Retro Review: Hard Edge (Sony Playstation)

Back in the late 90s, Sunsoft saw Capcom's Resident Evil and thought, "Wouldn't this be better if it was more like Die Hard?". So they released Hard Edge for the PS1, one of the more unique takes on the genre. Grab some popcorn for this one.

An unusual game, given the baffling title T.R.A.G.: Tactical Rescue Assault Group - Mission of Mercy in America and released in 1998/1999, Hard Edge takes the basic format of Resident Evil- 3D character models displayed on top of pre-rendered backgrounds- but goes for action over horror. Alex (with a gun) and Michelle (with a cyber-knife), the only surviving members of their Special Forces unit, have to infiltrate the Nakatomi Pla- sorry, Togusa Building- currently occupied by terrorists who have taken Professor Howard hostage. Along the way they run into Rachel, the professor's cyborg daughter armed with tonfas, and Burns Byford, a local detective who punches things really hard, and the four of them must work together to escape and stop the terrorists. The is mostly done by knocking their lights out.

The building's been taken over by a bunch of punks!

Mechanically, the game is a bit of an odd mix. It sure looks like Resident Evil- the pre-rendered backgrounds are present and correct, as are the tank controls- but many of the defining elements of RE, such as the focus on horror and item management, are gone. You can carry as many key items as you like without trips to an item box, Alex is the only character who has limited ammo for his gun (and enemies drop ammo anyway), and there's no new weapons to find beyond some bonus ones after completing the game. Instead, the combat is more focused on close-quarters, and the characters have multi-string combos, powerful charge attacks and movement options like backflips and dashes. There's even a crowd-control attack that saps your health, Final Fight-style! Additionally, the combat tries its best to be user-friendly, with health items usable with a button press and a rudimentary lock-on system., and the fact that you can easily escape being cornered is a plus.

However, it still feels clunky to fight- tank controls really aren't ideal for a brawler, lining up punches is tricky even with lock-on, and while dispatching standard goons is only a little tricky (almost a non-factor, even- there's not many enemy types and most are easy to dispatch, although the landmines can rip your healthbar to shreds), the boss fights are considerably more annoying. Half of them move a lot faster than you, and in the end they're more annoying than challenging.

Stay cool, Mr. Byford!

The structure of the game itself tries to differentiate itself from other games of the time, though, with some clever ideas on display, even if the majority of it is 'find all the items, solve some rudimentary puzzles, gain access to new rooms/floors'. Near the beginning , Alex and Michelle split off, each tackling a different floor in the building. However, you're free to switch between the two of them up to a certain point, so if you reach a dead end as one, you can switch to the other and still make progress, which I found quite useful as I got stuck at points. In a very limited way, actions on one floor also affect he other (like a code found on one floor is for a safe on the other). Once all four party members are together (Alex and Michelle meet up with one each) you can switch at will, each with a special skill, like Rachel being able to fit in small areas and Alex having night-vision goggles. The exploration is probably done better than the combat- it's relatively easy to figure out where to go, early on there's some neat ideas not seen as often at this time, and the controls get in the way less... But you can't speed text up (agh!) and while key items sparkle (as they always do in RE-alikes), health items are invisible (gotta check everything to find them) and you need them.

At the moment, you might think Hard Edge isn't really worth talking about. Well, from a game mechanics perspective, it does what it does competently enough, but the combat can be a tad awkward for what's essentially a brawler, and the tension usually apparent in RE-alikes is obviously missing. What kept me playing through to the end is the completely overblown, over-the-top plot. It's ridiculous action movie-esque shenanigans from beginning to end, with silly character designs, lots of explosions, and a scene where a character enters a computer to fist-fight with a living virus. Some of the choice moments include Rachel's introduction to Alex (she dropkicks him), the set of wacky villains lead by Miguel who wears a pair of curtains as a cloak and actually says "This isn't even my true form!" at one point, and a bomb-defusing sequence with hilarious 'narration' by Byford that can end spectacularly. Special mention has to go to Burns Byford himself, whose presence makes this game literally Dynamite Deka, as he punches people really hard while screaming "DYNAMITE!", does a MacGyver and makes a bomb apparently out of nothing, and... Well, just look at his profile image on the sub-screen. Blimey. It is absolutely, 100% silly, cheesy and charming in that quaint way that only action movies can be, and this is helped by the ever-so-slightly naff voice acting and CG movies. Even the character names are giggle-worthy- Doctor Vault Maverick? Really? For those of you who are mroe than OK to see a game's plot go off the rails, it's a delight.

Gameplay Footage:

Time to kick some butt!

Overall, though, Hard Edge is a bit of a tough one to rate. On the one hand, the mechanics aren't too remarkable, and while exploration isn't too bad and retains a nice feeling of progression as the building opens up to you, the combat brings it down a little (even if it can be satisfying to wallop an enemy with the charge attack... When it hits). On the other, the flaws were not really enough to seriously aggravate or make me want to stop playing (beyond one particular boss battle, which I eventually beat thanks to a change of tactics). They are there, though, and are noticeable enough to warrant more than a fleeting mention, but if you've got some RE clone experience under your belt and are looking for something a bit (wait, make that very) different with flaqs in tow, Hard Edge is worth a shot, if nothing else.

... Also you can eventually unlock a laser-tonfa weapon for Rachel, and I don't even know how that would possibly work in real life.

Last Updated ( 24 September 2014 )  

Tepid Snake

Wait, what do I put in this box again? Oh, it's about me. I like playing weird and unusual games- the sort you're likely to forget about- and I hope you like reading about them because they're what I write about. And game trivia too. Please look forward to it!

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(Link to this comment) Darkstalker90 2014-09-27 17:26
I've never heard of this one but you've piqued my interest now :-)

I have to admit though that I thought I was reading about Crisis Beat or Critical Blow under a different name at first.

Nice review anyway!

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