Hong Kong action cinema, the bullet fuelled dual-wielding ballets of death made stylishly famous by John Woo and his ilk, may have found a large audience worldwide, but games based on the themes and incorporating said stylish action, are still rather few and far between. Lord knows I’ve wanted a sequel to Stranglehold and while the likes of Max Payne and WET may have scratched that itch, they haven’t quite satisfied it.
In comes developer Vresti’s Hong Kong cinema-inspired tail of cops, Triad and revenge, The Hong Kong Massacre. Heavily inspired by classic HK action flicks and games like Max Payne and Hotline Miami, The Honk Kong Massacre is a top-down twin-stick shooter that is both parts intriguing and frustrating.
As a former cop out for revenge against the gangsters that killed his partner, you’re going to bury the underworld in a haze of bullets in 1990. The game’s story is very loosely presented, merely a backdrop for the action that sees you roaming across various locations such as hotels, bars and warehouses to disrupt the Triads operations across five chapters split into smaller levels and bookended by a boss in desperate need of iron ventilation.
A plethora of stylish suit-wearing, faceless goons are about to find out it’s a bad day to be packing a pistol.
The Hong Kong Massacre differentiates itself from the likes of Max Payne and others in two ways. First off, it’s a top-down twin-stick shooter where the right analogue aims and the left moves your character. Secondly, it’s a one-hit, one kill game – with one caveat – for you and enemies alike, turning the levels that are rife for chaotic running and gunning into tense affairs of tactical navigation that you will be replaying over and over due to constant projectile ventilation. Death will visit you repeatedly with a smile. To deal with this and even the odds in your one-man army favour, you’ll be able to stylishly dive out of the way of incoming bullets while slowing downtime for those perfect shots.
These two necessary moves don’t make you OP though, they merely help to level the playing field as bullets tear up the environment around you. Dodging and sliding around the environment only takes you so far while been able to slow down time is governed by an ability bar that decreases as you use the move. So you’d best hope you don’t miss any shots in a crowd before it empties and needs to recharge.
There are only four weapons in the game: the ubiquitous dual pistol defaults, a shotgun, submachine gun and rifle. You’ll choose only one of these at the start of a level and you’ll have to pick up dropped weapons from enemies when you run dry. Initially, all the other weapons are locked on the loadout screen and completing a level grants you stars to unlock the others. Stars also allow you to upgrade each weapon with faster firing rates or extended clips, which becomes a necessity when facing off against a boss, but more on that later. Additional stars can be earned by completing the levels in three objectives: without slowdown, in a specific amount of time and with perfect shots.
Enemy layout and patrols along with the level design created a more strategic approach to the game than I was expecting. Sure you could just bust through a door or window firing, but watching patrol routes that help to line up enemies makes it easier to survive. Once bullets are flying across the screen, it becomes harder to dodge them, and harder to see what’s coming from where as well.
Visually The Hong Kong Massacre isn’t going to be winning any awards. It visuals do just enough to present an attractive package and let you recognise locations straight from your favourite flicks, but they won’t set your GPU ablaze. It’s relatively simple on the polygon detail side and there’s a case of repeating environments as the game wears on. On the Switch Lites small screen though, it can be hard to tell what’s happening at times once a group of enemies start gunning for you.
Not all is well in Hong Kong though as that caveat raises its head. The games boss fights break away from the one-hit rule, unfortunately, turning what could have been very thrilling and intense duels into frustrating bullet sponge encounters with ads as you chip away at the bosses health bar while trying not to get killed by one shot. Of the five bosses, you’ll encounter over the games thirty-five levels, they’re all practically the same fight and could have done with some serious variety.
Finally, the controls on Switch just feel. . . awkward. The game feels as though a keyboard and mouse is its preferred method of control and while I can’t fault the button layout – you can remap the major controls – I just never found myself comfortable with them. Between having to hold down LZ to use slo-mo, R to dodge, RZ to fire while moving with the left analogue and using the right to aim, it felt cumbersome. It’s not game-breaking, and while I got used to it, I never got comfortable with it. A remap attempt fared even worse so I went back to the default layout.
Despite these issues, The Hong Kong Massacres strangely compelling just-one-more-go-I’ll-get-him-this-time gameplay draws you in with some cathartic gunplay and surprise tactical gameplay. You may not feel as unstoppable as Hard Boiled’s Inspector Tequila, but you’ll surely enjoy trying to.
You can purchase The Hong Kong Massacre here for £17.99.
The Hong Kong Massacre is developed by VRESKI and Published by VRESKI, Untold Tales S.A.
The Hong Kong Massacre is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Classic Mac OS
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game.
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