This week, Shooter Season 2011 continues as Zero Punctuation reviews Hard Reset.
Do you like real-time strategy games? Do you like the satisfaction of sending hordes of loyal trench foot-infected fathers and husbands to die while you hover fifty feet above them eating crumpets? Well then, piss off! This is Shooter Season 2011, the time for real men!
This week, I'd like to take things in a slightly more independent direction. All this talk of brown space marines stomping snarly monsters with their techno-wellies is all very well but represent but a single dismal facet of the intricate jewel that is shooters, and the most interesting stuff goes on in the independent circles (as is the case with every creative medium, including ritualistic serial killing). And it would almost be cruel of me to embark on a slew of shooter reviews with a hastily concocted theme to in some futile way dull the pain of repetition without giving time to Hard Reset, an old-style Steam-based counter-argument to the modern shooter. It was either this or Space Marine. And given options, I'll go for the one that infuriates tosspots.
Now, a first on a big spotlight on Hard Reset, as choirs of angels sung from on high, was the fact that it was developed by some of the guys who worked on Painkiller, that now-classic traditional FPS that is still more fun than any mortal sinner has any rights to have. Presumably not the same ex-Painkiller guys who were brought onto Bulletstorm and found themselves polishing CliffyB's silverware while Epic rolled up their sleeves and diligently ruined everything. No, these are the ex-Painkiller guys who still have their self-respect, whose stated goal in creating Hard Reset was to recreate that same run gun fun that characterizes all the nineties shooters.
Unfortunately, the older nineties shooter that seemed to end up influencing them the most was Quake II, an experience with about as much variety and entertainment value as drinking the entire contents of the washing-up bowl the morning after a lard tasting party. And Hard Reset 's status as the product of former People Can Fly employees makes it comparable to George Harrison's solo career after The Beatles: no longer the glory days, but at least not as bad as Ringo's.
Hard Reset is a dystopic cyberpunk tale about a bloke named Fletcher, some kind of field agent or police officer detective thing, in a sprawling corporate future nightmare city, which is to cyberpunk what Tokyo is to the giant monster genre. And I'm going to throw a little impromptu competition here. If you haven't played Hard Reset yet, I want you to download it now, play through the entire game once to the end - don't worry, its not very long; it's independent, so the money ran out faster - and then come back here and explain to me what the plot was about in 25 words or less. It's something to do with evil robots invading the city because of an evil scientist, but it turns out he's not evil or something, and they use the word "nanomachines" like Hideo Kojima's Dictaphone broke.
They tried to have this rich, full-on, Philip K. Dick story between gameplay sections, but they keep throwing out curveballs that have nothing to do with anything that happens in the game and just confuse me. Something about your job being to defend an archive of billions of digitalized human beings, but I only remember blowing up robots and having the occasional epileptic fit. But then, Painkiller 's story was fucking woeful; the journey of a copy of Painkiller through a packaging facility is probably a better story than what Painkiller itself had. And like Painkiller, Hard Reset reserves the story to in-betweeny bits, in this case loading screens. That sort of illustrates its incomprehensibility: there's literally nothing else you could be concentrating on and it still makes less sense than a shouty homeless man enacting Klingon opera.
But Painkiller made up for itself with incredible environments, creative weapons and hordes of enemies with nice soft tummies to use them on, and I'm sad to say Hard Reset lets itself down on every one of those points. The comparison to Quake II comes because Quake II was a game that never got past one kind of environment, namely the interior of a cardboard box that had been used to store exploding chocolate. And Hard Reset is a succession of blue-tinged urban industrial areas where everyone's really paranoid about losing things so they strap multicolored neon lights to absolutely fucking everything. This is another one of those cyberpunk prerequisites, I think, but the connectivity of it all is cyberridiculous. There's one level where you start off in a subway station and a few corridors later you're on a rooftop. Did they design this city by throwing pocket calculators at a centrifuge?
But we've danced around this enough: what about the actual shooting? It's true the game does the Painkiller thing, making multitudes of monsters to mop you mercilessly, but as with the environments they forgot the whole variety thing, and you only ever seem to fight two kinds of aggressive Roomba and a few palette-swapped wheelie bins. There's really no way of saying this without giving ammunition to conservative anti-game campaigners, but there isn't as much fun to be had in shooting robots as there is in shooting organic lifeforms. When I fire a rocket into a cluster of charging monsters, I like to know that the cleanup will have to be done with a mop rather than a broom. It's hard to explain, but surely we can all agree that the lawnmower scene from Braindead just wouldn't have been as memorable if it'd been taking place in the audio-visual department at Harvey Normans. Which is to say nothing of the inherent problem of exclusively fighting shiny, metallic enemies covered in bleepy lights in a shiny, metallic environment covered in bleepy lights. It does get visually confusing and frustrating when you're trying to spot a distant sniper while a charging wheelie bin is trying to use you to redecorate.
Call me crazy, but if your weapon system is based around having two separate guns with four or five unlockable firing modes apiece, then yes, I suppose you do have a pretty fucking stupid weapon system. But since we're stuck with it, surely it would make more sense to have one key that toggles between the two rather than having one key for each. But now I am nitpicking. Is it fair to criticize an indie game for not having the resources to be as blinged out as previous, better-funded games? Certainly isn't!
Hard Reset does end rather abruptly after the second boss, but at least it's not so long that the repetition gets too dull. Maybe if I had the time, I could play through the plot seven or eight hundred times and finally get what's going on. And let's fall back on the capitalist's argument that you can't expect too much for under thirty bucks. Treat Hard Reset as a short, snacky rush of violence one can enjoy to cool down between big, stodgy AAA titles, like having a slightly poorly made cappuccino and a Twix before going back to your desk and shoving your head in another bucket of crabs.
- Founder of the cyber-luddites: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I gave your mum a hard reset last night and it certainly rebooted her operating system if you know what I mean
- Where's Asimov when you need him