It’s been around half a year since I first saw Not a Hero at Rezzed, and that can be a very long time in game development. It was here that I first met Steve and BunnyLord as they embarked on their ridiculous spree of vigilante justice across the city, and in some ways, the game has come on leaps and bounds.
The distinctive “2¼D” world remains, and you have to battle your way through buildings filled with enemies. Despite being what is effectively a 2D game, you can very easily take cover, by ducking into the background scenery, before popping out to take shots at the enemies.
Where cover shooters can bog down, this one really keeps the pace up. Instead of always dashing into cover, you’re able to slide through the level and knock enemies over, before pulling an execution move and shooting them in the face or, if your clip is empty, violently stabbing them to death in a spray red. On top of that, as soon as you reload your gun, the enemies will rush towards you, forcing you to react quickly in order to survive.
It helps that you can pick up things like grenades and molotovs, but then it all gets a little bit unhinged when you can grab bullet grenades, which will decimate entire rooms, and bouncy bullets that will keep going back and forth for ages. It’s a little tweak of fun and silliness that is handily recreated by the game’s plot.
BunnyLord has come back in time, you see, in order to install himself as the mayor of the city and stave off some future disaster or other. He enlists Steve to do the dirty work for him, like breaking in and turning on a big billboard to promote his campaign. The best part is that all of the cutscenes (which you can skip, because they’re really quite long) feature randomly generate points of dialogue.
Each mission gets a random operation title, for one thing, and there’s a great bit of banter between BunnyLord and his lackey. In one mission, he demanded that you pick up all of the Maneki Nekos in the level, items which are picked at random, absolutely adamant that they were key to the mobsters’ money making schemes, but the highlight for me in this instance was how he said that they were “utterly sexy Maneki Nekos”.
Steve is now no longer the only character in the game though, joined by a wide cast of utterly deranged lunatics, who’ll do whatever BunnyLord tells them to. Quite impressively, they all play in rather different ways, so while Steve can be seen as the default cover shooter guy, Samantha’s silenced pistols will make her great for trying to do speed runs and get through levels quietly.
When you get right down to it though, cowering behind cover and taking pot shots is for wimps. Charging into the fray and slicing enemies up with a katana is where it’s all at, which is where Kimmy comes in. She’s brilliantly, fantastically brutal, with the execution kills seeing a loud cry followed by stabbing the prone enemy through the head, and the ensuing spurt of pixelated blood, though that’s really nothing compared to Ronald Justice, who charges in with just his superhero outfit and a hammer…
It’s a fine art to balance all of these rather disparate characters, though, and it becomes really noticeable for Kimmy and Ronald. At Gamescom, Ronald was really just a whirling dervish of murder and death, but since then he’s been toned down by the introduction of stamina. Rather than watching the bullets tick down as you fire, it’s watching to see how many hits you can deal before you have to catch your breath. Similarly with Kimmy, she has her own stamina levels, but that mighty great big sword needs to be hefted back behind her if she misses with an attack.
The biggest and most fundamental problem with Not a Hero at the moment, though, is with the controls. The controls were something that I found particularly difficult to get a hang of back at Rezzed as well, but haven’t really been improved upon since then. It’s still far to easy to trip over your fingers when trying to reload, slide when you wanted to just take cover and so on.
Yet it’s a problem that they know about and will doubtless be addressed in due course. Controller support was added in a matter of hours after PAX, for example, but even that needs further work to the button layout. Not a Hero is still very much a development snapshot, it’s just one that’s a few months on from when it was first shown to the public, but while the controls need to be sorted out, it’s built upon that charming 2¼D style, the utterly nonsensical plot and seriously expanded the number of playable characters.
It’s not finished yet, but I’m looking forward to playing it when it’s done.