Genre: Top-down shooter
Format: PS4 (tested)/PC
Price: £13.99 (PSN) £15.49 (Steam)
Release: Out now
As its title suggests, The Hong Kong Massacre takes inspiration from the Hong Kong action films of the early nineties, where the game is also set. But if you’re imagining a charismatic leading man to rival Chow Yun-Fat, big shots pointing guns in each other’s faces, or a bonkers, memorable set piece, you’ll find none of that here.
What first-time developer VRESKI does take from the John Woo playbook is the ability to slow down time, to give the ultra-violent spray of bullets some balletic grace. Except in video games, this has also been done to death, from Max Payne to Vanquish to Red Dead Redemption – hell, there was even Stranglehold, which was itself a direct sequel to Woo’s 1992 action opus, Hard Boiled.
What The Hong Kong Massacre tries to do is marry this with indie hit Hotline Miami’s top-down perspective, twin-stick controls and merciless one-hit death. It doesn’t, however, share any of that game’s vibrant style, opting instead for a dreary hard-boiled tone, with a one-note plot about an ex-cop waging a vendetta against a crime syndicate.
It’s forgettable stuff, and the occasional – shockingly low-res – CGI cutscenes do little to give personality to a protagonist who looks so bland it’s almost offensive.
The photorealistic aesthetic also does the game no favours, with the recycling of identikit environments, from back alleys, rooftops, restaurants and drug dens, barely distinguishable from one another, but also impacting on readability.
Because once the guns go off, so do spark and smoke effects, all of which conspire to frustrate your ability to parse just where the bullets are coming from or where the hell your little white cross-hair has even disappeared to.
Slowing down time can only get you so far, so tapping R1 allows you to dive under gunfire, hop over tables or jump through windows in true action-movie style. Executing these moves, however, locks you into a canned animation whose timing is difficult to gauge; often, you won’t know whether you can move again until a bullet snuffs you out. All of this confirms just how ill-suited the game is to a top-down perspective.
When each level can be beaten in a minute or two, upping the difficulty to ensure a player doesn’t blaze through the game in one breezy sitting makes sense. Adding enemies with psychic powers who can shoot with 100% accuracy through obstacles you thought were cover, however, is a major test of the player’s patience.
There may be incentives for replaying levels and beating them within a set time, without slowing down or with perfect accuracy, but when it’s all underpinned by the same tedium and frustration, slowing time feels more like a curse when you’d rather just fast-forward.
While the mood is serious and hard-boiled as your senses numb to the rising body count, the glitchy physics will occasionally throw a curveball, spinning the last faceless goon you shot before rag-dolling him into space. Hey, at least It’s a good laugh.
A terribly disappointing cross between Hotline Miami and John Woo flicks with the wit and execution of neither.