This is an odd review for me – most of the time I review games in genres I play a lot of and am actually good at. By that I mean, I tend to do RPGs, adventures, strategy games – genres where I can break down mechanics and story which are the core of my skill set as a gamer.
Not A Hero is, for anyone who knows it, none of those. It is an unrepentant action and all about cover shooting more in the style of Hotline Miami, while mixing in elements of Broforce. So I admit I’m approaching this game in many ways as an outsider to the genre but its theme of political satire interested me so I thought I’d give it a chance. I also took the opportunity to talk with those around TechRaptor who played it to help fill in some genre information gaps to inform this review, but in the end what you get here is my view on it.
On a gameplay level, Not A Hero boils down to an ultra-violent cover shooter, where you go through the levels shooting and blowing up enemies to accomplish goals. You have two other things that help out there – first is the ability to slide tackle most enemies and disable them for a few seconds where you can execute them, and second is the special items or abilities that are available to use. Special items run the gamut of various explosives like cat bombs, grenades, and mines which are typically able to handle more enemies. The game also has numerous power ups for your shots like fatboys, ricochet shot, lasers, and many more that help vary how you’ll play for a part of a level.
Level design is one of Not A Hero's great strengths. Despite the fact that they use only 3 main variations in backgrounds depending on where you are, each level feels and plays differently. The smart use of cover, laid out specials and power ups, as well as enemies, helps each one feel fresh. Of notable use are several enemies who can’t be slide tackled getting used as beef gates to close down some paths unless you fight but are beatable. Also varied is the way you move through levels - beyond just stairs, you often crash through windows to go down floors or even between entire buildings. Or, sometimes you have the option of which you want to do right now. That's part of how the game tends to have multiple routes through each of the levels..
Helping to make this even more noticeable is the fact that in addition to its main goal, each level has 3 optional side objectives. These range from "do it in this time or less," to "kill everyone," to "gather this 3 of this," and even more things like "don’t let any hostages die." Each of them forces changes in how you approach the level. The strongest in many cases is the time limit, because the game's style often encourages playing safe with cover. However, the timer counting down encourages you to rush and take a quicker route.
Enemies come in a variety of types and are used in a variety of groups and introduced many times in the speech leading up to a level that they appear in. Some of the enemies are difficult to tell apart as they use similar pixel work other than a different color, but those are more of the general mooks who the only difference is in what gun they are using. More distinct enemies thankfully have different builds as well as distinct designs that make the samurai, ninja, drug dealers and others pop out. These enemies generally require different approaches as some things won’t work quite the same – in most cases the slide tackle and execute is not an option for"advanced" enemies.
Enemies and levels aren't the only variety however, as the 8 characters you can unlock (you start with an additional one in Steve) provide a lot of shifts in gameplay. They all move at different speeds, with different amounts of bullets in their guns and their own unique touches change how you play with them. Unique abilities include things like running and reloading for Samantha, silent executions for Mike, or running executions for Jesus. These tend to be balanced out with the type of gun, range, number of shots, and other little bits that all add up to make them play differently. The last 3 characters even change up the base special that is used, creating even larger differences in game play. The characters are unlocked by doing levels and the side objectives which raise Bunnylord’s approval rating.
Not A Hero has a very simple control scheme – move with the arrow keys, left and right, go up and down stairs with up and down arrows, x to slide or go into cover, c to shoot or execute and v for specials. For the most part this works, though I wish Not A Hero diversified the keys some however; I found myself not going into cover sometimes when I pressed x and sliding to my doom, or executing on c when I meant to shoot or vice versa. For those who prefer controllers, it works well there, with the same caveat on control binding issues.
The theme of Not A Hero though is what drew me in originally – I follow politics and there are a lot of things to see there. Political satire is really easy to get wrong but in my opinion Not A Hero does a great job of lining up and skewering many different ideas. They are all dealt with in ridiculous ways but hit at the crux of ideas like politicians being "tough on crime" or "the war on drugs." The media and voters take a few shots with awareness campaigns getting mocked and some of the stuff is even subtler.
Bunnylord’s voice for example has been found grating by many – myself included. In fact, you might be inclined to turn off the volume or ignore him completely because of that. Think for a moment though – he’s running for a political position and if you mute what he’s saying you only get to see what is handed out through the media in the real world. In many ways his voice is how people perceive politicians and tuning them out.
A more damning one on politicians themselves is after one mission Bunnylord points out that the target in fact didn’t have what they thought. It was an innocent person they’d gone after in their work to “clean up” the streets. It’s not 3 lines after he says that though, that he’s explaining how he can turn this catastrophe into a victory with the press and how to spin it. It’s an indictment of many politicians who use mistakes or misunderstandings and remove context to spin the truth so far that it is unrecognizable even when they are caught being wrong.
It does that while being generally hilarious throughout, and while you’re laughing, I’d suggest thinking about some of the messages Roll7 has intelligently written here. It’s covered in absurdism, but when examined, there are some deeper themes and messages to look at.
The visuals are a nice 2d pixel art that help give Not A Hero a unique feel to it in many ways. While I wish there was some more variety in regions, the 3 separate regions do have distinct flavors to them, and each of the maps layouts is different enough to look just a bit different. The music is solid if you’re more into the synth/dubstep/metal stuff – it’s not really my kettle of fish, but it is decently done. The voice acting is good for the different characters, giving them each a different feel. They tend to be used at character selection and also throughout the level for context-sensitive things or their catch phrase.
You may recall that I said at the start I was a newcomer to the genre – a visitor looking in. To be completely honest it’s not a genre I’m great at, and I have to say I’m happy it wasn’t streamed ...
Oh god. Well. There’s 3 minutes of shame that someone inserted.
Now that you’ve lost all respect for me, let's wrap this up some here. Not A Hero has 24 levels – 1 of which is a tutorial, and 3 of which are secret you have to find in the map. This gives Not A Hero a decent amount of playtime, and the special objectives help give Not A Hero an amount of replayability as does the extensive stats page. The stats page is going to help make this one more popular with speed runners, as it allows you to track how long it took to complete your fastest runs, the side objectives and how many times you completed it with each hero … and failed it.
So ya, I’m not good at Not A Hero. While I beat it, it took me far longer than it will take someone who is good at this type of game. However, I will say in the end I think that as someone who came in, I found it to be a very good game on the whole. The game has a lot of dynamism with the gameplay and is hard without being unfair about it. It is, despite it’s over-the-topness, intelligently written with good themes and a game I recommend even if it is something outside your normal tastes like it was mine.
Is this going to make me play action games all over? No. But it is an experience I’m happy to have had.
If you want to see some more competent play of Not A Hero (Well or so he told me it'd be....), check out Alex Santa Maria’s video of it with the premier of our first impressions series Scouting Party.
This game was purchased by the reviewer on launch.
All stats are real without padding. The video of shame was using recorded game play from my time and edited by Shaun Joy, with musical composition by Travis Donell. All footage was recorded using Plays.tv client.
Not A Hero is a well made game that skewers the political elements it takes aim at with some excellent game play to top it off.