Hard Reset Redux is a remake of a PC FPS that was first released back in September 2011, created by Polish developers Flying Wild Hog. It received an expansion entitled Exile in 2012, and now the whole shooting match has been released into the crowded Xbox shooter market. Story driven, the game is a single player experience, with no multiplayer portion, which is increasingly rare these days. The elephant in the room, and what we've tried to ignore for the purposes of this review, is the recent release of the DOOM reboot. It's a brave decision to release another FPS so close on the heels of the game that we're not going mention, and quite possibly a bit of a gamble too. Can Hard Reset hit the target, or is it wide of the mark?
First impressions are good, with the necessary exposition performed via the media of graphic novel panels, animated and heavily stylised. It's possible to skip these to dive straight into the game, but it's a testament to the quality of these scenes that we never felt they overstayed their welcome. The voice work is similarly good, although it does slip into "hero cliché" mode more than once. The character you are given control of is a CLN enforcer known only as Major Fletcher, and he's a likable loose cannon, hard drinking and an all round, card carrying badass. The purpose of the CLN is to defend Bezoar, the last human city and the location of The Sanctuary, where billions of digitised human minds are held in a secure network. Set against them are the Machines, AI enemies that are constantly assaulting the city walls, desperate to gain control of The Sanctuary. The story opens when the machines manage to force a breach in the said walls, and Major Fletcher is sent by the Corporation to mop up and check the extent of the damage.
The first level is a tutorial, as is normal in this type of game. It introduces you to the only two (yes, two) weapons that you will wield throughout the entire game. The first is the CLN Modular Assault Rifle, which starts as a basic machine gun, and the NRG EEF-21 Plasma Rifle, which starts off as a basic plasma ball firing weapon. Each of these weapons can be upgraded and have new firing modes bolted on as you progress through the game as you collect N.A.N.O., the in game currency. So, the CLN weapon can change from an assault rifle, to a shotgun, grenade launcher and even an RPG, while the NRG weapon can change from a plasma shooter, to a lightning gun, to a mortar firing electric bombs with an AOE explosion. Choosing the correct weapon for the enemies you're facing is part of the strategy (and if we're honest the only bit of strategy to be found in the game) as certain enemies are killed faster by electricity, for instance. Big enemy, like a Heavy Grenadier? You'll want the RPG. Loads of small enemies? The lightning gun makes short work of them, and helpfully keeps them at a distance.
As you progress through the levels, you'll see lots of different Machine types starting to rear their heads. The Machines start off as fairly basic melee types, small machines with saw blades on the front that rush you, or walking bombs that will roll towards you and detonate if you aren't fast on the trigger. Pro tip: if you're fighting these bomb enemies, don't stand next to one of the many explosive barrels or containers that are dotted around the levels. It doesn't end well. As you start to master these little foes, new types are then regularly introduced, ranging from large hulking "Gorillas" that charge about the place and have a devastating ground pound attack, to smaller, faster foes that have firearms and attack from afar, to what appear to almost be zombies reanimated by the machines using cybernetics. The enemies that you learn to dread are the Heavy Grenadiers, which we mentioned above. These are huge creations, bristling with rocket launchers and mortars, and also able to perform the ground pound moves when up close. These enemies take a pounding as well, and if you were to meet a couple of these with a swarm of the smaller bots, your day can go downhill very rapidly! With no recharging health (if you want healing, you'd better find some of the health the enemies drop or that are left in the areas) it makes Hard Redux just that little bit harder, and it isn't an easy game to start with.
