Progress Report: Hard Reset

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Today is Sunday, which means two things: a new Game of Thrones episode, and some down time to get some gaming done. For my first progress report I’ll naturally be jumping into a game I’m already in the middle of playing. I received Hard Reset few months ago in a first-person-shooter Humble Bundle that I bought mostly to get System Shock 2. Along with that game, though, I got about a half-dozen other games that have been clogging up my Steam library ever since. And I still haven’t played System Shock 2 yet. Go figure.

Hard Reset is what one would call an old-school shooter: lots of enemies, and very little plot. If at first that sounds like poor game design, guess again. Old-school shooters are designed that way. They emphasize killing massive amounts of enemies that spawn in overwhelming waves. The action is so fast and exciting that it becomes the focus of the game itself. Serious Sam or Painkiller are great examples of the genre, and Hard Reset plays almost exactly like them.

Funnily enough, old-school shooters have become almost a parody of the genre, since the action in these games are often pushed to the point of absurdity. Many of them even force you into going outside of your normal FPS comfort zone. Waves of bad guys purposefully ambush you at the most inconvenient times, and enemies are frequently spawned behind you without notice and when you least expect it. It’s a game that requires fast thinking. For a game that emphasizes shooting over all else, it’s pleasantly surprising to see how well they trick you, and how easily you’ll fall for it.

I originally hand-picked Hard Reset to play because the most common complaint against it by reviewers was that it was simply too short. I was perfectly okay with this, naturally. I was looking forward to a game I could strike off my backlog quickly and then move on to the next game. Joke’s on me though – it seems they released an extended edition to address the complaints and added a couple of hours of content. I’m this far through, though, so there’s no turning back at this point. Gotta see the task finished to the end.

What’s impressed me the most about Hard Reset so far is that’s it’s actually a visually stunning game. The game is set in a cyberpunk universe where people have downloaded themselves into digital form while the last remaining humans safeguard them from the ever-present threat of deadly robots. The settings and plot feel heavily inspired by cyberpunk classics such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer  and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The game’s wonderful graphics ran perfectly on my machine without so much as a slight drop in frame rate – a nice touch when you consider the amount of enemies it needed to animate.

Even if you wind up not liking the game, it's hard not to enjoy the beautiful environments.

Even if you wind up not liking the game, it’s hard not to enjoy the beautiful environments.

Hard Reset does mix up the formula a bit with its weaponry. You’re only given to weapons – a rifle weapon and an energy weapon. As the game progresses, you unlock new modes for these guns by purchasing them with collected credits. Picking the right gun for the right situation is really the key to survival. Some guns work well against the slow, heavy-hitters but will fare poorly against the swarming smaller enemies. I’ve come to enjoy the two-gun setup like this because it minimizes the amount of ammo collecting you need to do and keeps the game focused on the action. Overall there are 10 gun modes that you can unlock (five for each gun), which is a reasonable amount for this game since the idea is that you inevitably need to switch to them all in certain situations. I did invariably end up favoring the energy weapon, though I’ve seen plenty of walkthroughs that do the opposite, so that probably speaks to the games balance of weapons and diverse playing styles.

I found that the Smartgun mode for the energy weapon made it easier to hit these flying enemies.

I found that the Smartgun mode for the energy weapon made it easier to hit these flying enemies.

As you’d expect, there isn’t much in the way of puzzles in Hard Reset. If you do find your way blocked, the solution will always either be to kill all the enemies in the room, find and destroy a power generator, or hit a switch to open a door. Like other old-school shooters, exploration is heavily rewarded, and players that take the time to find the cleverly hidden ‘secret areas’ will be given lots of extra credits to spend on upgrades.

The Mortar mode for the energy gun can be upgraded to fire a grenade that slows all enemies, which are useful these enemies that charge at you to do damage.

The Mortar mode for the energy gun can be upgraded to fire a grenade that slows all enemies, which are useful these enemies that charge at you to do damage.

Sadly, it’s been proven that these types of games don’t need stories to be effective, which is why it’s disappointing that the developers decided to include a story so convoluted it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on. Even after a full play through I can’t even begin to tell you what is going on in the game, why the character’s are fighting, or who the hell I’m even fighting for. I just follow the objective markers and shoot bad guys. It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

I began my play through today on Level 8 – The Crusher. This is actually the first level of the ‘extended’ content so the difficulty made a significant jump in these levels. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I had to drop from normal to easy in order to get past certain parts, though in my opinion this game’s normal is actually hard mode for people with jobs. After the difficulty change I chugged along fairly well through levels 9, 10, and 11. The level design is actually markedly better in the newer content, too, and overall the extended content was quite fun to play through.

There’s actually only one level left in the game, and I would have eagerly finished it had Hard Reset not crashed to desktop the second I started the level. On that note, it’s about time I take a quick break and shower before I move on to the climactic final battle. Stay tuned for an update later.

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