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12 June, 2015

Not a Hero Review - Introducing 2¼D

Vote 1 for BunnyLord in this violent sidescroller from the same house as Hotline Miami.

If the 2014 sidescrolling run and gun platformer Broforce was too heavy handed with all its stars and stripes, then Roll7 and Devolver Digital’s Britannic response Not A Hero might be more to your liking. If you can handle the relentless insanity, that is. Touted by its creators as a 2¼D cover-based shooter, Not a Hero follows the fabulously eloquent, anthropomorphic rabbit BunnyLord on his violent campaign trail to be elected mayor. Playing as one of BunnyLord’s gun toting “not heroes,” you are tasked with winning voter approval by cleaning up the streets, in a way more akin to Mad Max than Democracy 3.

Before playing Not a Hero, I was intrigued by the engine behind it, called ISO-Slant technology. Touted on ISO-Slant’s suspiciously vague website as being able to bring “an entirely different perspective” to the game. In reality, the extra quarter of a dimension is the difference between bullets whizzing harmlessly past you and turning you into a big red smear. It’s an interesting way to market the cover mechanic, toying with the idea that each game lately has a brand new technology, lighting simulation or artificial intelligence. Not a Hero makes fun of the way that other games try to reinvent the wheel, and this tongue-in-cheek humour sticks throughout the adventure.

In this 2¼D world, Not a Hero is largely successful in imitating the frenetic action of Devolver’s other gore-fest Hotline Miami. It also plays very similarly to the aforementioned Broforce, letting you have your twisted, violent fun in the first few levels as you blast your way through the enemies with as little restraint as you desire. Levels often take place in an apartment building, filling multiple floors with cluttered spaces for cover-based firefights. You are urged to explore more of the surprisingly intricate buildings and to execute your enemies with absolutely no mercy to complete side objectives.

There is something unashamedly satisfying about jumping through a window, slide-tackling an enemy and executing them in one fell swoop. The game will frequently reward you with unique ammo drops after kills, and scattered throughout the levels are more ammo and bomb bonuses. From lasers to kitten-bombs (yes!), there is a plethora of ways to kill at your disposal, and it is exciting to try new and sillier ways to accomplish your missions. But when Not a Hero decides you’ve had enough fun, you are punished with the same level of brutality you were dishing out not five minutes earlier.

The difficulty curve in Not a Hero is very, very steep, and with three sidequests per main mission, it’s even more horrible for completionists. On more than one occasion I was dashing around a building looking for a turtle in distress when I ended up accidentally launching myself out of a sixth story window to my death – which is too easy to do with the touchy controls.

The various bombs and ammo upgrades, as well as the unique differences between members of BunnyLord’s posse, became vitally important parts of my arsenal. Not a Hero can become a mix of strategy and frustrating trial and error. Testing each not-hero against the swarms of baddies became a recurring event – the shotgun wielding Cletus, with two shots per reload, is largely useless against the trigger-happy gang-bangers, yet much more successful against the kamikaze-style approach used by the ninjas. However, Jesus’ (not that one) fire-in-every-direction-but-straight-ahead technique seems to be of no use anywhere, but I guess some people might enjoy running around as a camp, sexually-charged Spaniard.

The 8-bit dubstep track playing during your missions works well to amp you up as you kick some butt, and there's some really clever sound cues; when you run out of ammo and keep attempting to fire, the not-hero will curse their own stupidity (or maybe yours?) at not reloading their weapon. Unfortunately, it’s the uniqueness of each character's audio that makes the chatter sounds they use for BunnyLord come across as annoying and lazy - it often lead me to skip the briefing meetings at the beginning of meetings. The apparent lack of audio attention to the verbose purple overlord feels like a missed opportunity, but it is, admittedly, only a very small gripe.

Despite its few flaws, Roll7 and Devolver Digital have struck gold again with Not a Hero, managing to provide a violent, funny, strange and addictive game, and certainly have me excited for more ISO-Slant tiles in the future, regardless of how many fractions of D they use.

Grab the game here.

Liam Allan.


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