Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog

Hard Reset Extended Edition (PC, 2012, Poland): Nothing To Fear
February 11, 2013, 4:28 am
Filed under: Hard Reset Extended Edition (PC, 2012, Poland)

FIRSTThere’s really just one major flaw with Flying Wild Hog’s decidedly old-school, in-yer-face PC shooter “Hard Reset” (2012, Poland, PC).

The problem is…it had to end. I just didn’t want it to.

Believe it or not, there are some fuzzy criteria I use to determine whether or not to bestow a game with the dubious honor of being included on this slipshod blog. Usually, if the game is an “otherworldly” shooter (yes, I mean a second-rate, clichéd horror or sci-fi romp) usually made in eastern Europe, but from anywhere really—and it is a title generally not well-represented in English anywhere else on the interwebs…well, that’s what constitutes the crappy videogame blog. If I find what appears to be a high profile dud, and if it would seem fun to play nevertheless, and I really can’t find many reviews of it before committing myself to it, ladies and gentlemen we have a winner.

SECONDNeedless to say, probably half the titles in my inventory here actually hit only half of those criteria, and at least a third of them don’t fit any of the criteria. Ah, genius is unpredictable. When it comes to “Hard Reset,” some of the criteria are clearly met: The game is Polish after all (the developers being ex-“Painkiller”-via-People Can Fly- dudes), and it is technically described as an “indie” (whatever that means in this day and age). Likewise, the “last remaining human city of the future overrun by waves of robots” setting looks to be borrowed from just about every Schwarzenegger-injected Hollywood summer blockbuster ever made. Clichés  abound.

This game doesn’t meet other blog criteria in a big way though. For example, the title is extremely well represented on the net: lots of professional reviews both good and bad, lots of YouTube playthroughs, lots of screenshots everywhere. (So, it needs no exposure from me.) But the biggest way this game doesn’t belong on this blog? It’s not crappy. Far from it. (In fact, I stopped playing “Boringlands 2” (after about 25 hours, getting seriously snoozed with the repetitive, uninspired quests—clean Skrag urine off of Claptrap’s belongings? Really?), so I could boot up “Hard Reset.” Whew! I found my immersion with gaming restored.

THIRDThe action, the graphics, the sound…all of these items are generally praised by those who’ve reviewed “Hard Reset,” although there are always detractors.  Some reviewers bitch about the length of the game (which I’ll comment on later—good things come to those who wait), the two-gun-only weapon system (which didn’t bug me at all), and the forced-save-checkpoint system. (As someone who games on several consoles and PC, I am no longer phased by this like those who game exclusively on PC; and anyway, with a simple key bind, you can create saves anywhere—Google it). But where this single player game fails, many say, is in the story department. In fact, I couldn’t find a single review that actually even attempts to discuss the plot—they all simply say that a storyline barely exists, dismiss it, and then they pontificate over the pretty explosions. So, that’s where I’d like to begin: To me, the clichéd narrative is not the weakest link here, but the disconnected manner in which the story is told—that’s the problem. To prove it, let’s take an in-depth look at the plot itself (and I mean in-depth). I’ll admit that mapping the universe here is a major undertaking because of the story’s fractured presentation–but for anyone wondering what’s going on in this game, here you go:

25The first two-thirds of “Hard Reset” take place in the European city of Bezoar on January 17, 2436. Bezoar (which I’d call one of the main characters in the game—the screenies tell all) is an eternally rain-slicked, sprawling “Blade Runner”-esque dystopia full of glaring neon, dirty gutters, and low-flying ad-bots. (Although derivative, it is a breathtaking scene.) It is the last standing human city on Earth. (The last five chapters occur in The Barrens, a twisted, uninhabitable area outside the city, equally gorgeous.) You play as Major Fletcher, a combat vet and part-time alcoholic; you work for CLN, a shadowy corporate entity whose purpose appears to be the city’s protection. CLN is run by “The PR Department,” people who train and spotlight agents just like you, so that the city’s inhabitants feel safe. In fact, the CLN calls you and your fellow security officials “sentinels of the sanctuary”—and one of your main jobs is to protect a network contained within the city that holds “billions of digitalized personalities of human beings”—think of it as a building-sized flash drive that’s preserving your grandma’s ghost in a world with a dwindling human population. The game calls this, and the operating system that manages it, the “interior AI.”

