I’ve been told Hard Reset is a short game. I’ll have to take people’s word for it. It’s taking me quite a while to work through it, as I have to play many of the sections over a few times. I usually just need to work out which weapons are best for a given area, and then try a few times to get it right. On the normal difficulty level, this is turning out to be more challenging that I expected.
As a result, this isn’t a game I sit down to play for a few hours at a time, like Gears of War 3, which I powered through with nary a hitch, sometimes barely paying attention. Hard Reset is more like a short sharp dose of spectacular shootering, akin to a shot of espresso (to extend the metaphor, Gears of War 3 is a Big Gulp cup full of day-old 7-11 coffee). I partly blame/credit Hard Reset’s checkpoint system. This isn’t a “save anywhere then reload if you die” game. It’s a game about getting from checkpoint to checkpoint, which leaves the difficulty tuning up to the developers who made the game. I can respect this. They know the game far better than I do when I’m asked to choose easy, normal, or hard. Frankly, even those three choices are a bit much to trust to the average gamer.
If this is supposed to be a four hour game, a lot of my four hours are looping back over themselves, dancing circles around that line between challenge and frustration. Each section of Hard Reset is a challenge in making do with whatever resources I can grab, dealing with the weapon upgrade choices I’ve had to make, and testing my skill at old school Doom style shootering that laughs at the prospect of a reload or crouch button. Either that or I suck at shooters. Probably a little of both. But whatever the case, as soon as it gets to be too much, I can drop the difficulty level to casual. It’s tough, but fair, and the underlying gameplay is good enough to sustain it. The checkpoints that some PC gamers might bemoan as a console convention are sometimes actually game design.
I do wish Hard Reset did a better job encouraging replay by making the scoring clearer and more prominent. Most recently, Fear 3 is the best case example of how a clever scoring system can add a lot. Before that, The Club was unparalleled in this regard. Less successful attempts include Halo: Reach and ODST, Gears of War 3, Bulletstorm, and Bodycount. Without being at least as good as those games at scoring, I don’t see much of a future for Hard Reset. When I’m through with it, I’ll probably be through with it, which is a far more damning way of a game being short than by merely not taking very long to get to the end.