In some ways video games have often tried to mimic action games. They want to make you James Bond or John McClane, smoothly diving from cover to cover, mowing down enemies as you go. They want you to believe you’re human and fragile, but so damn good you’re never going to get hit. Sadly they almost always fail, either you’re a bullet sponge, destroying any immersion at all, or you’re so clumsy and clunky you constantly run into walls, doors and everything else. Few games get the formula right but Not A Hero might just be one of them.
A 2D game taking place in various buildings, Not a Hero sees you move from room to room, clearing out bad guys and stealing donuts. The aim is simple, but after your first attempt you quickly spot where the challenge lies. Oh look three guys in a room, I’ll just drop in and…. I’m dead. A much better approach would be to jump down to the balcony on the left, slide in through the glass window, knocking down the first guard, put a couple of shots into the second, hide in cover and reload then pop out in time to drop a headshot on the final opponent. That whole sequence would require three or four button presses in Not a Hero because the whole game seems to be designed around that kind of experience. There’s a button to slide, sending you into the next bit of cover or if you hold it down you can carry on into more enemies. There’s a button to shoot, with range seeming to be the main thing to influence your accuracy. There’s a button to get out of cover, although you pop out automatically when you shoot. There’s finally some movement buttons to let you go left and right or enter stairs to take you to another level. It’s deceptively simple but once you get the rhythm of a room right, it all comes together beautifully.
There’s an element of Hotline Miami in the game, where you see each room as a little puzzle, attempting to work out the most efficient way to dispatch everyone inside. You’ll inevitably mess it up a few times, so you just reset and try it again almost instantly. These instant restarts are key to a game like this and keeping them snappy stops death from getting you down too much.
Alongside the hardcore gameplay and elegant controls, there’s also a beautiful retro but stylised art style that pervades everything, from the enemy sprites to the donuts that serve as collectables. There’s also an intense and earwormish soundtrack pumping through as you play. This is a game to get absorbed in, to envelop you as you persevere through the challenges. Dropping with charm and vibrance, you can find yourself lost in the world within a few minutes which is a rarity for indie games of this nature.
We only played Not a Hero for a few minutes so we can’t speak of the other levels, abilities or characters that are promised, but we can tell you this: Not a Hero is a hell of a cool game.