As an agent, what are you protecting against? The “exterior AI”—in other words, robots and lots of them. Waves of intelligent, organized robots (of four or five varieties, all of whom exist in The Barrens outside the walls of the city) are continually breaking through the city’s defenses (by crushing their way through reinforced cement barriers and by powering down electronic barricades), and it appears their only goal is to infiltrate the above mentioned library of human personalities. This exterior AI wants to “assimilate” the interior AI because it has reached the limits of its own artificial intelligence, and by coopting the interior AI (the humanity that exists within the digitalized network of human personalities), the robots will be able to surpass this limit and grow stronger and smarter than ever. (Think of Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” wanting to become more human—only if he were a violent Borg or something.) As the game begins, sector 6 of Bezoar City has been attacked, leaving 760 people dead, but interior AI has not been captured and is still safe.

FOURTHHere’s where the sci-fi narrative requires a little leap of faith: Although the process remains mysterious, everyone who lives in the city is a “resurrected” version of one of these personalities from the network, and as soon as people die in an incident like this, the CLN resurrects new citizens from the interior AI to repopulate the city—in the case of this latest robot attack, the CLN decided to resurrect a new 1,000 “souls” from the digital network to make up for the loss of life.

SPOILER ALERT: As you wind your way through an evacuated Bezoar (you never see actual people) wiping out waves of robots, the CLN informs you that a professor Percival Novak is working against humanity and is letting the robots into the city (by disabling various barriers) for some insane reason. Your goal then shifts to finding and eliminating the professor. But he’s a smarty pants and is prepared for you; once you reach his research lab, he zaps you unconscious. When you wake up, he has subdued you. He then tells you an unbelievable story: He once worked for the CLN as a researcher, and he knows that you suffer from what is known as “Novak’s Madness,” which is actually a bug in the personality network from which you (and everyone else) stems. This “bug” actually allows one thing to occur: When you booze it up, you can “hide” from the “assimilated personalities” in your head (in other words, the controlling voice of the CLN that everyone hears since everyone is connected to the network). Essentially, you are able to masque yourself from the manipulative hand of the CLN’s interior AI, to disconnect from the network at will, without the corporation even knowing. Novak knew you had this little bug, but he concealed this fact from the corporation when you were originally resurrected because he knew the moment would come where he’d need your special skills to help him.

7SPOILER CONTINUES: Dr. Novak then admits to allowing the exterior AI (the robots) into the city, but he says it was a necessary diversion for a much greater purpose. He hints that the CLN is not the defender of humanity it portrays itself to be. But before elucidating further, he says he is going to kill himself and that you need to inject his personality into you so that he can direct you further, tell you the rest of the story, and give you guidance to save the city from the real danger (all while hiding from the corporation inside your head). He then makes good on the promise and shoots himself. Sensing his seriousness, you do as you are told, connecting a wire between his brain and yours, and initiating the personality transfer (or, in the parlance of the game, “assimilating his matrix”). From here on out, professor Novak lives on and speaks to you in your brain—yeah, that makes sense. Anyway, you blow up Novak’s facility, report him dead to the corporation as planned, and you pretend for a while to continue following the interior AI’s orders, just so they don’t suspect you’ve gone rogue.

31YUP, MORE SPOILERS: After a particularly nasty battle with a 10-story-tall exterior AI “Atlas” and assimilating his matrix (the same way you plugged Professor Novak into your noggin), you learn the robots were planning an attack on a now-defunct CLN research hospital. The exterior AI knew there was some kind of technology still located there that would give them the upper hand—technology that Novak says is “key to Bezoar’s survival.” So, you go there (coolest, creepiest defunct research hospital map ever) and stick some more AI matrices into your brain. You find that CLN has been experimenting with external AI, robots they’ve captured and hacked, in an attempt to weaponize them and win the war being waged against the robots. Novak (still inside your brain) tells you that it worked for a while and the exterior AI was actually under the CLN’s control for a long time, but then the tide turned and the robots started winning with ease. Novak then reveals that this is why the interior AI was created—to “bring us victory over the machines,” he says—and that he was actually the creator of it, “the work of my life.” But the problem is that over time, the interior AI (the network of personalities contained within the city and protected by security guards like Fletcher) became autonomous and started controlling everyone in the city (and ultimately taking control of the entire CLN corporation) rather than the other way around. But no one is aware of this. Now, while the exterior AI is still a danger, the interior AI—the solution to the war—has become the more immediate threat, mostly because no one realizes they are being controlled. Lucky for you, due to your case of “Novak’s madness,” you can disconnect from the network and maneuver without the interior AI knowing your whereabouts or activity.

