The revamped Doom gets all the credit for bringing ‘90s shooting action back, but the odds are good you missed one other gem that relishes in that simpler time, when carefree violence was king. Hard Reset hit Steam a while ago and it was like having a vivid flashback of the pre-millennium PC gaming scene, so seeing it released on consoles recently is a surprising source of celebration. This “Redux” of the game is a hardcore sci-fi shooter with roots squarely planted in the cyberpunk-addled early '90s (and ‘80s). Fast, fun, and mostly mindless, the game mixes terrific action with an atmosphere of pure retro-future.
Made by the terrifically named Flying Wild Hog studio (who also brought back Shadow Warrior), Hard Rest Redux enhances the original game with better graphics, new enemies, and the addition of the prerequisite '90s cyberpunk weapon: the cyber-katana—because it’s not the '90s vision of a dismal future without katanas. Flying Wild Hog are clearly worshipping at the altar of Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, Neuromancer, and Shadowrun in Hard Reset, and I love them for it.
In the future, the mega-city of Bezoar is being overrun by malicious AIs and killer robots. It’s a strange place where most of the human population has uploaded their consciousnesses into a massive network utopia and the rest of the humans live in a low-rent neon and iron slum. Taking the role of down and dirty mercenary-like future cop James Fletcher (an action man name if there ever was one), you’re sent into a particularly shady part of town to investigate a possible AI disturbance.
And that’s when the shooting starts. Hard Reset doesn’t waste your time with plotting. The story is mostly told through gorgeously painted comic book images. The dialogue and voice acting are amazingly awful—and I mean that in the most sincerely flattering way. If you spent part of your childhood (and hell, adulthood) watching low-budget sci-fi and horror with glee, it’s nearly impossible to not enjoy just how cheesy so much of the set-up is.
In one particularly cyberpunk moment our hero actually interfaces with the mind of a scientist using what looks like an old, full-sized headphone plug. It’s a beautiful Johnny Mnemonic moment, when we still believed we’d be literally “jacking into” the matrix. (Admittedly some of us still think wetware is where it’s at, because wireless is just too hackable.)
Amidst this sea of metal urban sprawl is a claustrophobic world lit up by neon and video billboards, where ads for uploading yourself play constantly and vending machines let you do it on the fly (not that you, as the player, can). Even the upgrade system in the game is gloriously cyberpunk—dispatching robotic foes earns you “nanos” (the game’s currency) which can be spent at vending machines that will alter your guns and even body on the fly.
Hard Reset isn’t shy about other aspects of '90s first-person shooters. Movement feels much like high-speed floating (a form of movement Doom also revels in), as if we’re merely hovercrafts with arms and guns. More amusingly, you can jump, but not duck, and the game dicks you around with it by putting in obstacles that any reasonable person could clearly just crouch under.
If the sole sum of your shooting experiences begins and ends with Halo and Call of Duty, these elements might be inconceivable, but here it’s a charming joke about the game’s roots. There are whole sections with complicated maze-like navigation purely because of the simplistic controls. Yet thanks to skillful pacing and riotous shooting action, it hardly matters in the end.
The future also apparently includes copious amounts of exploding barrels, capacitors, cars, and power generators, which helps make the inevitable robot uprising a bit easier to deal with. Objects conveniently marked with lightning bolts create tendrils of lightning that fry bots before exploding and everything else just goes straight up boom. There’s a gleeful, primitive joy in the mindless property damage of Hard Reset. It wouldn’t be at all appropriate in most modern games, but fits perfectly in the pure action focus here.
In much the same way action gamers are flocking to the new Doom—to get that burst of high-adrenaline mindless action—they should also be enjoying the simple pleasures of Hard Reset. It’s not as shiny and certainly not as big budget as Doom, instead opting for the draw of nostalgia of things past that we regarded as guilty pleasures. It’s the Johnny Mnemonic of video games—undeniably goofy and low rent, but bizarrely fun anyway.
Jason D'Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.