The Hong Kong Massacre
If Hong Kong action movies have taught us anything it’s that if you are a police officer and your partner is murdered, then it is your duty to go on a rampage and exact revenge on them. It is also important to make sure that when you go about shooting the bad guys in the face that you must do so in the most stylish way possible. Clearly VRESKI, a two person Indie studio from Sweden, has been paying attention as this is exactly what The Hong Kong Massacre is all about. Mixing together some parts of Hotline Miami with Max Payne and then liberally sprinkling in some John Woo, this is one top down shooter that definitely leaves a lasting impression.
Your goal in The Hong Kong Massacre should be pretty obvious from the name of the game, but in case anyone is still unsure, it is to kill every single person on a level. Your hardboiled cop starts out with a humble pistol, but as continue thinning out the Triad population of Hong Kong, you will be able to unlock an SMG, shotgun and rifle to make the task a little easier. You only get to pick one of these weapons before each level, but you can pick up the weapons dropped by enemies if you run out of bullets. By default, all weapons only have one magazine, but you can upgrade this along with the rate of fire, clip size and movement speed. However, these upgrades are not free and require stars, which is earned by completing the bonus challenges for each level.
The Hong Kong Massacre is a lot faster than most top down shooters and it only takes a single hit for your character to buy the farm. This obviously makes things very tricky, but fear not as your character has a trick up his sleeve. Holding down the space bar slows down time, which gives you a little more breathing room to dodge the flurry of bullets heading your way. Doing so also starts draining a special meter, which returns the action to real-time if it is depleted. If this happens in the middle of a crowded room, then you are obviously in big trouble, so you really need to plan when and how long to make use of the slow motion. At the rate that bullets fly around in this game even the slow motion feature is not always guaranteed to save you. This is where your dive move comes in handy as it makes you impervious to bullets. Once again, don’t bank on misusing this feature as your character stands up after each dive, which makes him a sitting duck. You also can’t change direction once you have committed to a dive, so if you hurl yourself straight at a rain of bullets, then you better hope that they have passed you by the time your character stands up.
It takes a little while to get used to the style of the game, but once you get the hang of the slow motion feature and dive move things become a lot easier. However, that is when the aforementioned bonus challenges come into play. To unlock those coveted upgrades for your weapons you need stars and to get your hands on those stars you are really going to have to earn them. Each level in The Hong Kong Massacre, apart from the boss ones, features three challenges. Each one is worth a single star, but they require you to finish the level under the par time, finish the level without missing a single shot when killing enemies and, most fiendish of all, finishing the level without ever using the slow motion feature. The latter is still barely doable during the early levels, but later on you are going to need the reflexes of a cat on caffeine if you plan on making it through a level in real-time without so much as a scratch. Levels are fairly short, but enemies rarely miss and it only takes a single hit to send you all the way back to the start. Seeing as some levels have more than 30 enemies lying in wait and the Triad eventually enlists the aid of bulletproof vest wearing mercenaries, you really have your work cut out for you.
The plot of The Hong Kong Massacre is a fairly bare bones affair, but the game still includes a couple of cut-scenes and interludes that break up the action and shows your character gathering information about where to go next. It uses one of the classic action movie tropes by starting the story in the present with your character explaining his actions to a superior and then hopping back to the past to show what happened. Each set of levels in the game takes place in a day and the end of each day is punctuated by a boss battle. These boss fights will be familiar to anyone that has seen a John Woo film showdown as instead of a large level, they tend to take place on rooftops where you run parallel to your foe while taking potshots at each other. Unfortunately, while this formula is quite thrilling in the start, it starts to lose it’s shine a little after the third or fourth time. In later boss battles it is only the inclusion of more standard enemies to get in your way that makes them more challenging. Overall, the story and cut-scenes could have been a little better, but they are not really that important in the grand scheme of things.
The Hong Kong Massacre is undeniably a challenging and addictive game, but it is also a pretty good looking one, which is particularly impressive considering the small size of the development team. There are a number of locations to visit, ranging from seedy bars and restaurants to hotels, warehouses, rooftops, back alleys and just about every place that you might have ever seen featured in a Hong Kong action film. While a lot of these places look run-down when you arrive, there is usually very little left apart from blood and debris when you leave. Shooting enemies results in copious amounts of the red stuff spraying everywhere and every gunshot looks like a fourth of July celebration. While it looks really spectacular, the amount of glass, wood splinters, paper, smoke and sparks that erupt during intense gunfights can make it a little hard to spot the bullets heading your way, even in slow motion. The top down view is also quite zoomed in, which means you can’t see that far ahead of you. Another small gripe we have is the fact that it isn’t always immediately obvious if an object can provide cover or not, which has resulted in us getting gunned down in spots where we thought we were safe. The games feature some helpful red arrows to indicate the direction of enemies and dropped weapons, but don’t rely on these too much as enemies might still surprise you if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.
The soundtrack for The Hong Kong Massacre is as dark and brooding as you would expect from a game with such a gruesome title, which means it is a perfect match for the action. Another bonus is that the tunes never become repetitive, which is essential for a game such as this one where you will have to retry some levels many, many times. The sound effects are solid, although you will mostly be hearing gunshots and glass shattering. We didn’t experience any issues with the controls, apart from the fact that you cannot reconfigure the buttons, so hopefully this is something that the developers with address in a future patch.
In total, it took us about six hours to complete The Hong Kong Massacre, although obtaining all the achievements and completing all the bonus objectives will take a lot longer. Since enemy placement remains more or less the same each time you restart a level, it means that the game lends itself quite well to speed-running. It also features online leaderboards to provide that extra incentive for playing better and faster. The Hong Kong Massacre is definitely a very enjoyable game, although some players might find it a little frustrating because it lacks any kind of adjustable difficulty setting. The fact that the game only features four weapons is also a little disappointing. Finally, it could benefit from a little more polish as a lot of the text in the game are a bit rough in terms of spelling and grammar. However, despite all of this, we thoroughly enjoyed the game and kept hitting retry even after getting killed by the last enemy on a long level many a time. If you are a fan of the genre you will have a blast, but bear in mind that this is not a game for the easily frustrated or people who dislike a stiff challenge.