STILL SPOILERS: Another monster-sized battle takes place with a spider-like exterior AI on the hospital’s roof, and after winning you assimilate its matrix and then take control of the machine. This is where you learn you’ve developed the ability to assimilate these exterior AI without having to hook yourself up at all—in other words, you are slowly becoming aligned with the exterior AI to the point where you can interface with them naturally. Since you can do this AI assimilation trick, and since you can actually assimilate both exterior and interior AI, you are clearly the only person who can save humanity. (That’s how it usually goes, right?)

Hard_Reset_Extended_FXAA_downsampledSPOILER-TASTIC: The CLN (which now you realize is just the interior AI’s puppet) figures you’ve gone over to the dark side, and you rampage across the city while controlling the monster-spider and being attacked by airborne CLN fighters. (This all happens in a fragmented, confusing-as-hell cutscene.) Eventually they take you down, and you crash outside the city, also known as The Barrens (which is the exterior AI’s domain—where all the robots originate. The Barrens is essentially a sprawling recycling factory pumping out robots—manufacturing plants that were once under human control, but no longer.) You discover that organized humans are actually still living outside the city though, something that the CLN always said was impossible. These humans, who make contact through your communicator, call themselves The Haven; you assume they, like you, must not be under the control of Bezoar’s interior AI, and they help you to successfully navigate through the exterior AI’s territory. In turn, you help them in your travels by collecting information about the robot’s plans. After yet another hectic boss battle, the game ends on a relatively positive note (although it is a soft cliffhanger), as you eventually reach the city of Haven and meet the people running it—basically survivors over the years who managed to escape from Bezoar and disconnect from the interior AI. Fletcher is confused as to how the city of Haven has been kept secret; as you hop into an escape chopper, his new friends pass along intel that Bezoar has been completely overrun and destroyed. The war with the exterior AI continues. SPOILER ENDS

While you might label the above story as nothing but a convoluted sci-fi cliché, I personally like the setup. To me, the real problem is that many of these narrative points are not properly explicated in the game itself—too many plot holes left wide open, too many characters and relationships left undeveloped. Stylish black-and-white comic-strip cutscenes are used in between chapters to move this (perhaps overly complex) story along (all the while showing a blinky “press any key to continue” message in the lower right-hand corner, which might indicate precisely how important the developers think the narrative is). Unfortunately, without at least some foreknowledge of the universe on display here and the circumstances surrounding us, much of the blathering taking place between the comic-strip characters becomes meaningless, skip-able drivel. In fact, the presentation, which throws too much at you at once and assumes you understand precisely what is going on already—creates confusion and detracts from the overall experience. So for me, it’s not the actual sci-fi narrative itself that is the problem; the delivery is the culprit. But…cool story, bro.

5“Hard Reset” was released in September of 2011. Who knows why, but it didn’t really have a proper ending. (Considering this was an independently funded project, maybe the money ran out?). Regardless, reviewers groused that after the first seven or so chapters (right at the end of the hospital level discussed in the spoiler section above), the game just ended after an inconclusive cutscene (returning abruptly to the main menu with an option to restart). Having played through the game, I could see how jolting and unsatisfying this could be. Ultimately though, this is a pure lesson in how good things come to those who wait. Perhaps Flying Wild Hog found some money in the couch cushions, but in mid-2012, they released a free expansion pack called “Exile.” This DLC was less an expansion but more of a proper conclusion to the game, adding 5 new campaign levels, several new enemy types, and about 3 extra hours of play. (Essentially, everything taking place in The Barrens represents the expansion.) Thankfully, for super slow gamers like me, right around the same time, Kalypso Media (the publishers of the “Tropico” series) released a real shelf copy of the entire game, labeling it “Hard Reset: Extended Edition” (though frankly it would have been better titled “Hard Reset: The Whole Game”). If you play this version, you can experience all of the content in a seamless way and avoid the abrupt ending that reviewers rightfully bitched about back in 2011. It’s a beautiful day to be a time-challenged gamer like me.

