The title of Not A Hero seems more appropriate now than it ever did. A brightly-coloured objective-based 2D cover shooter developed by roll7 (of OlliOlli fame) and published by Devolver Digital (of, well, take your pick), it was a riot of gunfire, blood and action… but I feel like it only found favour amongst those in the know. Indeed, when rllmukforum (an online entertainment community and the birthplace of Disposable Media) polled people on their favourite games of 2015, Not A Hero fell somewhere outside of the top 100, and now it risks the Curse of the Instant Game Collection, where (certain) people inevitably play a game for ten minutes, make their minds up, and potentially remove it from their storage forever. It deserves better, not least from myself – by the time Disposable Media relaunched, Not A Hero had been out for a while on PC, and even though I bought and played it on Steam, my coverage here was hardly extensive – I gave a brief overview of the game following news of the PS4 port, but nothing since then.
Not A Hero takes a simple premise – help a purple rabbit win an election by murdering people – and uses it as an excuse for tight action and explosive firefights. You move left and right through a building, changing floors either by crashing through windows, using lifts or taking the stairs, and carry out objectives such as saving hostages or tearing down rival campaign posters. Aiming to make your job harder are numerous trigger-happy goons, and whilst a few shots can deplete your health in seconds, you can take cover to protect yourself, firing back when your foes are vulnerable (which may be when they are reloading, facing the other way, etc.) Death comes swiftly and easily, even after you think you’ve started learning the building layout, and the loop of dying and restarting is every bit as compelling as the wipeouts and retries of OlliOlli.
Not A Hero is a game that owes a debt to classics such as Elevator Action, the 80s Taito game where you would move from floor to floor of a building, engaging in firefights with enemies and ultimately escaping to your car at the ground floor. Roll7’s game might have more complex environments, more depth, more speed, but it shares the feeling of systematically clearing out each area before making a safe getaway, and the modern tweaks make it a much more fleshed-out experience. Collectible secondary weapons always help you find a way out if things are getting out of hand, and unlockable characters offer different gameplay benefits (similar to the masks of the Hotline Miami games). There are even secondary objectives for each level; some ask for a certain target to be killed, others request that a particular item is found, and so on. It brings to mind the objective-based gameplay of OlliOlli, but the side-scrolling shooter format makes character control a lot more straightforward in this game.
My only real caveat is that the final stretch of levels can get pretty intense, and you might find yourself attempting to get past one or two sticking points for a while. However, you’ll still have had plenty of fun in the preceding levels, and the level select screen clearly tracks your secondary objective progress so that you always have something to go back to. As a PlayStation Plus freebie, it’s certainly worth a look, and it’s so easy to jump in and out of 15-minute sessions that it can quickly find a slot in your gaming schedule amongst more time-consuming titles. What’s more, the pixel look works really well and the soundtrack is packed with lively chiptune music (the character voices might divide opinion, but they’re not that obnoxious.) Download it this week and try it for yourself.