Hard Reset seemed to come from nowhere, progressing rapidly from Twitter rumours to a full announcement in just a few days and with a release date set just two months after the official unveiling. Cynical as ever, we wondered if that was indicative of something - is there something that Flying Wild Hog might not want us to see in favour of initial buzz?
It's a suspicion supported by the shape of the preview build we've been tinkering with, which chooses a handful of levels from across the entire game and throws them at you with little introduction or coherence. There's enough to piece together fragments of the plot, but not to get the full picture. Again, the suspicion rises that Flying Wild Hog may realise their game looks initially dazzling but falls down on close inspection.
Sure enough, while Hard Reset provided an impressive visual spectacle when we first booted it up, the interference of old-fashioned gaming tropes soon reduced the wow-factor to something a lot more pained; the ow-factor. We began our preview by stalking through eerily empty cyberpunk streets that were lit with the dulled glow of neon and steam, but by the end we found ourselves shooting a giant in the jockstrap with a lightning gun.
Shoot him in the pants!
How did this happen? It's hard to tell when so much of the story between these points has been cut-out, but it's a tale that sees future-cop Major Fletcher trying to stop a robotic plot that threatens the last bastion of humanity - Bezoar City. What are the machines planning and why does Fletcher end up going rogue from the rest of the police force? We're not sure, but it's probably something to do with that goliath's codpiece.
Visually at least, Hard Reset is constantly amazing. There's arguably more technical achievement in the brand new engine than there is in the artistry of the design, but that mainly comes down to how closely Hard Reset treads the lines drawn by Blade Runner. That's not a bad thing for cyberpunk fans however, though those looking for something that reaches beyond existing cyberpunk tropes may be disappointed.
Almost the exact opposite is true of the action, however, which deviates off on unusual tangents that bring interesting new mechanics to the game. Hard Reset's arsenal provides the clearest example of this, with Fletcher only carrying two weapons, each of which is a Swiss Army Gun in terms of how many modes it has. The NRG weapon, for example, can be upgraded from its basic lightning attack to provide rail-gun, laser and grenade-launcher analogues. Meanwhile, the CLN weapon encompasses all physical attacks, with rocket launchers, shotguns and assault rifles all held within the branches of its tech tree.
The changes wrought by this weapon design may seem small at first - after all, you do still have all the usual firearms at your disposal - but on a moment to moment basis it actually has in a very fundamental way. It layers some interesting decisions into the game regarding which upgrades you pursue when, for example, as well as opening the question of which mode you leave the CLN and NRG weapons in by default. Some of the enemies in Hard Reset require specific weapon combinations to defeat, so choosing the right tool for the task is critical - the shotgun's EMP alt-fire attack is great for smaller 'bots, but useless against the larger 'droids.
Unfortunately, while the concept is neat enough, it's bought down by the fact that the guns look fundamentally the same no matter which mode they are in. The NRG weapon, for example, only evidences the mode it is in by the shape of its nozzle - a change which is often barely discernible in Hard Reset's shadowy environments. With few HUD indicators to tell you what mode your weapon is in, combat in Hard Reset all too often becomes a case of fumbling through with the mouse wheel in search of the right tools.