hard Reset loves these little guys on two legs and a buzzsaw for a nose, and they just run and leap at you like crappy little Skag pups. They suck like the frogs in Daikatana, constantly getting in the way. And then it’s bigger robots and there’s so many and they’re all firing at you and there’s strobes and tracers and the screen shakes when you get hit and turns red and eventually it’s like looking through one of those kaleidoscopes kids had in the 70s. It just gives you a headache. There’s no intensity just confusion.

Even games like Doom were better paced and those games knew to pummel you then reward you; HR just tires you out, you just stop and hold down fire. You’re so blinded and swamped you don’t have time for any flair, for clever attacks, to get lucky, to be heroic … you’re just cornered and unable to swap weapons or attachments because letting up on the fire-button means death. It’s not unbalanced, it’s just no fun. Borderlands (the yardstick for unfair) at least gave you special powers and insane weaponry to go down fighting with, and it made the firefights thrilling; you knew you were walking into certain death so took that attitude with you - the other yardstick of 'calm down' was Serious Sam, and that was just so ridiculous you enjoyed the scrap, but in HR you’re facing off with some dangerous robot yet what kills you is one of those fricking BB8 buzzsaw bugs cutting you off at the ankles, and it gets annoying.

We’ve got all the classic shooter era elements here – hidden areas, explosive barrels, ammo lying around, and nice environmental options like explosive cars, vending machines that electrocute robots when shot and other elements that give you in-battle options but they so rarely come together and half the time take you out. No battle is hard-won or leaves you feeling bloody but victorious, and you tend to be fighting waves which just doesn’t do anything to draw you in, make you suck it up and dive back into the fray. When I reach an obvious arena area, I kinda sigh, double-check I have shotgun settings on and wait for the buzz-kills. Combined with the irritating story and cheap cut-scenes, what could have been an energetic underground bullet-brawl just becomes a slog.

Realistically, Hard Reset is a showcase for FWH’s engine, Roadhog and to put it mildly, it’s a killer engine. The world looks fantastic, it’s detailed, fast, and it handles all the crap flying about effortlessly; I never had a judder or frame-drop. It’s a solid engine. Just a boring game built on it. Thankfully, Flying Wild Hog excelled themselves next time around with the Shadow Warrior reboot, which is a beautiful game to look at and play.

Eventually, I lose it when I keep getting killed during a mini-boss battle with a buzz-saw robot dispenser machine. What the hell? Oh sod this. All it’s doing is reminding me the Classic Shooter era ended for a reason. Rage Quit.

It is a pure shooter and that’s great, as is the fact that it came from an indie developer, but they should know what makes a shooter tick isn’t the basics, it’s the spirit, the experience, the feeling of victory. Because there’s a lack of self-awareness it all feels dated and frustrating. It’s one of those B-Side shooter-clones you played at the time thinking you were getting another Quake but instead you never finished it. It’s a shame but I get the feeling I’ll forget all about Hard Reset soon enough.

2011 | Developer/Publisher Flying Wild Hog

Platforms; Win/Steam 2011 | PS4 & X0 2016 (Redux version)