Not a Hero is a sardonic Elevation Action-style murderfest. It's also pretty damn fun.
You work for BunnyLord, a purple rabbit thing from the future that's trying to run for mayor. The BunnyLord's platform is built upon the rock-solid idea that crime is bad, so killing criminals will make people love him. You'll begin the game as Steve, his campaign manager-turned-hitman, dispensing cold, hard street justice to those who would dare oppose the BunnyLord.
Not a Hero a side-scrolling cover-based shooter at its core. You can shoot, you can slide, you can take cover, and you can use the occasional special weapon you'll find in the course of your duties. It's a pretty slight number of mechanics - you can't even jump - so once you've gotten them down, it's just a matter of using them correctly. Despite having ample cover, you're not meant to really stand still; Not a Hero trains you early on to move-and-kill, John Woo-style.
On top of those basic mechanics, you're given a little flavor. You have a health bar which refills outside of a firefight. If you're in the middle of a shootout and you need a top-off, you can slide into enemies and execute them while they're down. (Enemies can pull you out of cover if they touch you.) Each mission offers up three objectives as a challenge, ranging from killing all of your foes, to finishing within a time limit, to collecting certain items. Depending on how many you complete, you're given a grade from mayor to Global Megalord. Otherwise, Not A Hero is as slim as a cover-based shooter can get, much like developer Roll7's skateboarding title, OlliOlli. It's the lean, Bruce Lee-version of games like Gears of War.
You drop into every situation, murder everyone in sight, occasionally complete another objective, and then you peel out in the BunnyLord's van to have breakfast or milkshakes. If you want to change things up, the game also features unlockable characters, who feature completely different looks and slightly-different mechanics. One character can move while reloading, while another carries a ton of ammo, but moves slowly to compensate. I expect most players will gravitate towards a specific character in the roster; my favorites are the James Bond-lookalike, Clive, or the sword-wielding Kimmy.
Honestly, Not a Hero feels conceptually close in gameplay to another Devolver Digital-published title, Hotline Miami. The run-and-gun, the pixelated murder with blood spraying everywhere, the constant push to move and kill. The difference is Hotline Miami was a very tense game. You're more likely to die over-and-over in Hotline Miami; death is an essential part of the loop. Not a Hero's health bar and health regeneration options remove a great deal of that tension.
Instead, Not a Hero is a game where you get to have a little bit more fun. It's not as dark, tense, and demanding as Hotline Miami. It doesn't cuff your across your jaw for making a wrong move. You have time to correct course, the fall back, to learn from your mistakes without dying. You can kick back a bit in Not A Hero. It gives you the freedom to do some cool things, because you're not penalized heavily for rushing tactics or taking a single hit. I appreciate a game that's not always trying to kick my teeth in.
I say "not always" because Not a Hero is split into three major parts, each based on a different action movie trope. The first section is Vodkaville, all full of Russian mobsters, while subsequent areas feature a dark-skinned urban gang and a Japanese Yakuza ripoff. In that last third of the game, the difficulty ramps up. Way up. The first two-thirds are a warm-up and the last section of the game takes the kid gloves off. I tend to prefer a gradual increase in difficulty; as it stands, the people who wanted the game to be this hard probably didn't make it this far, and the casual players who did will run face first into this difficulty wall.
The problem in these last few levels is enhanced if you're trying to complete the objectives. In that case, Not a Hero becomes more like a puzzle title, with players trying to figure out the exact solution the developer wanted you to go with. There's an optimum route required in many levels to complete all three objectives, but that becomes even clearer in the last third of the game. It can become a bit tiring puzzling out the specific route in the face of repeated deaths.
Not a Hero also could do with a bit of trimming, as it can get a bit tired and repetitive towards the end of each section. Roll7 either needed to cut a mission or two, or add a bit more variety to the overall game. As it stands, it doesn't quite stick the landing on being the perfect size. You can cut through the entire game - if you skip the objectives - in around 6 hours, but you'll still feel the edges of fatigue here and there.
Where Not a Hero hits all the right buttons for me in is the tone. Occasionally the humor may feel a bit try hard, but for the most part, I enjoyed reading the BunnyLord's briefings before and after each mission. There's a Mad Libs feeling in much of the dialogue, full of pithy phrases where the nouns have been filled in at random by a computer. It's loud and crass, but sometimes I want to live on the wild side. I admit, this is where Not a Hero may fail for man;, if you don't like this style of humor I could see much of the game falling flat for you.
Not A Hero is a good foundation. Played in small doses, it's a great game: the controls are precise, the action is heavy, and the humor will leave a smile on your face. Played through in a single go, the game loses a bit of its luster and the cracks begin to appear. That said, these cracks aren't fundamental flaws in the overall game, they're just areas it can be improved. And I want improvement. I want Roll7 to revisit Not a Hero. I want more levels, more variety, more characters, and more BunnyLord. He's the type of rabbit thing you can stand behind.
Finishing all the objectives and finding the secret levels might take you a while, but most will just burn through the normal game in 6-7 hours.
The pixel art works out as well as it did in OlliOlli. roll7 is really good with them pixels.
Like Roll7's first game, Not a Hero is light on overall mechanics: It's a cover-based side-scrolling shooter stripped down to its bare minimum. That helps the game rip along, as you and the BunnyLord slide and murder your way into power. The humor may fall flat for some and there's a bit of repetition, but Not a Hero is a ton of fun.