Hard Reset is a deceptive game. On the surface, this PC first-person shooter from upstart developer Flying Wild Hog feels pretty simple. There's no reload button, there's no crouch button, and there's no magical duffel bag full of grenades, flash bangs, or other tactical items you need to memorize a dozen hotkeys in order to use. You just sort of run and gun like it's 1995 all over again. At least that's how it goes for the first few minutes. Then you stumble upon an upgrade terminal and suddenly that whole business about Hard Reset being a simple shooter gets thrown right on out the window.
Hard Reset is a sci-fi shooter through and through. The story is pure cyberpunk noir, a tale about a guy named Fletcher who works for a massively powerful corporation that he discovers a few none-too-pleasant secrets about. The world instantly recalls images of Blade Runner with its rainy nighttime cityscapes and bright neon signage, and it feels as though most of the residents that populate this place are murderous robots instead of actual living people.
Those futuristic sensibilities take on a large role in the gameplay, specifically in regard to those aforementioned upgrade terminals. While you start the game with only two weapons--one that fires regular bullets and one that fires plasma blasts--you routinely collect bits of glowing orange currency called N.A.N.O. that you can use to upgrade either of these two guns--or yourself!--to high heaven. So while you start the game with two very basic weapons, you soon unlock the ability to upgrade either gun to the point where it can use five different firing modes, each with three upgrade slots. The same goes for upgrading your own combat gear, granting you a total of 45 different upgrade slots to mix and match for your preferred play style.
Want to take that plasma rifle and make it so that it can also fire a crippling lightning grenade that slows down any enemy in its path? Go ahead. Want to upgrade that assault rifle so that it can instantly morph into a double-barreled combat shotgun? Feel free! But maybe consider further upgrading that firing mode so you can shoot EMP buckshot and reduce the reload times while you're at it. And then think about upgrading your own gear to enhance your weapons shield, add a tactical visor, and a pre-death "enhanced perception mode" that grants you an upper hand when you're really on the ropes. Oh, and did we mention the gun that shoots through walls? Yeah. There's a lot you can do with those upgrade terminals.
None of this means Hard Reset is any less the run-and-gun shooter that it starts out as. It's still a fast-paced game where enemies come at you hard and fast and you can sprint around like an Olympic athlete. But as you're running around, you'll be constantly flicking the mousewheel to switch firing modes, with the onscreen gun stylishly morphing on the fly into something altogether different. The little grunt robots that look like Wall-E, if Wall-E had a radial saw attached to his torso, can be taken out with a single shotgun blast, but you soon encounter big charging robots that you need to maintain plenty of distance from, at which point ranged rocket attacks become more handy. And these encounters tend to mix up enemy types, so you'll need to respond by flipping around firing modes rather frequently.
For the most part, we really enjoyed Hard Reset's brand of frantic shooter action. The weapons are ludicrously extravagant in the best way possible, and there's a genuinely intimidating level of challenge on normal difficulty. But the level design doesn't always harmonize with the weapon and enemy design. At one point we had to take on a group of those heavy charging bots on a narrow street filled with demolished cars and other litter. The amount of physics-enabled debris is impressive from a technical perspective, but not so much when you're trying to sprint away from an enemy hell-bent on pancaking you, and suddenly that garbage can that tumbled into the road stops you mid-sprint. And the narrowness of the street wasn't much help, either, making strafing side to side a nearly useless tactic. But fortunately, this sort of thing was more the exception than the rule, with other levels offering more space to play cat and mouse with your robo-foes.
From the moody cyberpunk atmosphere to the final boss encounter against a skyscraper-size cyborg, we liked what we played of Hard Reset. It's a throwback game that seems to know exactly what made '90s-era PC shooters fun, and while it stumbles here and there, we had a good bit of fun with it. Hard Reset doesn't appear to be the second coming of the single-player PC shooter, but it still does a fine job of reminding you why the best part of the future will be blasting killer robots into bits of scrap metal. Expect to see this PC-only title released next month.