Shaun Munro reviews The Hong Kong Massacre…
Hotline Miami just had a baby with Max Payne, and its name is The Hong Kong Massacre. While this top-down, blood-soaked strategic actioner doesn’t do a whole lot new, it does succeed as an addictive, pulse-quickening stab at familiar material.
As with Hotline Miami, players are thrown into small(ish) self-contained levels within which reside a dozen-or-so enemies, with the goal being to eliminate every single last one of them as slickly and as quickly as possible.
Taking a single hit from an enemy results in an instant Game Over, so trial-and-error is the order of the day, with players using their failed runs to learn the map layout, keep track of enemies and work through like them a puzzle. A successful blast through a single level typically only takes a few minutes, but given that you’re likely to die several if not dozens of times getting there, clearing just one of the 35 maps on offer can take upwards of 10-15 minutes.
The Max Payne element comes with knowing when to deploy dodges and your slow-motion ability, the latter of which has a (rather generous) time limit. Get caught short with either of these or forget to ration your ammo accordingly and you’ll soon be met with a Game Over screen. Furthering the light experimentation is the player loadouts on offer; you can choose between a pistol, shotgun, SMG or rifle, with certain levels benefiting from different types of firepower.
Furthermore, by completing the game’s brutally tough challenges – such as completing each level within harsh time limits and without use of slow-mo – you can unlock further gun upgrades to make life a little easier.
It’s a neat, straight-forward loop, though you can certainly argue that it lacks the elegant simplicity and delineated visuals of Hotline Miami. This is a far more chaotic – if ultimately less demanding – game where the more gritty colour scheme and voluminous particle effects can make it tougher to keep track of both yourself and your opponents (and their bullets). Having tested the game with both mouse & keyboard and an Xbox One controller, the controls don’t seem quite as precise as one might hope – even with some menu fiddling – which can prompt occasional frustrations that you died “unfairly.”
But like Hotline, downtime between runs is extremely low, with players able to get back into the fray in around one second; anything more would be unforgivable. Each chapter also concludes with a boss fight, which while initially novel quickly becomes repetitive, generally deferring to an endurance battle formula that’s not terribly creative.
As for the narrative, the John Woo-inspired style and tone is cute for a moment, but ultimately in the service of a completely forgettable story. The player character is a former police detective reaping vengeance for his partner’s murder, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that.
What passes for a plot is doled out through glossy yet wordless and horribly compressed FMV sequences and garish in-engine dialogues which repeat the same stilted, canned animations (and, oddly enough, made my over-qualified 1070 Ti groan in anguish). While Hotline Miami managed to make surreal curiosity out of its madcap story, The Hong Kong Massacre mostly settles for a plot that’s bland nothing.
Visually speaking, it’s hardly a great-looking game on the whole; in addition to the rough in-engine exposition scenes, many of the not-terribly-varied environments employ low-poly textures that look markedly rancid, especially if played in 4K.
The games does a far better job, however, with NPC animation and particle effects; seeing your weapon annihilate doors into wood chips and glass windows into shards while sending enemies flying backwards is a perverse delight indeed. The gore effects are also hugely satisfying, especially the killing blow that ends each level, which allows you to watch your final mark explode into a fountain of slow-mo gore.
Aesthetically, the game’s menus are meanwhile a tad clunky and could certainly use some work. Switching between loadouts feels more awkward than it should, and there are a few typos present in the menus. This could all easily be fixed with a patch, at least. Aurally, the music is pretty much just there; it’s repetitive and forgettable, but sets an energetic and visceral tone in the moment, which is good enough. Given all the Hotline Miami comparisons, though, this is one area that can’t hold a candle to its inspiration’s suite of demented synth licks.
The Hong Kong Massacre doesn’t offer much at all in terms of story and has a few rough edges, but as a to-the-point strategic gore-fest, it delivers the basic, addictive goods for the 4-5 hours it’ll probably last you.
+ Addictive strategic gunplay.
+ Appealingly gory John Woo-inspired style.
+ More accessible and less frustrating than Hotline Miami.
– Totally forgettable story.
– Repetitive music.
– Visuals and presentation are a mixed bag.
Reviewed on PC (also available for PS4).
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling.