Why would politicians need a hero? When Bunnylord, a politician who wears a full-body purple rabbit suit, runs for mayor, he finds himself in need of support. He enrolls a team of amoral, idiotic psychopaths, and tasks them with gunning down anyone whose death he thinks he could profit from- politically or otherwise. This is the setup of Not a Hero- take control of the “Bunnylord Fan Club,” and get him elected one bullet at a time.
This game could easily have been a heavy-handed takedown of the UK politics that British developer Roll7 is acquainted with, or a grimdark work of fantasy. However, the tone and style of the game keep those tiresome possibilities at bay, and Not a Hero is instead a thoroughly comedic affair. Its sense of humor is certainly dark, as it plays hostages and brutal beatings for laughs, but the contrast of the absurd and the savage give it a style all its own. It only merits genuine laughter some of the time, but it always manages to make the impending ultraviolence feel at home.
And to be clear, you’re about to commit a lot of violence. Not a Hero’s missions are side-scrolling shooter affairs where you zip from room to room gunning down everyone you encounter. Bullets fly freely, knives meet throats with alacrity, and blood flows like water. It’s not unusual for the game to ask you to kill four people in five seconds. The combat has a rhythm and a pace not unlike the skateboarding games that Roll7 made its name with. Tony Hawk himself would nod with approval at the trick-like maneuvers you can pull in combat- it’s just that they end with you putting a bullet through someone’s skull.
It’s impossible to describe the game without sounding as twisted as the trigger-happy characters themselves, and that’s part of what makes it special. In one mission you’re sent to rescue hostages… but since it’s a PR stunt, Bunnylord mentions offhand that it really doesn’t matter how many die as long as one makes it out. You gun down a warehouse full of thugs so that you can steal a bunch of teddy bears from them and deliver them to orphans. That it should be awful is the idea- that it somehow isn’t when you’re playing is the point.
The main thing holding back Not a Hero is a problem that has assailed every Roll7 game so far. After a first set of levels that is satisfying and challenging without being harsh, the game presents a difficulty spike so sharp you might find yourself impaled on it. Push through it, and the game spikes again. The difficulty ramp is more like a staircase- harsh vertical leaps in difficulty that level off for a while before jumping again. You unlock more characters as you progress, and some of them feel noticeably more powerful than what you started with, but even their might can’t curb the spikes overmuch.
I like this game a whole hell of a lot, but recommending it gets tricky. The difficulty curve is absolutely surmountable, and the game is a delight once you push past it. The question you have to ask yourself is if you’ll have the patience to do it. If you play through the first set of levels, and then get annoyed with the game’s poor challenge pacing, this is not going to be a worthwhile purchase for you. The moment you set foot in Bredin Park, the game changes. It’s not about “are you man enough” or “do you have the skills.” Frankly, it’s about “are you willing to push through this game’s bullshit?” If you are, then this is a wholehearted, enthusiastic recommendation. It does bloody, fast gunplay better than Hotline Miami, with a more lighthearted style to boot. However, if you don’t have the time or patience for its uneven difficulty, Not a Hero is not for you.
It’s a damn shame that the game puts players in this position- the position of either shrugging off its bullshit, or quitting. Know yourself. Is this game for you? Because it’s definitely for me.