When approaching Hard Crash, I chose a similar tactic as with its sister product, Prophet's Power. The case was identical: mixed reactions from readers, mostly negative. Similarly, the book was compared to the Doom novels in terms of writing quality which is considered by the reviewers in question a serious drawback. As I haven't had the chance to read these and thus I don't know how Hard Crash fares in comparison against them, I'll be able to review the novel without any such bias.
The novel is only one chapter longer than its predecessor and as in Prophet's case, it's for the best: it does not bore the reader. It also starts out more rapidly: instead of a 4-chapter-long introduction for just one main character and his sidekick, each main hero/heroine requires a mere single chapter for introduction and is thrown right into the action. The advantages over Smith's work are more numerous: while Prophet was solely written from the Nali point of view, in Hughes' novel it is not the case. Some chapters feature the Vortex Rikers' prisoners led by Zofia and Gerick (which are the novel's equivalent for both the male and female Prisoner #849 from the actual game), others star the Nali Mountain Fighters and finally, there are chapters that present the point of view of a Skaarj commander. And while it does not follow Unreal's ingame storyline, it features a couple locations from there such as the mentioned Vortex Rikers and Rrajigar - that last area being expanded into an entire city. Another major plus is the fact that none of the protagonists has prophetic visions of any kind - all the novel's events come across as unexpected.
Hard Crash's main focus is Zofia and Gerick's attempt to survive in an alien and largely hostile environment. The Skaarj are way more threatening than they were in Haute's days, ruling over Na Pali with an iron fist and it soon becomes clear that the humans will be unable to escape the planet on their own. And the only potential allies, the Nali, insist that Zofia acknowledges her "destiny" as the "angel of vengeance" and leads them to a victorious battle against the invaders. At the same time, the Skaarj commander Karrikta attempts to 'domesticate' humans like cattle and with the only goal of them ending up at his dinner table.
Like its sister product, Hard Crash features quite a lot of brutality, mainly thanks to the Skaarj, faithfully reprising their roles as cruel oppressors and butchers. It also features a lot of references to content cut from Unreal, albeit mainly in the weapon/inventory department. It also influenced fan creations - the Nali Mountain Fighters reappear as previously mentioned; multiple locations ended up in the cancelled Unreal PSX or in map packs such as Operation Na Pali. There's also Inuit Corporation: their role has been expanded significantly, turning it from a meaningless name into an Unreal equivalent of Umbrella Corporation.
There is however one issue with the novel: it ends quite rapidly at a point that anyone who played the actual game would define as the beginning of it. I won't spoil it for you but believe me when I say it may come across as a shock.
All in all, Hard Crash is a worthy addition to the franchise, even more than Prophet's Power. While its novelties are less unique than the ones Smith's work introduces, its faster pacing and other advantages make up for it. It is a pity that most fans don't know about it but as with Prophet, the sorry state HC was published in is a clear enough reason as to why the book is not sought after. I already mentioned what I mean by this in the review of PP but I may as well repeat myself: the books were horribly spliced by the publisher. It's been revealed to me via e-mail conversation with one of the authors that an employee of the publishing house, angry for having been fired, did quite some damage during his last two weeks there: not only had he changed the order of both novels, labeling Hard Crash as #1 but went as far as to split them by chapters, putting the first 12 chapters of both books into "volume #2" and the remaining ones into this "volume #1", intertwining them as well -- however in the case of Hughes' work, no chapters had their order changed. Given that situation, I don't find it strange that people refuse to read it since the only way to read them properly is currently possible only via downloading a pirate eBook. Sad.
- a mixture of recognizable and new characters and locations,
- fast-paced action, significantly faster than in the case of PP,
- a large variety of environments and locations,
- a significant amount of references to the main game,
- visible influence on the extended fanbase-crafted canon.
- horrible publisher misdoings resulting in a tragic quality of the printed version,
- the ending may come across as a bit premature.