Pros: Fun, deep gameplay; probably low cost; unique
Cons: Hard to find; old game with below average graphics and sound
I really didn't expect much from the game that my brother picked up in the five dollar rack. Once he tried it, he didn't seem that interested, either, but I still gave it a try. It backs up that advice about judging things on appearances.
Hardwar is a computer game, namely, a combat flight simulator. It takes place in the future, on some other planet's moon, where a colony was constructed but then abandoned by the home planet. The place was called Misplaced Optimism (MisOp for short) by the people who were left behind. They've barely scraped by, and it's definitely not a happy place. There are gangs and organizations fighting each other, people committing random acts of violence, thievery, murder... People are willing to do just about anything to get ahead. Will you be one of them, or will you cooperate with the police to stop these criminals? Or will you go off and do your own thing? Maybe you'll solve the mystery of how to get off this rock in order to return to the original planet.
Whatever you decide to do, you don't have much to work with. Starting out, you get a low-grade "moth" - a moth is a small ship that is used to fly around on this moon, Titan. You can choose between being an aggressor, a scavenger, and a trader. The aggressor is best of the three for combat, though it's still fairly limited. The scavenger comes with a cargo pod and a drone, so you can pick up whatever resources you come across (such as scrap metal from destroyed ships, cargo dropped by others, etc). The trader is a little more general; it has a cargo pod and also a bit of fighting capability.
So, you choose which setup you'd like, and go out to earn some cash, or to reveal the plot. At first, you may be confused and frustrated. I know I was. The combat can be difficult if you're a newbie; it seems like your enemy is both more experienced and better equipped. Still, you'll get the hang of it, by learning the patterns during combat, which people are safe to attack, and just the general gameplay. This is part of the fun. After a while, you'll be able to know which pilots are criminals just by looking at their names. Criminals are the best ones to attack, since the police won't come after you for assault charges, and you'll likely get a nice bounty for getting rid of them. You could also pick a side between the gangs, or just attack people who have some cargo that's worth stealing, though these are a bit more dangerous as it will cause one group or another to come after you.
As for combat, it's not too complicated. You accelerate or decelerate, use the mouse or keyboard arrows to turn, and you can shoot whatever weapons you've purchased. Weapons can be simple guns, or various missiles (some are faster, some come in packs that fire simultaneously, some even kill the enemy in one shot). There are also other items to equip, which can help you to avoid the enemies' attacks (things like a hologram to draw their fire, or flares to attract missiles). You can get more powerful engines for higher speed, too. Something else that is important to fight properly is your software. Your ship's software may automatically dock you when you come to a building, increase the rate at which your power recharges (Note: unless you have an upgrade from later in the game, you have a solar energy cell with limited power, which you must recharge at light wells in certain locations. Without enough power, you move very slowly and cannot use weapons. You can get different energy cells for higher energy capacity.), increase your accuracy, and more.
As you can tell, there's quite a bit of upgrading and customizing that you can do, depending on your needs and what career/style you choose. The last thing that you will be able to pick is your ship. There are seven in all to choose from, including one that you get from a patch. There is the basic one that you start with, called the Silver-Y, and the rest vary in speed, hull strength, size, turning radius, weapons capacity, and of course, price.
Another nice thing is the online play. Yes, you can go online to play with other Hardwar lovers. You might not see that many people, but there are still AI characters to play with if the place is empty.
Now onto the graphics and sound. As stated, this game is a bit dated. The graphics are rough and fairly simplistic, with a somewhat drab color scheme that matches the dreary and hopeless state of MisOp. It serves me just fine, but people who want something pretty probably won't like it. The sound is on the simple side, too; there are the sounds from your engine and weapons, but nothing really stands out. There's also some semi-action music that plays at some points in the game.
What it comes down to is: this is a game worth checking out if you're at all interested in flight simulators, futuristic games, or just any good game. Try to make sure your computer can handle it, though; I had a little difficulty getting Hardwar to work at first, so it's possible you won't be able to play it at all, depending on your computer. Another issue is whether you'll be able to get your hands on this game in the first place, since it's probably not in many stores anymore.
Patches: You can download a free patch that will install easily on the game, and it gives you several new options (a couple weapons, three more starting game options, etc) which are quite nice.