First Impressions - HROT

February 15, 2021
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Nostalgia is a strange thing. Although we’re currently living in the safest time in human history, a time when we get to play amazing games on a near-weekly basis while watching the stock market get screwed over by a bunch of Redditors, it’s hard not to want to go back to a time when things were simpler. For all of the good that’s happened in the world (and the gaming industry) since the Clinton administration, it’s become almost tiring to play amazing AAA games nonstop. Fortunately, it seems like some game developers have realised this, because there’s been a weird amount of games that look like the ones I was playing when I was fresh out of the womb in the ‘90s, the latest of which is HROT.

HROT is the newest , if not quite the greatest, retro FPS game to be made in the age of smart cars. In the game, you don the Czechoslovakian boots of an unnamed protagonist who’s given almost no backstory but is told to make their way through a batch of about ten levels set in Eastern Europe. The catch is that there is no catch: HROT is a straightforward retro FPS that’s just really good.

Matryoshka mini-games need to be more common

Like with the plethora of other neo-retro games currently available on the market, the game is simple. You can’t aim down sights, there’s no manual reloading, the graphics are as barebones as can be and the enemies are strange. Your default move speed is double that of the recent Call of Duty games, you can jump higher than a pole vaulter on cocaine and there’s a batch of weird but believable weapons for you to (dual) wield. There are secrets around every corner, easter eggs galore and just enough nods to the original shooters to make you feel old.

The result is a game that’s simply enjoyable to play. Although at times it suffers from the age-old problem of overly confusing levels, that’s really the only issue in a game that’s otherwise just as good as the ones that it was inspired by. Shooting feels smooth, the animations are weirdly engrossing to watch and the game as a whole is a welcome break from the overly complex nature of some of the other things I’ve played recently. It does a great job emulating, if not particularly advancing, the core mechanics that made classics like Quake and Duke Nukem so great, which is really all the praise that anyone can give something that looks like it was made back when I was still drinking Surge.

This feeling is enhanced by the game’s amazing sense of atmosphere, another trademark of that golden age of gaming in the late ‘90s. The game is set in Czechoslovakia, back when it still existed, which means that HROT absolutely oozes Soviet style. The levels bombard you with jokes about Soviet culture, which works to the game’s benefit to say the least. You can kiss the head of most Gorbachev pictures that you find to receive an easy bit of health, the weapons that you use are all straight out of the hands of Goldeneye baddies, and even the enemies that you face are all monster-ified versions of Soviet stereotypes. When considering that the game is almost exclusively made up of depressing browns and greys, it makes the overall atmosphere of the game feel weirdly comedic despite it being really depressing to think about. 

Don’t mind me, I’m just studying for my history exam

The game’s music, too, does a great job of helping this strange sense of atmosphere. As one would expect from a game that’s set in the USSR, the majority of HROT’s tunes are stereotypically drab and Soviet, but they all sound great. They do a phenomenal  job helping you get into the mood of the game while also just being genuinely enjoyable to listen to. When combined with the game’s muddy visuals, HROT may not be a feast for the senses, but it certainly is unique in a good way.

It also helps that HROT, despite being an Early Access title, has a plethora of content. At the time of writing, the game has a main campaign that takes around four hours to complete, as well as an endless mode that’s thoroughly enjoyable. There are about ten weapons to play around with, too, and considering the game’s comparatively low cost, it offers a decent bang for your buck as far as Early Access titles go. 

After all is said and done, then, HROT is simply a great game. Although it doesn’t do quite as much to innovate the retro FPS genre as the newer DOOM reboots, it still feels great to play and is a worthwhile purchase for anyone looking to relive the days when America wasn’t involved in a decades-long conflict in the Middle East. The game looks good, its animations are smooth, it has an absolutely fantastic sense of atmosphere and there’s a ton of content despite it being an Early Access title. If you want to go back to a time before minimaps were etched into your monitor’s screen, look no further than HROT.  

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Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.