I don’t know how I feel about the industry practice of ‘reduxing’ games. Although I know that the remastering process of older games is hardly a new concept, it comes down to a question of time — how old is old enough? Redux pioneers like the Dead Island and Metro franchises that are less than 6 years old have offered remastered graphics and minor tweaks to gameplay at a low loyalty price point to owners of the original game — and only that. The deal might seem fair to frenzied fans of these beloved franchises. But to the average PC gamer who’s always in a perpetual state of backlog-busting? You might have to bring something more to the table.
On paper, the re-release of Flying Wild Hog’s Hard Reset (a game from 2011) meets the criteria of a reduxed title. It delivers on the baseline obligations of producing nicer-looking visuals and minor tweaks to the gameplay, like balanced difficulty levels and different enemy spawns from the original. To entice owners of the original game (or the developer’s 2013 reboot of Shadow Warrior) to buy the game at 85% off retail price, they also included a powerful katana, a dash movement mechanic, and cyborg zombies as a new enemy type. These welcomed additions add to the game’s fluid playstyle, but would go underappreciated by those that have already played it.
For the uninitiated, Hard Reset: Redux is best described as a futuristic cyberpunk FPS that’s set in a downtrodden metropolis called Bezoar. As Major Joe Fletcher, you are initially sent out to destroy flesh-hungry robots that have breached the walls of one of the last human cities. Fletcher is a unit of CLN, a private security company that’s on contract to protect the city.
Sounds good, right? Well, that’s about as far as I could get. Without getting into heavy spoilers, the story is convoluted with enough plot holes to sink any semblance of a cohesive narrative. Cutscenes are shown in a broadstroke comic book style, which works surprisingly well for its grim setting and muddled character motivations.
Characters themselves are one-dimensional and play off of stereotypes we’ve seen before — the cop that realizes that he’s been working for the wrong side, the nutty professor, and corporate robot are the three focal characters in the 7 to 9 hour plot. Cutscenes happen in between missions, and there is little meaningful discussion between the characters in-game to get us to care about the end goal. Fletcher often has to rely on uncreative swearing just to remain noteworthy.
Objectives are often loosely tied to the overarching plot, which makes for jarring transitions from gameplay to story. I found myself ending missions with the objective of opening a door or gate with no clear direction of where I was going. The lore behind enemy AI and the eradication of human populations was also unclear. I saw this as a lost opportunity to develop backstory using visual cues in their rich level design. Instead, the city missions were littered with dystopian holographic advertisements that spread the same repetitive messages of conformity and hyper-consumerism. Fortunately, most of these advertisements doubled as electrical hazards to enemies if you blew them up.
Although the story is wonky, I wouldn’t let it detract from its overall gameplay. The movement controls are fluid and conducive to its fast twitchy style that follows the same vein of the Serious Sam franchise. The weapon upgrade system is unique to the series and memorable. There are two main guns (excluding the standalone sword) that contain 10 different firing modifications unique to each weapon (20 total).
Modifications and upgrades to health or weapon damage could only be unlocked through N.A.N.O points. These could be collected from destroying robots or in orange boxes scattered throughout the maps. Each map has a number of secret locations that often contained health and large N.A.N.O drops. The developers even troll secret searchers by adding anti-secrets, which were places that looked like they had secrets but only had relentless waves of enemies. Well played.
Hard Reset: Redux takes you throughout the city of Bezoar, with notable places ranging from futuristic hospitals to junkyards. Environments were pleasantly unique despite their linear structure. Because there is no intuitive GPS or clear instruction as to where the objectives are, I found myself getting bogged down with trying to figure out where to go next in some instances. Each level was home to a host of diverse enemy robots, which always led to hectic and engaging firefights. I should say that combat can get a bit predictable towards the end, so my solution is just to switch from one of your many weapon firing modes to liven it up.
Enemies don’t stagger when they’ve been hit, so tougher enemies play like bullet sponges. During these battles, I also began to appreciate how well-balanced the two weapons were. The plasma rifle excelled in destroying long ranged targets in accurate bursts while the assault rifle dominated close quarter combat with bullets and highly explosive firing modes. Both weapons also thrived off of the game’s over-the-top inclusion of explosive barrels and equipment. The effects damaged everyone, so I often found myself to be more of a target to these explosions than my enemies.
Sound-wise, the music was a nice mix of hard rock, electric, and hip-hop depending on what level you were in. However, these musical moments were far and few between. Most moments in Hard Reset didn’t have a musical underscore. Most combat relied solely on footsteps, grunts, disgruntled robotic voices and the occasional cry from a flying vehicle that was about to explode. I was too focused on what was happening to really be annoyed by this.
From an upgrader’s perspective, the price point still leaves me hesitant. If you’ve already beaten the game on a higher difficulty, forget it. The dash mechanics add a nice dodge element to Hard Reset: Redux, and would be helpful on the more difficulties. The katana was a delightful alternative to close ranged combat on easier difficulties. However, its careless hack-and-slash mechanics were rendered obsolete on harder difficulties, since you couldn’t counter enemies that exploded. You couldn’t even take on hordes of smaller enemies without the risk of dying.
I was also disheartened to see that the sword had no in-game upgrade tree as the guns did. You simply find the sword lodged in a switch in one of the earlier levels, and that’s it. As for the zombies, they simply felt like a taller reskin of a robot with similar close-range attacks. Their brittle composition provided excellent fodder for the sword and nothing less.
I was able to max out the settings on 1440p resolution with no problems on both the original and redux versions. In my brief comparison of the two, the graphical changes were minimal and hard to catch. To my untrained eye, I noticed that the redux version had an increased detail in its weapons and shadows. Buildings, objects, colors and lighting looked nearly identical in both titles. If anything, many have made the argument that the graphics have endured a downgrade. You can see for yourself in this comprehensive comparison.
In either instance, they were fitting for the time and highlighted the setting well. It relied on a slew of neon colors to show off the city that worked well, but I disliked the high levels of light reflection from buildings.
With such meager offerings from a graphics and gameplay standpoint, I can see the redux version feels like a bit of a cash grab. It’s nice that they’ve added new content to mask their sub-par graphical upgrade, but it’s disappointing to know that they are the anomaly in the recent trend of reduxes. Even after four years since its release, the re-release fails to look strikingly different. I can only see the value in it for upgraders if they want to run through the game in EX mode (where you hold onto your upgrades from your completed run) or are devout fans of its horde-clearing survival mode. The price point of $2.50 may be appealing, but I just don’t see the replay value. However, fans of the twitch shooter genre that haven’t played it before should think about it. Its environments, upgrade system, and overall art style ought to be played out. Just don’t expect anything but headaches from the story.
Hard Reset: Redux was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer: Flying Wild Hog | Publisher: Gambitious Digital Entertainment | Genre: FPS, Cyberpunk | Platform: PC | PEGI/ESRB: M/18+ | Release Date: June 3rd, 2016