Although I rarely provide play tips or hints, I’ll make an exception in this case. Honestly, the first five or so times I came across this title on the net, I pushed it aside with no plans on purchasing or playing it. The reason is this: From many critics’ descriptions, I assumed “Hard Reset” was simply an excruciating string of “Painkiller”-esque arena battles, and I am not a fan of arena battles. Let me revise that: As one component of a larger variety of gameplay techniques, I don’t mind being locked into (and then furiously running around) an enclosed space defending myself against a wave or two of baddies. But if an entire game consists of this single approach, rinse and repeat, my interest wanes quickly. I need more variety than that. But when the extended edition of the game appeared with a tantalizing $19.99 price tag, I thought it could sit on my shelf, and if it turned out to be merely an arena-fest, at least I didn’t spend a fortune.

WAREHOUSEWhen I got into the game and was immersed in the breathtaking detail of this dystopian future city, of course I found there were a few arena battles as expected. But the majority of the game actually takes place in this incredibly rendered, labyrinthine (albeit linear) techno-landscape that afforded quite a bit of movement forward and backwards—as well as some helpful hiding places and obstacles to jump onto for some modicum of safety from the kamikaze robots. As I had hoped, locked-in arena battles (still a challenge) are only one component of the larger game, and they are honestly limited in number. In other words, to me it felt like a regular old linear shooter that I love so much. (Oh, I almost forgot! Although true PC aficionados will prefer a keyboard and mouse setup, the game will automatically detect and map an Xbox 360 controller if you have it connected to your PC via a Wireless Receiver for Windows. In fact, the game’s manual shows the controller layout—which buttons are mapped to which functions–for those choosing that option. I know I’m in the losing minority, but I love playing PC games that allow me to sink into the couch with a controller in my hand…and this one works like a charm!)

And here’s my tip for anyone who might be a bit hesitant about giving this game a try. (Yes, I think I actually found this game’s Achilles heel.) If you read any reviews of it, you will hear this kind of refrain over and over: “This is a super-crazy, hardcore, challenging, old-school shooter. There’s no regenerating health, and there’s no cover system. This is not a game for weaklings. Get ready to die. A lot.” I suppose that is true. But if that kind of talk makes you shy away from this game (you’re no masochist, after all), consider this as well: While it is frantic, frenetic, with a dozen enemies rushing you at once and tons of explosions in your face, if you play it s-l-o-w-l-y, you can manage it fairly well. Playing a hyper-fast FPS like “Hard Reset” at a snail’s pace seems completely counterintuitive, I know. But I found that I could manage the game much better by not rushing into the next area, or bolting around a corner at breakneck speed, and then finding myself in the middle of a hornet’s nest of robots swarming from all sides. Instead, if I took my time (really soaking in the heavy atmosphere and becoming a citizen of Bezoar, so to speak), I would tiptoe over that invisible line that would trigger two dozen attacking robots in the distance, and I could begin proactively back peddling and picking off the horde with surprising ease, with only 3 or 4 of them actually making it all the way to my location for a close-up encounter. (To me, this is exactly what makes it a tense, old-school shooter.) Once I figured this out, I actually died quite infrequently. This tactic is not always available and is location-dependent, but for me it made the game much more accessible…and as a bonus it increased playtime, immersion, and my anxiety (in a good way).  Also, the game always gives you everything you need to succeed; in addition to several dozen (and quite inventive) weapon upgrades, there are explosive environmental elements littered everywhere that can deal great damage to the swarming robotic mobs. In fact, once a wave of enemies is triggered, you should ignore your first impulse—to shoot directly into the crowd—and instead shoot any nearby “blowity-uppities” first. Lastly, as of the most recent patch, players can change the difficulty level at will during the game, which is a nice touch in making it a bit more accessible to old people like me. In other words, if critical reviews of “Hard Reset” make it sound like a ball of frustration you’d rather avoid, you might want to rethink it and give it a try. I am extremely glad I did.

1And finally a technical note: While I couldn’t find a single review covering this fact, “Hard Reset” is playable in glorious stereoscopic 3D! (And, oh, does it look delicious in 3D.) In fact, the title is rated as being Nvidia 3D-Ready, which means if you are using an Nvidia graphics processor with a computer screen capable of displaying at 120MHz, and you own a pair of Nvidia’s 3D Vision glasses, all you have to do is tick the “stereoscopic 3D” button in the video options menu in the game, and you are good to go.

