I have fond memories, as a child, of playing the shareware version of Wolfenstein 3D at a friend’s house. This was back in the days when you had to actually use 3.25” floppy drives to play things and also when you had to manually set up your sound card and everything (I believe my friend possessed a SoundBlaster 16, which was a pretty big deal for us because it was way better than the off-brand piece of crap we had that only worked if you set it to SoundBlaster and just kinda guessed at the IRQ numbers until you found something that worked).
And, yes, it’s no secret in the least that many FPSes these days rely on huge set pieces, iron sights, health that automatically replenishes itself, and (perhaps most egregiously) a two gun limit. So when a bunch of developers from the Painkiller series say that they’re getting together to release an “old-school” shooter just like mama used to make, you can imagine my delight. Then, of course, we got Hard Reset instead.
Hard Reset takes all the bits of old games that I hated and brings them back. True, there are some elements that I do like (Lots of enemies to kill! Lots of bullets! A criminally underused artistic talent!), but for every thing that I liked, there seemed to be several things that I didn’t like. Like, oh, let’s just say for example…
There is no crouching in Hard Reset. If you come across a fence with a waist high hole (and there are SO MANY FENCES WITH WAIST HIGH HOLES — you have no idea), good luck getting through. I still cannot actually believe this is a thing. I have in fact gone back into the game several times just trying to figure out how I missed what the crouch key is… but no.
No crouching. You can’t crouch! You can jump over stuff, provided it’s not too high, but you can’t duck. There’s no ducking! I am tempted to give this a zero because not being able to crouch in a first person shooter in the year of our lord 20 and 12 is ridiculous. I don’t care how old school a game is — to be thwarted by waist-high fencing, it’s a bad design decision that never should have made it into the final game. Kinda takes all the fun out of finding secret passages when a lot of the game’s secrets consist of walking down a hallway. Congratulations! You found the secret because you didn’t know where you were going, because the environments in the original game are all just poorly lit corridors or rainy streets!
This is actually my second problem with the game: the environments are a waste. You don’t get anything that looks remotely neat until the very end of the game, which involves going through a misused hospital. The hospital itself doesn’t look great, but by the time that you reach that last level, the rain has actually stopped and there are some gorgeous views of the surrounding city. The city itself is beautiful, and I wish you could have actually seen it for more of the game than its final level. Which is — I guess — also “old school,” but, I mean, Wolfenstein 3D was just all brick corridors, so maybe that’s what they were going for. I don’t know. It depressed me and made a short game feel like an eternity because everything looked the same.
Including the enemies, I’m afraid. There are about four enemy types, and that’s it. Hope you like just shooting the same thing over and over again! It seems to me that if you’re fighting robots, you could do better than tiny buzzsaw guys, little ball guys, and human/cyborg-looking Quake II rejects (the fourth variant is the human/cyborg guys — but with rockets or something. I could be wrong, though. There could just be three). Which is a shame! They’ve got other robots running around (cement mixer bot is my favorite), and if in fact there’s a whole “humans versus robots” thing going on (Which there is, as far as I can tell. The narrative is somewhat incoherent), then why aren’t there repurposed robots running amok! I want to fight the coffee machine or a bot trying to rivet my head to the wall! That would be cool, instead of just fighting the same goddamn little circle bot (who looks an awful lot like scenery) over and over again.
The game’s length was also pretty roundly vilified when it released, but honestly, I didn’t mind. I was so sick of corridors by the end of the thing that it was a blessing to get to the final battle (which is legitimately the nicest looking part!).
That said, once you beat the original game and get into the extra level, it’s much better! You still can’t crouch, but there’s no rain and a lot of running around in junkyards and factories (There’s even an extra enemy type! Flying helicoptor guys! And no more Quake II rejects either, which is also nice.), but the game is brighter and the environments have a lot more character. I remember thinking as I played through the new levels that I would have been a lot happier with a game that involved the sun being out. I’ll bet the city would look great in sunlight (actually I know it does because the final battle takes place at sunrise and the environment looks fantastic).
Sure, there are some added awful platformer-esque sections… but really the “Extended” part of Hard Reset: Extended Edition is the best part. You even get to shoot down cop cars! It’s good fun.
In the end, Hard Reset isn’t a great game. It has some great ideas (I like upgrading my weapons, but I literally never switched to the plasma weapon. Not once), and there certainly are plenty of enemies to kill, but if you’re looking for that, I’d say that you’re a lot better off playing Serious Sam instead. That said, it’s not exactly an expensive game ($14.99 on Steam) and one assumes that if you give these people money, they’ll use to make something even better.