Devolver Digital loves to help produce and distribute weird, stylish games, and few games are quite as strange or striking as NOT A HERO. Developed by Roll7, known mainly for their 2D skateboard game OlliOlli (also published by Devolver Digital), NOT A HERO is an action game with a very amusing deadpan sense of humor, absurdity, and a cynical view on modern politics. If you need to compare it to anything, compare it to Broforce, as that game's developers themselves said NOT A HERO would have been what they would have made if they went for a UK theme instead of US. It revels in violence and action movie tropes, but instead of dumb macho 80s flicks, NOT A HERO is a product of the modern, twisted dark comedy. It's also much like Broforce in that it criticizes violence, and also REVELS in it. It likes violence the same way Green Arrow's sidekick loves that China Cat.
The game opens with a talking, purple, human sized rabbit named BunnyLord telling you that you have to help him get elected or the world will be doomed, which he knows because he's from the future. Seems reasonable enough. Saving the world and getting votes depends on stopping crime via vigilantism, as one would expect. To quote the BunnyLord himself, "we're going to shoot actual people in their actual teeth." In order to save the world and get a mysterious teleporting, bunny-ears lawyer who's an actual bunny elected, you have to take down the Russian mob, a weed dealer's drug empire, and a yakuza/triad matriarch. This involves lots of guns, lots of bullets, lots of bodies, and capturing the hearts and minds of the gullible general public.
NOT A HERO instantly sticks out with its sense of humor. It's very British, never really having characters comment on the absurdity around them because they're just as absurd, if not more so in some cases (just wait until you unlock Ronald Justice). BunnyLord himself constantly steals the show, constantly balancing a cold yet peppy politician persona with his true, weirdly human nature, with a dash of bizarre comments about wombat flavored milkshakes thrown in. Every mission begins with a briefing from the time traveling rabbit, and it's not uncommon to see corpses, ghosts, or even clowns up there with him, rarely commented upon. His vocabulary is a strange mixture of strung together adjectives, and he's always giving pep talks and compliments on how well you murdered another human being. The game clearly wants the player to have a great time, but also makes an atmosphere that's equal parts hilarious and a tad disturbing to do it, just to remind you how truly bizarre this world is.
Notably, NOT A HERO has a slanted perspective that makes it a tad easier to keep track of your character's space when moving through doors or near walls and windows. It's a subtle touch that keeps the game easy to follow and gives it a flair all its own. This is a huge help, as the character sprites are all pretty expected indie fare. They do their job and are well animated, but they don't really stick out much on their own. Thankfully, the minimalist setting designs fit well with the sprites, with lots of simple shapes and defined colors. The soundtrack also fits in well, not too attention grabbing, but always fitting the mood.
The game proper is an exciting time that mixes together traditional 2D gunplay, modern shooter cover systems, Vanquish style sliding, and a design style not too dissimilar from cinematic platformers. You can feel their experience with OlliOlli here, as the game is all about failing and doing better with each retry. You pick from a gaggle of ridiculous killers, ranging from hitmen with twitchy eyes and sawed-off shotguns, Welsh women who can run and reload, and even an omnisexual man named Jesus who will hump anything and everything, unlocking more as you get higher approval ratings for the boss. Then, you go do the mission, going from left to right in some sort of warehouse or apartment complex, and just murder every single human being you can find before they do the same to you.
The controls are simple. There's basic left and right movement, one button lets you slide around and take cover, another shoots, and another reloads. You can get critical hits that insta-kill by sneaking up on people, or knocking them down in a slide or explosive blow-back and going for a finisher. Otherwise, you both fire and take cover until the other person is dead. Where things get tricky is that there's usually a lot of enemies, and you don't have much health. You can recover with time when you're not being shot, but not taking cover and knowing when to shoot will leave you dead and fast. You also need to be aware of the effects of special ammo and secondary weapons (usually bombs with a wacky gimmick) you find lying around, as some can have drawbacks, especially explosive rounds. Make one mistake, and you will most likely die horribly unless you're really good at running and sliding. Enemies don't wait around for you once they know you're there. Also, some enemies will punch you if you try sliding into them, mainly large enemies and shotgun users, so you need to be aware of what you're facing.
Slow and steady wins the race at first, and then you can go buck wild and go for optional goals on missions for approval of the voters, which is needed to get characters and endings. There's nothing quite as satisfying as flawlessly finishing a mission in this game after constantly messing up, and there's some similarities with Dark Souls in how the game warns you of coming tricks and traps that you'll most likely die to the first time around. Patience and observation is rewarded, as is character mastery. Every single character in the game has their own play style, from the moving gunners Jesus and Sammy, to the very limited but effective Mike. His shotgun only carries two rounds, but his execution requires no ammo, his gun can destroy multiple enemies easily at close range, and he rarely has mess-ups you can get from pistol shots when going for critical kills. There's someone here for everyone, including a final character with a strong melee skill.
Those optional challenges also keep the game's twenty-one main levels and scattered hidden levels fresh. Anyone can kill dudes, try doing it while also trying to rush to a payphone or saving a panda. Some levels also shake things up with violent surprises, like a sudden enemy swarm or a SWAT raid that ends up becoming a mad dash to the getaway van as you try to avoid getting a bullet in the back from the 5-0. There's a great deal of care in placing these spots of intensity, keeping the game from becoming stale too quickly.
Just be warned, it's hard as hell. A single enemy can be a huge threat if you're not careful, and a great run can become undone by a single misstep. Going for the golden ending will leave you mad, though it helps all the other endings make a joke out of this. Despite that, the game is an absolute joy, just having the time of its life in drenching itself with gaming gore and bloodlust, and multiple difficulty levels if you need a breather. NOT A HERO is not quite like any of its contemporaries, which is certainly for the best as it actually makes cover shooting enjoyable. It's a burst of creativity and adrenaline pumping excitement, a shot of ecstasy to the brain with the sense of humor of an arc of Transmetropolitan, complete with ultra-violence and biting satire alongside childish visual gore gags.
If the game has any faults, it would be level length. They're not that long at all, but with so much dying required to master them, odds are good you'll get sick of a few of the longer levels, especially the hostage crisis in the second set. If you can power through those low points, you may just find yourself one of the most enjoyable shooters in recent memory.
Now, go win over the hearts, minds, and mediocre shins of those voters!