I’ve never been much of a fan of flight sims, but something about Hardwar kept me coming back for more, year after year.
The skies of Saturn’s Moon, Titan, are littered with dogfights, traders scurrying to hide from pirates, and corrupt police looking to swindle you out of any coin you have. You are a freelance pilot that with a destiny, should you wish to pursue it, of discovering alien artifacts, uncovering a dark secret involving using the bodies of the dead, and finally escaping the moon. You can, however, ignore the story and pursue your own destiny of becoming the richest trader, the strongest bounty hunter, or the fiercest pirate, or why not all three? The game has an open ending allowing you the freedom to do whatever you want.
Being a flight simulator at its core, you pilot your own ship, or rather moth as they are referred to throughout the game. There is a wealth of different ships, weapons, and upgrades that you can choose, and to top it off, you can have several ships with different load outs spread across several of your own, or public hangers.
Based on the original release of the game, you get three choices to start out with. You can start out as a Trader, Scavenger, or aggressor. You start out with the same ship with a different loadout depending on your choice, and each choice will also start you out in different locations with all choices leading to the same story outcome if you chose to follow it.
There are several factions that can be your best friends or your worst enemies. If you side with the police, you will be mostly golden as you select bounties of the wanted and exact righteous law as you destroy their ships. Eventually, if you play through the game long enough, you will find bounties against traders and other faction members, which if you take them down will sting you with bounties from the subsequent faction if you take them down, and their aggressors will have a powerful loadout which the AI will use to take you down easily.
Becoming a trader sounds like a simple life. Land in a trading outpost, check who needs what, purchase what they need for the cheapest price, and take it to them to reap your reward. Wrong! As soon as you head out carrying your precious cargo you are targeted and tailed by pirates, and as the value of your cargo increases so does the risk. In order to be a trader, you will need some good defense and an even better offense.
Each building has a docking bay which allows you to enter them (duh) leading to a hangar bay where you can access the shop, or search the computers for leads and other stuff.
These days you can install an unofficial patch that was created by one of its original developers after the studio (The Software Refinery) had closed its doors. The UIM patches can be downloaded online and update the graphics and allow for modern resolutions, along with extras that were left out from the original release. You gain additional items, ships, starting load outs, pilots, and mechanics that drastically change the game.
Hardwar also includes various multiplayer methods including network and internet. Both multiplayer models lack a storyline but allow you to explore various gameplay styles with your friends. Even today there are a couple of servers still available to play today, and can easily be joined by finding servers on Captain Zedo’s Hardwar forums, with events and group play.
You can make Hardwar as hard or as easy as you wish depending on which route you wish to take for your new life on Titan. If you follow the story, you will notice a natural increase in difficulty as you are tasked with taking down other pilots, transporting valuable cargo, or using nuclear weapons to break into heavily guarded areas. However, your choice of living will change the difficulty and your knowledge of flight controls, crossed with combat techniques, and choosing the right kind of loadout for your profession, and in time you will master these which in turn can make the game much easier.
Your choice of controller can also change the difficulty. Hardwar allows you to choose any controller you wish, most popular and obvious choice is a flight stick, however, you can use a controller, keyboard (and mouse), or even the SpaceOrb 360 controller. The flight stick choice mixed with a keyboard can get you around with great ease, using max forward and reverse throttle keys and quick switching of weapons, you can become quite the formidable pilot. However, if you’re quick enough and know the keyboard shortcuts, you can get by just fine with using the keyboard on its own.
Hardwar employs the well-known fog technique to reduce the load on your Direct 3D or Voodoo graphics cards, and with the world being as large as it is with its nine zones, it’s something that was definitely needed back in the day, and each zone of the game is tied together with tunnels to further reduce the load. The UIM patches add larger textures, removes the fog and loads in the whole world as modern PCs can handle the graphics and world running simultaneously, and it runs smoothly as well.
As mentioned, the world is separated into different zones, or craters, all connected by tunnels with most tunnels being connected with a monorail, which you can ride with the UIM patch. There is a limited flight height that stops you from flying over the tunnels, which is the original way to stop you from getting around the hardware limitations of the time, and in reality, there is nothing past the crater walls as they were never intended to be flown over, so the UIM patch hasn’t unlocked it.
The buildings are mostly pentagonal or hexagonal shapes atop towers, with ground buildings being mostly square or rectangular. This was to reduce the number of polygons to save stress, but it also gives the game an otherworldly feel and a unique feeling.
Despite my lack of love for flight simulator games, Hardwar kept me playing for over a decade and even today I keep coming back for more. The nostalgic feeling I get when I hook up my flight stick is unrivaled by any other game, and even though I and my friends occasionally play Elite Dangerous, Hardwar still has something the no other game has in my opinion. I highly recommend any retro PC gamer to pick up Hardwar or download it as it is classed as abandonware and is available from Captain Zedo’s website.
Pros: Depth, some impressive effects for the time, pretty active community
Cons: Looks a bit like ass
Back in the Day
Due to the obscurity of this game, there is very little official information regarding but using Archive.org I was able to find a snapshot of time on Gremlin Interactive’s website that had information regarding the game, but it was from a time when magazines had the reviews and the official websites had mail order links to buy the games. There is no review rating other than a quote on the Gremlin website from Computer Games World which reads “The best combat and trading game since Elite… Hardwar is going to be huge”, and huge it was.
If you happen to have any magazines that feature Hardwar with a review score then feel free to leave a comment down below and let us know, we would love to keep the information alive in this review, and better yet, if you can take a photo and send it to the GamesRevisited Twitter account we would greatly appreciate it and will credit you.
Captain Zedo’s Website: http://www.zedo.hardwar.info/
Archive.org capture of Gremlin Interactive’s website: https://web.archive.org/web/19980627094149/http://www.gremlin.co.uk/games/hardwar/index.html