Hard Reset: Redux

There are few game releases that see an apathetic response quite like a remaster. The concept of a remaster is often an excuse to resell a product with no substantial improvements and their prevalence has solidified the notion.  It is unfortunate that Hard Reset: Redux is no exception.  Originally released in 2011, the game isn’t even old enough to be out of the general consciousness, yet it has made its way to current-gen consoles.

Hard Reset: Redux makes its intentions clear right from the outset.  The game begins with a comic book style cutscene that tells an incomprehensible story with rough voice acting.  Throughout the game, these scenes work as nothing more than an occasional break from the action to provide a very basic sense of direction.  It is quite simply not even worth discussing, as the story doesn’t care enough to be understood, nor is it truly important.  Hard Reset is a first-person shooter channeling the old-school style of gunplay that was clearly established prior to the emergence of the modern military shooter.  The speed of the combat is fast, there are no restrictive weapon slots, bosses are absolute goliaths with glowing weak points, and there are constant explosions in every enemy encounter.  It’s exactly what one would expect, with the story and characters taking a back seat – if they’re even in the car at all.

There is nothing inherently wrong with forgoing a compelling story and robust characterization; however, to blatantly neglect these elements is to make an announcement that the game can stand on its own merits.  The problem with Hard Reset is that its strengths simply aren’t very strong.  Its low points are tedious and confusing, while its high points never break the ceiling of adequate amusement.  It’s a shame, because there are times in which its potential shines through.  For example, there was a moment early on where I fired an electric mortar onto a car.  It then proceeded to explode, throwing the car hood –electric mortar still attached – towards a group of enemies, sporadically electrocuting them.  This was equal parts hilarious and effective, and it gave me the impression that perhaps there was more creativity to the combat than I initially gave it credit for.  Unfortunately, moments like this are pure flukes that only occur because the game litters the environment with things that explode.  Hard Reset relies far too much on this, to the point that the number of exploding objects rivals the number of enemies in a given combat section.  Perhaps the most problematic issue is that there’s no true environmental destruction, but simply a multitude of exploding objects within that environment.  In turn, you get some goofy situations, where a massive energy barrier can be right next to a chain link fence, and both are equally impassable obstructions.

Hard Reset seeks to prove itself through its gunplay and perpetually exploding environment.  This method sees mixed results, but there are some interesting and unique ideas.  Notably, there are two primary weapon types in the form of traditional firearms and energy weapons.  All of them can be switched on-the-fly, and each weapon type will transform to suit what has been selected.  The assault rifle requires only a brief second to morph into a shotgun or RPG.  Similarly, the plasma rifle can quickly convert into an electric mortar or railgun.  There are a total of 5 weapons for each type and the fact that they all retain their unique aesthetic by transforming into different functions feels very fluid.  This also retains a sense of momentum in contrast to a weapon wheel (which is also provided).

Despite a creative presentation, the same praise cannot be given to the actual functions of each weapon.  There are 2 upgrades for each weapon, but the vast majority of them are simply uninteresting.  Almost all of them have a simple upgrade to efficacy, along with a secondary ability.  The issue is that the former only really exists in terms of fire rate or explosion size, while the latter is often a variant of immobilizing a group of enemies.  As a result, many of the weapons don’t feel as though investment grants anything more than superficial improvements.   The inclusion of the cyber-katana in the Redux version does little to remedy this, as it cannot be upgraded and just generally feels clunky and ineffective.  It seems like a complete afterthought and nowhere is this more evident than the section in which the player obtains it.  After picking it up, a swarm of small robots attack the player, yet many of them are the variants that explode at close range.  The cyber-katana is the worst weapon to use in that situation, yet the game implies it’s well-suited to the task.  It is regrettable that the weapon isn’t particularly useful in any scenario considering the game already offers multiple crowd control weapons.

On some level, it’s surprising that there is an upgrade system at all given how much Hard Reset tries to be old-school.  It actively subverts expectations right from the beginning in a section where progression requires the player to get past a fence.  There is an obvious hole in the fence, yet the game tells you to climb boxes and jump over it. Many of the obstacles in Hard Reset could be crouched under in a modern shooter, yet no such function exists.  The entire game is littered with these spaces as if to taunt you and establish its desire to be archaic.  This attitude could explain many of the core issues with Hard Reset:  It is old-school for the sake of being old-school.   There is nothing to be gained by designing levels as though they accommodate crouching yet not allowing the player to do so, nor is the inclusion of persistent, clunky jumping sections.  The player is railroaded through sections with no internal logical consistency.  Footholds are questionable; some large falls may be fine, while falling 2 feet may result in instant death.  Puzzle design is also poor, involving nothing more than hitting green buttons.  If there’s a barrier to progress, it isn’t because the player was required to think, it was because they didn’t see a small green button at a difficult-to-see angle.

There are secret areas in the game, but they’re so pathetically hidden that calling them secrets is insulting.  Many secrets are in the corner of a room behind a box, and require no real exploration at all.  In fact, exploring will likely lead you down the critical path, which will prevent you from returning.  Not only is backtracking to explore not encouraged, it’s actively prevented should you take an extra step too far.  The game taunts you with fake crouch locations simply to establish itself as going against the grain; it arbitrarily decides what the player can use as a foothold, yet forces platforming sections; it makes the critical path ambiguous and actively denies exploration, yet includes “secrets”.   Examples of these problems are multitudinous and it all seems to stem from the desire to recapture nostalgia for old-school shooters.   Unfortunately, this is evidence that the desire to oppose modern design took precedence over good design and fails to consider that the two are not mutually exclusive.

On the topic of design, I’m not entirely sure what to think of the art direction in Hard Reset.  It has a clearly-defined cyberpunk feel, yet many of the enemy designs are simultaneously intriguing and unappealing.   There are rodent-like robots with sawblades for faces, ape-like robots with elongated arms that can continue moving even if you blow their legs off.  There are even human-like enemies that look more like the product of a trash compactor than the creation of an artistic process.  Perhaps that’s the point, because the general design seems to be an amalgamation of machinery and organic material.  The graphics are also somewhat dated, but the game does an excellent job of looking good during gameplay.  Taking a screenshot of an explosive scene frequently looks terrible; however while in motion, the explosive and electrical effects are aesthetically appealing and compound the volatile nature of the combat.  Thankfully, the technical limitations of the graphics are made up for by the manner in which they’re presented.   From a sound perspective, the music is standard cyberpunk fare that doesn’t particularly enhance nor detract from the experience.

Overall, Hard Reset: Redux wears a convincing guise of the old-school shooter and retains some of the strengths of what it’s emulating, but simultaneously carries with it the glaring defects.  The developer’s desire to recapture the magic of a previous age clouded their vision of what constitutes good design, and created an experience fraught with antithetical decisions.  As a result, Hard Reset offers an average game which becomes particularly tedious long before it ends.