NanDEMOnai is a semi-regular attempt to profile demos for forthcoming games as unbiasedly as possible, based on their own merits and without any consideration of hype, publisher legacy, place within a franchise, or basis on any existing property. I'm just here to discuss how the demo feels, whether it makes the upcoming release stand out as interesting, and extrapolate how the full game may end up being. Basically, a preview with as little context as possible, like a blind date. Additionally, I can't say I intended to post this the same day as Jim's review, but I'm not reading it until after I finish this, as to not allow any potential opinion taint.
Hard Reset's title, clearly a nerd draw given it's an existing computer-related term, was the first thing that grabbed my attention. Paired with the cyberpunk aesthetic the game seems to be rocking, and the obvious grafted machinery your main character packs in the game, I couldn't help but download the demo Steam was advertising last week. Real life got in the way of sinking my teeth into it until the day before the game's due to release, but I couldn't wait, regardless.
Just after navigating through the initial menu screens, an introductory, comic-book style cutscene lays out the game's basic premise. As it turns out, robots are dicks, and your sole purpose in life is to hate on robot dicks. You're pulled from your after-work bar session to take care of some machines who've been slicing people in half in a certain section of the city, which is where things begin.
Right away, the game points out that electrically-charged items scattered throughout the level, marked with neon blue lightning-bolt indicators, can be shot out to spray arcs of electricity to damage enemies. Between those and the equally frequent explosive items (highlighted with red markings), the impression I got was that using your environment in combat is going to be a big factor, and keeping tabs on your surroundings for poppable items is essential.
The weapon system itself also struck me as supremely elegant. You have all of two weapons, one energy-based and one projectile. Rather than picking up more as the game progresses and assigning them to number keys, you can build upon the functionality of each one at upgrade stations throughout the levels, adding new firetypes to them and increasing those firetypes' capabilities, as well as adding HUD and other personal build elements. This helps minimize the variety of pickups you have to keep track of as you play, and makes it a bit easier to find the gun you want to use by scrolling through the different functions with your mousewheel. Even if you don't roll to exactly what you were looking for, you'll at least be on the basic weapon type you wanted, thus making mistakes a bit less suicidal.
Level layout seems to follow the old-school, Wolfenstein/Doom model of main path with side paths and hidden secrets, rather than more linear, story-driven progress or overly open, nigh-sandbox romps. Secrets, at least the ones in the demo aren't obfuscated to the point that you'd need a FAQ to find them, but they do take a bit of looking for, as the explosive bars over certain door grates or the cracks in demolishable walls aren't always the most obvious. At one point, I did come across a rather blatantly cracked wall, but there were no red-outlined explosives present with which to open it. The only nearby object happened to be a parked automobile, and seeing no other option, I opened fire. Turns out, we're still using some sort of flammable fuel in this slice of dystopia, as a reasonable fusillade sent gouts of flame shooting from beneath the vehicle for a moment before it went completely up, opening the way to some hidden goodies.
Visually, the game is beautifully realized, with the cyberpunk dystopia aesthetic in full force. Things are dimly lit, be it due to operating at night or cloud cover or a combination of both, slashed through with neon and holograms everywhere that advertise a much cleaner, more enjoyable life than is likely experienced on the streets you happen to be walking. Interactive elements eschew the need for a "Use" button by forcing your weapon down and shifting your cursor to a finger or a hand to manipulate touchscreen menus or other objects, which makes figuring out what you actually need to fiddle with that much simpler.
Enemies seem to subscribe to the wave/horde philosophy, for the most part, with smaller enemies trying to swarm you from time to time like so many saw-faced rats, and larger, bipedal opponents rushing you bullishly as soon as they spot you. While I hope the full game features a wider variety of more intelligent robots to combat, requiring a bit more strategy, I would honestly be just as happy if they merely ramped up the quantity of simpler enemies for the entire course of the game. At one point, you find yourself in an open area where explosives and electrical items abound, and after just a few seconds of looking around, you're presented with a mob of little bastards out for your blood. There's a certain joy in luring them through webs of spraying electricity, saving your ammo for their bigger brothers that begin filing in after you've taken out enough of them.
I can't recommend enough that any self-respecting FPSer with a decent PC grabs this demo off of Steam, or any other outlets that may be carrying it. For you achievement whores out there, there are Steam chievos to be had, and from what I can tell, achievements you unlock in the demo will carry over to your full game save. Even if I'm wrong, the ones I got seem easy enough to come by in the first level, so losing them upon starting the real deal wouldn't be particularly tragic.
It goes without saying I'm probably picking up the full version of this, especially given it's only $30, even less if you pre-order in the next... nine hours as of this posting. Those of you accustomed to more recent shooters, with your wide spreads of weapons and more linear gameplay (insert video of CoDBlOps no-fire Cuba run here) may be a bit more trepidatious, but trust me. At least give this demo a spin. If this is just the first level of the game, the full monty is guaranteed to be amazing.
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