Unlike most first-person shooters these days, here is a game that recalls the original Doom fondly. Hard Reset truly favors the days when the genre was only about killing things, when there were no NPCs to interact with and puzzles only extended to finding out where the colored keycards were placed.
Now this isn't to say that this entry is entrenched only in its roots, since a number of modern day conventions have made it in. Regenerating shields, a two-weapon limit, proper jumping, a waypoint system, and leveling up are all present to make the classic design not feel too archaic, though the lack of a Duke Nukem-esque melee attack is sorely missed.
Hard Reset is a throwback to a purer era of gameplay and it does the genre proud.
Now, before anyone hoping for a pure traditional FPS gets up in arms about these changes, it's best to explain them; they're probably not what you're expecting. While there are regenerating shields, they are in no way the primary health system as such a thing is in Halo, since in here shields work more like they do in Doom. Health is still shaved down while being shot, albeit at a greatly reduced amount, and there is rarely enough cover to actually wait for a recharge during battle.
Though jumping exists, it has very limited uses since it's not high enough to clear over short enemies on equal footing and it's barely faster than normal running. The waypoint system guides the path to the next keycard - I'm sorry, I mean "computer terminal" - but it can also be turned on and off at the press of a button, while hints can be disabled in the options menu. Leveling up is done simply by killing things and collecting special pick-ups, and essentially functions in the same way as finding new weapons and armor.
But the weapons! How could a game about mowing down waves of enemies in a mid-'90s kind of way only have two weapons? As it turns out, each of the two weapons can actually transform into four more, which is where the leveling up system starts to come into play. The bullet-spewing rifle and the electric plasma gun each start as a basic weapon, but by placing upgrades into them they can turn into a shotgun, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, smart gun, rail gun, and so on. While it may sound needless at first, it actually works beautifully, eliminating certain problems while solving ones you probably weren't even expecting.
Each of the base weapons uses its own ammo, so this means instead of needing ten different types of ammo like in other games, there are now only two. The more powerful the shot, the more ammo it uses for every blast. Now this kind of multi-resource might seem to create issues like it has in the past - for example: being forced to use a particular gun in order to conserve ammo for the other gun in case a boss shows up. However, there are so many ammo pickups in the game, and nearly every enemy in the game drops some when killed, that it's almost impossible to use it all up. Even if by some chance (or by playing on harder difficulties where enemies soak up a lot more damage) one does consume all the currently available ammo, the game will automatically regenerate ammo up to a certain point. It is literally impossible to ever run out, continuing to cultivate the game's design of encouraging players to expend as much as they want of whatever they want.
The other interesting issue solved by having two transforming weapons relates to Hard Reset's platform choice: the game works beautifully on a gamepad. I used an Xbox 360 controller for much of the game, and each weapon was mapped to a face button with the bumpers being used to swap between modes. Finally, an elegant and useful method that gives access to a crazy amount of weapons at once, and that isn't hindered or bogged down on a controller. Ironic that the game which finally gets that right is a PC exclusive, though perhaps such a thing is also a sign of as-yet-unannounced ports to come.
As for the real meat of the game, it captures much of what Flying Wild Hog was after, though it also falters in a number of ways due to its single-minded nature. While normal difficulty is fairly simple (as tradition requires), the game does pick up a bit on the hardest selection of "Insane." Once you're used to the game, it certainly becomes much easier. While I died of number of times during my first run on Normal from things like out-of-nowhere surprise charging robots, clearing those same levels again on Insane was child's play in comparison. If that should still prove to be too much, selecting EX mode allows the player to carry over all the upgrades made in a cleared game into a fresh start on a harder difficulty. As is the tendency in Game+ modes, being leveled up from EX mode makes those harder levels very simplistic, so those looking for a challenge should stay away from it.
Thankfully, all of the robot killing that makes up the entirety of Hard Reset has nice, if repetitious, design work. The world is gorgeously dirty cyberpunk, with trash cans, air conditioners, barrels, broken cars, and all the ugly aspects of the city front-and-center in every location, serving both as detailed accents and as explosive environmental hazards. Cars fly by overhead while walking through the streets, or in formation down below once a skyscraper has been scaled. Automated retail vendors are scattered about, with computer voices begging anyone who gets close to purchase something and questioning the validity of those who would walk away.
The flipside to the world is that the above description is all there is. With the exception of one area that's a construction zone and the brief train to occasionally pass by, there's almost nothing to differentiate one area from any other. Granted, the game is short enough that this isn't a huge issue, but the lack of any real enemy variety and the constant reusing of art assets means that one could take a screen shot from almost any point in the game and be unable to even tell what level it's from. Not that a coastal vista or anything else outrageous needs to be shoehorned in, but some kind of variety would be very welcome.
Hard Reset also suffers a bit from the normal running speed being a touch too slow. While it works well for the majority of the game, strafing blatantly obvious attacks can still sometimes be a struggle due to large splash damage and curving paths of incoming charges. There is a sprint button, but it only works for going forward - not too helpful when a 10-foot-tall robot is trying to ram at high speed in close range. Some of the rooms are also very tiny for the amount of combat set to occur in them, and being littered with scrap to trip up the player (as the larger robots can generally charge through anything) doesn't help matters.
Still, for those eager for a classic style of FPS, Hard Reset certainly delivers. More variety in level art and enemies would be greatly welcome, as would more bosses, but the basics here are solid and fantastic. It's not the longest game out there by a long shot, taking somewhere in the realm of five hours or so, but that also means it doesn't overstay its welcome. It's a throwback to a purer era of gameplay and it does the genre proud.