A return to classical FPS with an exceedingly strong aesthetic somewhat let down by a two weapon system.
Nostalgia Train: Hard Reset
Date published: Feb 8, 2014
2 / 3 stars

Hard Reset is a first-person shooter developed by Flying Wild Hog Games.  Hard Reset is a game that very clearly sets out to evoke the more generic and traditional FPS style of yesteryear with the visuals aesthetic of a more modern game. It does that pretty well and it's a fun and enjoyable game, but it fails in a few areas that are somewhat glaring, and it does have it's problems. If you're about to stop reading this review because I'm not going to be 100% positive about this review, well, that's your prerogative, but I'm not saying it's by any means a bad game. It's a good game, bordering on great, but it has some foibles that hold it back from true excellence.

The aesthetic of the game is probably one of the parts it really does very well, and it extends entirely through the game. It has a very heavy cyberpunk aesthetic, loading screens are hidden behind very artfully done comic book intermissions, and the visuals of the game are absolutely gorgeous. It has an actually fairly strong story for a FPS (which .. admittedly isn't saying much), and things thematically are pretty strong and engaging. However, there's two fairly large problems with this aesthetic and both of them essentially boil down to making things hard to distinguish. First of all, having robotic enemies in a game level that largely involves a lot of technological set pieces makes it very difficult to distinguish enemies at a glance. Compare this to something like Painkiller or Serious Sam where the enemies are relatively speaking very easy to distinguish from the scenery. Also, having electrical particle effects for hit confirmations on enemies when the destructible environment pieces also give off the same or similar particle effects make it difficult to say whether you are hitting an enemy with your shots, or the environment. The two guns in their different modes also are difficult to distinguish what mode they are in just by looking at them. They do have differences in the modes, but they are subtle and hard to tell at a quick glance.

The gunplay is simultaneously a very strong element of the game but also very disappointing. The fact that the two weapons in their different modes handle so well, with a tangible feel of weight, satisfying visuals, and good sound assets, only serves to accentuate my disappointment and frustration with them having the two weapon mode system. I don't feel the system adds anything to the game of value in this case. In some games with a two weapon system what you have is a large weapon selection and you have to choose the two of them that you feel best work for the tactical situations and enemies that you will be facing. However, with all the different modes available at all times, I kind of am left in agreement with TotalBiscuit's comment in his first impressions that it seems like they used the two weapon mode so that they didn't have to create a series of different weapon models. It's unfortunate. These weapons would have been easier - and truer to the 'old school' FPS, if they were simply seperate weapons.

The level design is a fairly strong aspect of the game, with lots of areas to explore and a large amount of secrets to find in each. I like the feeling in several of the levels that you are actually in coherent areas which actually make sense in canon as well; for example one section being a little shanty-town of trailers where people live. It evokes memories of the level design of Duke Nukem 3D, which is a comparison I make as highest praise, as that was a high point in FPS level design. The Levellord was a master of the craft.

One thing that bears touching on to is that the overall pacing of the levels and the game in general is executed tremendously well. There's a feeling of momentum to the game that keeps things going at a decent clip unless you pause to go rummaging and every time I would think to myself that the enemy variety is thinning out there'd be a new enemy, and every time I started feeling comfortable with the level of difficulty the game would ramp it up again.

All in all a very well-crafted game with a good theme let down by a couple of fairly large issues that don't stop it from being a very good game and well worth your time and money.