Violent, simple, and charming – when Not A Hero works, it works brilliantly. At best the experience demonstrates plenty of thrills and a blistering speed, but at worst this shooter becomes a slog and an infuriating mess. With an inconsistent level of enjoyment and design decisions that often feel at odds with the gameplay, the moments of excellence are unfortunately cut short. Requiring severe dedication to battle through the frustration, Not A Hero can be fun, but you really have to work for it.
Following on from the successful release of developer Roll7’s OlliOlli franchise, their latest title swaps skateboards for weaponry, and grinding, flip tricks, ramps and rails out for explosions, bad-guys, cover-shooting, and a whole heap of 2D, pixelated death. Best described as a British version of Broforce with an added hint of Hotline Miami’s brutality, the game certainly doesn’t shy away from gratuitous violence and you will spend every moment disposing of an overwhelming amount of baddies through satisfyingly brutal means.
Playing as one of a series of unlockable “non-heroes”, the game follows BunnyLord (literally a giant purple bunny in a suit) and his campaign to become the local mayor. Hoping to gain votes through ridding the UK of crime, he has hired a series of colourful, egotistical, and insane goons to do his dirty work. The whole concept is silly, and the game never once takes itself seriously, trying instead to be wacky and amusing, but instead comes off as trying too hard. Often going down the root of “LOL SO RANDOM” ‘humour’, the majority of jokes totally miss the mark, and the cutscenes are unbearable at times. The character stereotypes don’t fare much better either, often coming across as obnoxious – but there are some laughs to be had at least. The game’s visuals are certainly charming, and the general concept of the game is darkly-cute; however it’s the execution that leaves a lot to be desired.
Taking players through a series of 24 stages (including three bonus ones that are hidden away), players will shoot, slide, and run through industrial, urban, and Asian environments in a bid to complete a series of rather generic objectives. Typically requiring you to kill certain enemies or collect certain objects, where the objectives themselves lack in creativity, the levels more than make up for this by providing plenty of challenge, interesting designs, and even by adding special triggered events that further shake up the formulae. Players will be jumping across rooftops, diving through plenty of windows, fighting off helicopters, and even battling against SWAT team assaults. It’s classic action-movie stuff, and when the game makes you feel empowered, it’s outrageous fun.
The levels that demonstrate an understanding of the games strengths by being bite-sized in length and equipping players with a tonne of power-ups are suitably bombastic, and simply sublime to blast through. Delving into the unknown within levels that enjoy throwing surprises at each turn, players will need to be quick on their feet and use their abilities, and the environment to their advantage. A cover system allows players to hide behind background objects and find safety from incoming fire, barrels and fire extinguishers can be shot at to trigger explosions, enemies can be slid into in order to knock them down and leave them open to a one-hit execution, and wacky (and equally as destructive) ammo types can be found alongside grenades, mines, turrets, and a whole manner of additional weaponry that can be used to kill enemies in the most OTT fashion. Much like Hotline Miami, players will learn how to succeed through trial and error, and levels will be repeated over and over with varying degrees of success until a perfect run is achieved. While the player won’t always feel totally vulnerable to the dangers that they face (due in part to a regenerative health meter), quick thinking and extensive knowledge of each level is needed to make it out alive.
Where Not A Hero’s gameplay turns sour, however, is when intense frustration completely overrides the joy of the gameplay – a feeling that presents itself far too often. The levels at times feel at odds with the gameplay, and instead of challenge, there’s sheer difficulty to deal with. Power-ups for example are inconsistently dropped by dead enemies, with some level runs offering plenty of reward, while others run totally dry. The feeling of empowerment and the ridiculousness of the action is the very foundation of what makes Not A Hero fun, and with this element stripped away, the action not only feels stale but also incredibly difficult. In a game where enemies will often swarm the player, these power-ups are not just for show, but also a life saver, and you will find that shoot-outs can become extremely difficult without them.
Not only this, but certain characters are absolute chores to play as and not only dampen the experience as a whole, but make scenarios extremely tough work. With each character armed with a different weapon, a set of different abilities, and even their own handicaps, there is plenty of variety amongst the cast. The problem is found in how some tread the fine line between presenting additional challenge through a difference in playstyle, and those that are simply ineffective in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately the first few characters in particular fall in the latter category (harming the first few missions of the game significantly), while some characters unlocked further into the game feel very limited in their uses. The game certainly doesn’t play too kindly towards these differences, and at times you feel forced to choose a character you don’t enjoy in a desperate attempt to get the job done.
Further sending players to boiling point, the later areas introduce enemies that can kill the player in one-hit. Instead of providing another obstacle to the gameplay, this enemy type honestly just feels cheap, and the game enjoys throwing a lot of these enemies into the mix. Within the context of the shorter levels, these enemies don’t pose too much of a problem, but when the game presents levels that are much longer, completing huge chunks of gameplay over, and over again is exhausting, and you’ll be left screaming curse words at your screen. At times the game really does feel like it was created by sadists, and with the omission of any kind of checkpoint or life-system, the constant repetition of levels is maddening. The final level in particular is a problem, forcing players to repeat the opening boss fight should they die during the second half of the level. It’s ridiculous, and I hated every minute.
Believe it or not, but with each level offering an extra three bonus objectives, replaying previously completed levels is rather appealing, and can provide some fun and soak up your time. Encouraging exploration and a different approach to tackling the levels at hand, they are fun to complete, or at the very least fun to attempt. Though I did stay committed enough to complete every objective and reach 100% completion, the same frustrations still persisted, and I felt like a broken man towards the end. If I wasn’t tasked with reviewing this game, I doubt I would have been so driven to double-dip back into the previous levels. Completing the challenges in each level took some serious dedication, and some levels were outright unpleasant to face, particularly when objectives need to be completed in the same run for them to count. Battle through blood, sweat, and tears, and Not A Hero can deliver on some serious fun – it’s just a real shame that the experience is so inconsistent, and frustration takes centre-stage.
Not A Hero is the epitome of a flawed-gem. It’s a title that does so much right, but also so much wrong. For every fantastic moment that capitalises on the strengths of the game and provides simple, fluid action and bombast, there are many frustrating and down-right unpleasant experiences to go along with it. This inconsistent level of enjoyment ultimately breaks the game, but doesn’t deter away from the fact that there is fun to have here if you are willing to dedicate yourself, and persist through the difficult times.