However, if you want to play it with a different set up, say by hooking your PC up to your 65” 3D-capable plasma Panasonic Viera TV like I did (which runs in 3D [with its own active shutter glasses] at 24MHz instead of 120MHz), it requires a bit of fiddling. But it can work! I’ll explain briefly what has to be done in case you, dear reader, are in a spot (though this doesn’t seem to work for everyone): If you are using a setup similar to mine (a 3D-capable Nvidia graphics card in your PC but a 3D monitor that does not run directly at 120MHz such as your 3D TV that has its own pair of 3D glasses), you’ll notice when you go to the menu options in the game, the button to enable stereoscopic 3D will be greyed out, untickable, because the game does not detect a monitor capable of displaying 120MHz. So…

1. You have to make sure Nvidia’s “3DTV Play” graphics driver add-on is installed on your system. (“3DTV Play” is Nvidia’s solution to allow you to use 3D capabilities on your TV but without an Nvidia-specific 3D emitter and glasses—instead using your TV’s glasses and running at its own refresh rate. Beware that this add-on to the Nvidia driver does cost money; if you Google “Nvidia 3DTV Play,” the link for purchase will come up; when you install it, it simply gets integrated into your Nvidia control panel.

2. After installing it, make sure you have enabled “Stereoscopic 3D” (tick the proper button) in your Nvidia control panel. Also, you’ll need to make sure you have enabled “3DTV Play” in your Nvidia control panel. (The 3DTV play option is available as a drop-down menu on the same “enable Stereoscopic 3D” screen in your Nvidia control panel—look towards the middle of menu where it says “Stereoscopic 3D display type”—you’ll want to choose “3DTV Play” and not “HDMI checkerboard.”)

3. Next, you’ll have to edit and resave one of your game’s files. In the “Hard Reset” install directory, find the configuration file titled “config.cfg” (it is typically in Documents>Hard Reset Extended>profiles>(name of your profile you were forced to create in game the first time you started it)>config.cfg). (By the way, if you are trying to make these changes without first having booted the game up at least once [which is when the game will ask you to create a profile for yourself], you’ll want to do that first so that all the proper folders are created.)

4. Open the config.cfg file in notepad. Find the line that reads:  r_fullscreen_refreshes “60” (the number here might be different for you depending on what your refresh rate is currently set to in your game options). But it doesn’t matter because next you want to change that “60” (or whatever it says) to “120” instead. The entire line should read: r_fullscreen_refreshes “120”. Save the file and close it.

5. Start the game.

6. Now, in order to activate 3D, you’ll have to use the Nvidia keyboard shortcut to do so, rather than ticking the in-game stereoscopic box on the video options menu, which still won’t work. Nvidia’s default keyboard shortcut to activate 3D is [control + T]—you can confirm this by looking for the keyboard shortcut inside your Nvidia control panel, but the default is always [control + T] unless you’ve changed it.

7. If you’ve installed, activated, and rewritten everything correctly, when you hit [control + T], the game should switch into 3D. Let the tearful rejoicing commence. Of course, if you are dealing with a completely different TV brand that might run at a different refresh rate, I really don’t know how much of this will apply. Let me know.

8. Two last items: Most TVs will only display a 3D image at certain resolutions. For example, my Panasonic Viera will only effectively do 3D at 1280×720. So I also had to make sure that I had this resolution selected in the game menu ahead of time before trying to activate 3D or else the 3D would fail when I hit [control + T]. This resolution may not be the same for you, but you will need to set the in-game resolution (on the video options menu in the game) so that it works properly with whatever resolution your TV will display a stereoscopic 3D image. Finally, I personally found that I had to go through editing/saving the config.cfg file every time I started the game—upon exiting the game, the config file is overwritten, which will make the 3D fail next time around. But just a word: Even if it is a little bit of a hassle to get the 3D working, it truly is worth your time and effort. “Hard Reset” in stereoscopic 3D is an awesome sight to behold, incredibly immersive, eye-bleedingly beautiful, especially on a massive TV screen…just effing cool.

Yeah, I guess that’s a great phrase to end with: Just effing cool.