The Hong Kong Massacre: Review
The Hong Kong Massacre is a top-down shooter published by indie developer VRESKI for the PC, Mac and Linux, and is the first title to be put out by the small Swedish based company. The game takes much of its inspiration from the Hong Kong shoot-em-up films of John Woo such as Hard Boiled and The Killer (Chow Yun Fat’s character, Inspector Tequila, even has a cameo at some point). The gameplay also borrows heavily from another top-down shooter, Hotline Miami (HM), with a number of similarities in the level design as well as the inclusion of one hit kills for the player and most enemies. This won’t be the last time I bring up HM but that's only because the parallels are so apparent. Guns also have limited ammunition and can only be replaced by finding another weapon, typically off of a dead enemy. Those familiar with the play-style of Hotline Miami know that beating levels requires you to be fast, smart, and willing to die many, MANY times.
However, HK Massacre does have one gameplay mechanic that makes it standout from other top-down shooters: a significant emphasis on using bulletime. In another call back to John Woo’s movies, where gunfights often featured tons of slow motion, the game features a meter that shows how much bulletime you can use. This slows the action to a crawl allowing you to pick off an entire room of enemies without getting hit. Additionally, this feature also serves to enhance the games visual style as your bullets interact beautifully with the environment, sending debris flying into the air and enemies sprawling with fountains of blood gushing from their rag-dolling bodies. It definitely gives the action a much more cinematic feel and was a big highlight of the game….at first.
Unfortunately this games standout feature also happens to be its biggest achilles heel. After a while of getting used to it, I was able to exploit the slow-mo ability to basically run through levels with near impunity. The gauge recovers remarkably fast and you also get a small refill for every enemy you kill, allowing you to exploit the ability for extremely extended periods of time. Outside of the small reward you get for not using slow-mo during a level, I found literally no reason to not constantly spam it. The levels became so routine that I almost turned my brain off for some of them, it was simply a matter of jumping into a room, holding down slow-mo, and targeting every enemy within view before moving onto the next one. Most of my deaths were more a result of me losing focus rather than an actual difficulty spike. This brings me to my next criticism: the repetitiveness.
Having an easily exploitable ability that makes the game easier isn’t necessarily the worst thing as long as the game still manages to entertain you. However, after only a few levels I had realized that I’d pretty much experienced everything that Hong Kong Massacre had to offer. The game cycles through the same 5 or so environments throughout all the chapters with little to distinguish them visually. Enemies are essentially the same with the exception of some tough ones that show up near the end (these ones require two-shots to kill), and you have only 4 weapons to choose from (Pistols, SMG. Shotgun and Assault Rifle). Each chapter has a boss fight at the end which was interesting at first as they involve you both running parallel to each other down a corridor exchanging fire while also taking out enemies on your side of the level. I hoped the other bosses might have their own unique approach but once again they were pretty much indistinguishable from each other. Story-wise there’s nothing really to write home about, it’s pretty much a standard “revenge for my murdered partner” plotline and never really held my attention all that much. In comparison to the acid trippy weirdness of the Hotline Miami story, HK just feels kind of bland.
Now I don’t want to sound like I’m harping too much on this game, it is an indie release after all, and the first one from a small studio at that. Hong Kong Massacre is by no means a bad game and, all things considered, I have seen far worse first time forays into the indie scene. I can definitely see some potential within VRESKI as the game does have solid visuals and for all the complaints I had about the repetitive gameplay, it is rather well polished. It’s still hard for me to justify even a 20 dollar price point but I can definitely say it’s worth a buy if a sale comes up and you’re looking to give some lesser known indie titles a shot.