Not a Hero review: don't stop and pop

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform Win, Mac, Linux, PS Vita, PS4
Publisher Devolver Digital
Developer Roll7
Release Date May 7, 2015

Not a Hero doesn't just trim the fat off the cover-based shooter genre — it absolutely eviscerates it.

Just as developer Roll7's previous work, OlliOlli, reduced skateboarding to its most essential components, Not a Hero takes the cover-based shooter and turns it into something lean and brutal. The game's murderous cast is always moving, sliding between cover, fanning out pot shots and delivering grisly executions. There's no downhill slope to pull you forward, but that doesn't mean Not a Hero lacks momentum.

For all the slick improvisation that Not a Hero demands, it undercuts that chaos with a surprising amount of rigidity. It is a game in which you will fail dozens of times until you learn the correct way to complete your objectives. It feels less like composing a symphony of destruction, and more like an acting a part — albeit a part written for you by a psychopath.

Not a Hero casts you as a street team — of sorts — for a political candidate named Bunnylord, a time-traveling anthropomorphic rabbit whose pending election will prevent the apocalypse. To ensure victory, you'll help Bunnylord eradicate three different gangs over the course of the three weeks leading up to election day, completing various objectives in order to boost his approval rating and add additional members to your squad.

Not a Hero's interpretation of cover-based shooting is wildly successful

As premises go, Not a Hero's is pretty bananacakes. It's representative of the game's bizarre sense of humor, which misses the mark a lot more often than it hits. Bunnylord's dialogue is frequently randomized in a Mad Libs-esque fashion, which is about as funny as actual Mad Libs — which is to say, not especially. Playable characters have some entertaining catchphrases they'll bust out in missions, but they get a bit repetitive. The same goes for enemy dialogue, which frequently boils down to them begging for their lives as you're executing them. That's, you know, not ha-ha funny as much as it's ho-ho horrific.

Fortunately, the game's interpretation of cover-based shooting is wildly successful. Your not-heroes can slide, allowing them to move between each area's plentiful cover points rapidly or tackle foes to the ground and set them up for a quick execution. You're invulnerable to enemy fire in cover, allowing you to time out your return fire, which can kill in a single shot if you've managed to move close enough to your enemy.

Not a Hero review a 650

Of course, there's never just one enemy. The game chucks a lot of fodder at you, forcing you to weave together slides, potshots, tackles and executions into seamless combos which turns murder into a kind of traversal mechanic. Your characters all have a replenishing health bar, which gives you some margin for error, and for reckless experimentation in the pursuit of style. It makes it really easy to do really cool shit.

But Not a Hero is not an easy game, especially in its later levels, which introduce hefty difficulty spikes one after the other. Just surviving each of the game's 21 missions will require you to conquer some imposing challenges, like enemies that can instantly kill you if you touch them, or rocket-launching helicopters which will either explode you or knock you backwards, out of a building and down to your death.

But to max out Bunnylord's approval rating, beating each mission isn't enough; you'll also need to complete three secondary objectives in each area, which is where the real difficulty of Not a Hero lies. Some demand perfect play, requiring you to finish a level without taking a certain number of hits. Others enforce strict time limits, either for completing the level or finding hidden items that disappear when the timer runs out. Each area necessitates the skilled usage of several different playstyles, often tasking you with being simultaneously fast and cautious, which is a really difficult mixture to nail.

So much of your success boils down to routing, and learning the right route isn't nearly as fun as learning how to carve a path of destruction through it. It's easy to jump through a window and into the wrong window of another building, cutting you off from an area. Timed objectives force you to rush to a certain priority spot before you can focus on cleaning out the rest of the stage. Hostage situations can only be defused by getting the drop on the hostage-takers from behind, explicitly requiring you to move through the level following a certain path.

A lot of missions have a "correct" route designed to knock out all of the objectives, and discovering that route over the course of a few dozen deaths is exhausting work. The next step — the actual figuring out how to follow that route and kill everything in your way — is where Not a Hero shines. I just found myself wishing I could get to that step a lot sooner.

Wrap Up:

Not a Hero takes too much work to hit perfect runs

There's a flash of brilliance in how Not a Hero tackles the cover-based shooter genre, excising the meticulous stop-and-pop loop and replacing it with unceasing carnage. But it can be hard to see that flash after your 30th failed attempt of a mission, when you're still trying to figure out where the game even wants you to go. Not a Hero's exhilarating payoff might come during that 31st attempt, but it also might not be worth the work that went into it.

Not a Hero was reviewed using final pre-release review code for Steam provided by Devolver Digital. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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