Not a Hero is a non-stop action movie gunfight in its purest form and shows us just what developer Roll7 is best at: taking a well-tread idea and distilling it down to its simplest elements and making a fast, tight game that constantly demands one more try, even when the clock says you should've been in bed 45 minutes ago.
Enter the political campaign of the one called Bunnylord. This suit-wearing anthropomorphic lagomorph comes from the future to save the world from alien invasion and almost sure destruction. The best way to do this is to become mayor, and the best way to become mayor, of course, is to kill crime right in its face. His words, not mine.
This brings us to Steve, Clyde, Jesus (not that Jesus) and Bunnylord's other agents of crime-stopping. Steve is Bunnylord's professional assassin. Campaign manager. Whatever. Steve and his colleagues are ready to clean up crime the Bunnylord way.
Precision face murdering
Gameplay is king. It's a phrase bantered about in the industry by executives and developers alike. With Roll7 though, it appears to be something of an anthem.
The small British developer wowed us last year with OlliOlli, one of the best games to hit Vita – then later PC, PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One, 3DS, Wii U – it's just about everywhere now, and there's a reason for that. It's really, really fun. It has precise, fast-paced gameplay that is tough enough to force a curse out of even quieter gamers but not so much so that it could reasonably be called unfair.
In this way, Not a Hero isn't that different from the company's previous efforts.
We've seen a thousand fast-paced shooters of increasing complexity over the years. Insane, complicated enemies demanding all sorts of combination attacks. Roll7 pulls things back, though and narrows everything down to four actions: kill, reload, special attack, and take cover.
From there, it's about applying those moves at the right times and in the right situations. Hitting the button to take cover puts you into a slide that can be used to slide tackle enemies and take them off guard for an up-close execution. Firing at close range presents an opportunity for a critical attack that can give weaker assassins an edge. Staying in cover will keep you safe from enemies with guns, but if they decide to close in, things change.
Each of the assassins you'll unlock throughout the game has these moves, but capitalizes on them differently. Steve is the middle of the chart in every way. Mike has powerful attacks and silent executions but very little ammo and a long reload time. Sammy can reload without stopping. I eventually found a couplecharacters that best fit my play style and switched between them as necessary to make it through each of the 21 standard levels (and 3 secret ones).
There's enough variety in the character selection, too, that going back through levels with different characters – even after I'd plowed through many of the four challenges each level presents – ended up being a fun experience.
Some of the later characters are intentionally overpowered, though. Kimmy, for example, has a katana in place of her special move slot that is a one-shot kill for any enemy she encounters. The drawback to this is that it doesn't allow you to take advantage of the special weapons littered throughout stages. A few times those special weapons are required to complete a level, so not every character can complete every level. This isn't ever explicitly said, and it was frustrating to discover it on my own. Similarly, I didn't understand for quite a while why some of my slide tackles worked and others didn't until I read someone state that slide velocity matters.
These were pretty minor catches, though, and they didn't keep me from enjoying the game, but sometimes there's such a thing as a game being too bare bones.
A simple coat of paint
Tonally, Not a Hero feels a bit like someone jammed two of my favorite movies – Shoot 'Em Up and John Wick onto an Atari cartridge.
Each of the nine characters you'll unlock has their own look and attitude. Clive, a spot on reference to Roger Moore's take on James Bond, was a personal favorite, though I loved Jesus, the hip-thrusting, martini-drinking Spaniard as well.
They fit well into the semi-2D world Roll7 has built for them. The space the action takes place in comprises two planes – foreground and cover. A slight shadow over the cover plane ensured I never confused the two despite the flat style of the graphics.
The retro style Not a Hero is built in – even more retro than OlliOlli's 16-bit style – serves the game well. With precise movements and clean, blocky graphics, I never questioned where I was once I got used to the controls.
Bunnylord himself is cleverly written from beginning to end. Each mission briefing is worth watching on its own. I wish I could've sped through them instead of skipping them altogether, but they are worth waiting for.
In the game's attempt to for a pulpy feel, though, I did feel a bit uncomfortable at times. The mishmash Asian crime syndicate encountered in the third act of the game is presented in a way that shows the team knows it's not politically correct, but they do it anyway when simply picking the Yakuza or the Triads and sticking with it wouldn't have hurt the game's tone or style at all.
Like my minor gripes with the mechanics, though, this didn't hurt my overall enjoyment of the game.
All told, I've probably spent about 12 hours with the game, split into 10, 30, and 60 second segments, and enjoyed my time with it immensely.
Not a Hero shows us that Roll7 didn't just hit on a lucky concept with OlliOlli but rather seems to have found a niche for themselves making funny, colorful, and precise action games.
Disclaimer: We received a copy of Not a Hero for the PC from the publisher. We completed all primary objectives before writing this review.