Hard Redux will throw bosses at you every now and again. They're massive hulking machines that you'll have to defeat in order to carry on, and also because at least some of them advance the story. Like the giant Atlas robot that has been secretly constructed in the heart of the city. The boss fights all take place in a tight, arena-like areas with little cover, so your strafing and ducking and diving skills will be tested to the max in these environments. Finding the boss' weaknesses is a long and drawn out process, but can be broken down into "shoot the glowing things until it dies." Sophisticated, these fights are not. They are, however, a challenge, and luckily the checkpoint system is fairly generous. In an odd decision, checkpoints can be activated midway through a boss fight, and in the Atlas battle, the checkpoint puts you back into the middle of the fight with the enemy carrying the damage that you've already inflicted. This is a help, but not as much as the fact that when you respawn, your ammo is topped off too, which makes the battles strangely easier if you die. Maybe its all the Dark Souls we've been playing recently, but this design choice did seem to cut the challenge to a great degree, as ammo management become less of an issue.
Graphically, it's clear a lot of work has gone into the art direction, and the look of the city captures the cyberpunk setting perfectly. There's hints of Blade Runner and Metropolis in the look of the world, and the holographic billboards that appear when you walk near them is a nice touch. Also of note is that the scenery is largely destructible, with cars exploding and damaging opponents, with any electronic or electric items emitting an AOE blast that arcs to all nearby foes. You can be caught in these explosions and zaps, so you'll need to tread carefully. The levels are largely designed as open areas linked with corridors that have to be opened by your actions, and there is a bit of verticality built into some environments as well. In action, the graphics are generally up to the task, but you will see some slowdown if there are a lot of enemies on the screen. In one area in particular, where you have to fight two of the Heavy Grenadiers in an environment with lots of destructible walls, the slowdown is unbearable, with the whole game reduced to chugging along for a few seconds. This really isn't good enough in this day and age, but thankfully it only became a problem once during our time with the game.
Control-wise, Hard Redux does a fine job. Aiming is easy and the best word to use for the controls as a whole is "crisp." However, there is an issue with the gameplay, and it's in the general feel of the game. As you stamp around the levels, blasting machinery back to its component parts, there's never a feeling of heft and no satisfaction to be gained from firing what should be the world's most powerful gun. Comparing it to that game we mentioned earlier, firing the shotgun couldn't be more different. Here, you take a shot and the enemies fall down and you move on. There are no grin inducing moments, and even the music that starts up when enemies are near is muted, but to make up for this, the gunfire noises are very loud. so loud that when we were in a party and playing this game, we actually had to mute the game as it drowned out the voices of the people we were chatting to.
Another glaring omission is the map, there's no way of checking where you are in the levels, and there are also no waypoints to show you where you should be going. This does lead to frustration on a couple of levels, where you're required to go and activate something which will open up a door somewhere back where you've been. Backtracking and finding this new area is somewhat hit and miss, and in the end you'll be reduced to wandering around and waiting to be attacked, as that indicates that you're in an area you haven't cleared. Wandering around an empty level looking for enemies isn't the most fun we've ever had in a game, to be honest. Add to this the very common pauses as the game loads the next area (the screen freezes and a CD icon spins in the bottom corner of the screen - very retro) and the desire to advance the story and see the next cutscene is only just enough to overcome to urge to switch off and go play a game that doesn't have these issues. There are also lengthy delays when loading a level for the first time or respawning and it ends up sucking a lot of the fun from the experience. Getting hung up on the scenery, the inability to jump very high unless the game needs you to, getting crowded into corners by enemies that you then can't dodge or kill fast enough to prevent a cheap death, no crouch button (making lining shots up trickier than it needs to be), the first person platforming sections that will see you fall to your death as it's very hard to judge where you are in relation to the edge of the platform you need to jump from...the whole feel of Hard Reset: Redux is old fashioned, and not in a cool retro way, sadly.
In conclusion, Hard Reset: Redux is a missed opportunity to exploit the exciting cyberpunk environment and story that was developed for it. The shooting is unsatisfactory, and the whole game has an old fashioned feel to it that doesn't sit well in comparison to other, more modern games. The presentation of the story, and the story arc itself are highlights, and will drive you to keep playing, but it's possible that once the story is finished there will be no urge to go and play again on a different difficulty setting. This is a game from only five years ago, but it really shows its age. Unless you are a massive cyberpunk fan, this isn't one that we can recommend.