Not a Hero is a third person cover-based shooter. Imagine that someone took Rainbow Six: Vegas, Gears of War and Mass Effect and stripped them of absolutely everything apart from third person, cover-based shooting – the result would be Not a Hero (which is nothing like those games apart from having you shoot from covers, I guess). You’ll slide through levels shooting, chucking grenades and tackling your bandit enemies (only to execute them later) with nearly nothing else to worry about.
Picking from a select cast of not-heroes, each with their own gunplay, lines and particularities, that you unlock as you complete missions and their secondary objectives, you must help political candidate Bunnylord, a talking, purple rabbit in his campaign for mayordom, which he must win in order to avert the apocalypse, by gunning down hundreds of bandits and drug dealers. Bunnylord will be with you throughout the game, be it briefing you about upcoming missions, driving and flying you away once you’ve completed them or buying you a milkshake at Aunt Ruby’s while congratulating you on being such an amazingly badass murderer. The game’s premise is being absurd.
Not a Hero’s story, or lack of it (not a complaint), is given to you via Bunnylord’s pre and post-mission briefings, where any doubt of his psychopathy is shunt aside as he celebrates your murderous sprees or mentions how you only really need to save a single hostage for good press. They’re for the most part funny, with references and puns galore, but are often delivered in too slow a fashion: text appears at the bottom of your page accompanying Bunnylord’s incomprehensible words, and I saw myself wishing I could fast-forward and just read rather than spend minutes between each mission in order to fully hear the briefings.
In a sense, Not a Hero reminded me of Hotline Miami – you’re going through levels shooting people and slitting their throats to the rhythm of varied electronic songs (Hotline Miami 2’s Dubmood Richard is heavily featured in the game’s soundtrack, as well). It is like this at its best moments. Whereas Hotline Miami scores your performance by judging how fast, how brutal, how varied and how dangerously you played out a level – actually providing incentive to play the game at a fast, blood-pumping pace – Not a Hero gives you a set of also absurd secondary objectives (saving a panda hostage; rescuing kidnapped turtles) to complete in order to increase Bunnylord’s approval rating. Sadly, completing these objectives – necessary to unlock more of the playable characters -, often feels like the game is taking control from you and railroading you into a certain path or playstyle, which usually isn’t the fastest or most violent.
The game really strikes home with its audiovisual aspect, though: the 8-bit graphics are consistent throughout the entire game and, along with the gruesome sound effects, mercy pleas and pulsating soundtrack, look great in motion in their own chunky, gore-y way.
Replay value comes mostly from experimenting and gathering all those side-objectives for the missions, though I ended up getting them all on my first playthrough. The different characters, each with their own guns – and with those keen on melee, there’s a character that uses a hammer and another that uses a katana-, speed and special abilities also mean you can tackle each mission with a slightly different mindset, which might just be the best way to experience the game once you’ve already unlocked everything you want to: playing at your own speed and without worrying yourself too much about missing that collectible or using too many bullets.
Not a Hero’s cover-based combat keeps itself interesting because it’s fluid: no aiming, no bullet sponges, just tearing through several enemies in a single motion, all rendered in gloriously chunky 8-bit art and with a fitting soundtrack. Sadly, the game shoots its own foot when it punishes you for playing as you wish, railroading you into a gameplay style that isn’t necessarily the most interesting. Not a Hero’s 2¼-D cover-based gameplay is just right when you don’t have to worry about side-objectives slowing you down.