We really like Max Payne, we adore Stranglehold, and we keep going back to Hotline Miami even if it continues to make us throw our controller at the wall. That's why it shouldn't be especially surprising that The Hong Kong Massacre - the first game from the tiny Swedish studio called Vreski - planted itself right in the middle of our radar when it was unveiled back in 2017. The only question is, can it live up to its inspirations?
Let's make it simple by saying not quite, but there's obviously more to it. Those of you who are looking for a game that delivers both in terms of story and gameplay can remove The Hong Kong Massacre from your list right now, but the good news is that it's because of the story, not gameplay. You've heard it before; an ex-cop is out for revenge against the triads who killed his partner. What makes the narrative a bit stale is how it's presented. Most of the story is told through flashbacks, as our acrobatic friend is mostly sitting in an interrogation room explaining why the city is filled with dead gangsters and buildings with more holes in them than a sieve. These short, text-filled sequences are mixed in with a few often-repeated "cinematic" sequences. We put cinematics in quotation marks because they're mostly disjointed close-ups of a character's face or a shadowy figure standing in the distance; not exactly Oscars material. Maybe these moments were lost on us, but the action itself is something entirely different.
Sure, the gameplay isn't especially deep, but what's there kept drawing us back every time we turned the game off in frustration after a single bullet from an enemy ended our near-perfect run. The two main reasons for this are the eye-catching visuals and good controls. Since you die from a single bullet, the latter is extremely important. Increasing the sensitivity a bit makes the controls very responsive, and you'll have no problems targeting your designated baddies, especially when you combine it with moving in slow motion.
The Hong Kong Massacre could easily have been considered a slower yet blatant rip-off of Hotline Miami if it wasn't for the fact that you can dodge bullets and look cool by activating the very generous slow motion and/or pushing what we like to call the Neo button that makes your character do a contextual acrobatic jump or slide. Vreski knows exactly how much fun this is, as you're invincible while doing it, and it doesn't matter if a bullet would have hit you or not as you can't get hit you during the dodging animation. Sounds a bit too easy, doesn't it? Fear not, you're still going to die more times than you can count.
Each level is filled with enemies, and entering a room with more than two of them can turn nasty really fast. Ending up in a situation where pretty much the entire room is filled with bullets isn't what you'd call ideal when only one of them will kill you. Things don't get any easier when enemies have the same magical dodge move as you either, often forcing you to evaluate your next move on the fly. Very quick loading times make it clear that you're expected to die often, so being hit by a bullet that's hiding in a hail of debris (that the impressive physics causes in each highly-destructible environment) or an ill-timed dodge-recovery far less infuriating than it could have been.
Another thing that makes it less frustrating is that each of the 35 levels is very short. You'll go from as short as 20 seconds to as "long" as three minutes, making these live-die-repeat cycles intense and exhilarating whether you're playing for fun or trying to complete the three pretty much identical challenges connected to each level. These replays do make the game's biggest flaw, lack of variety, really stand out though.
Going from a nice restaurant to a garage and apartment complex might sound diverse, but not when all of them are structured in the same way. Seeing the same doorways, windows, enemy types, and challenges across all the levels really dampens an otherwise great experience. Even from the first level, you'll learn how to take advantage of enemies who walk into walls or back and forth on the same spot. Having five bosses that follow the exact same structure whereby you have to chase them down a specific path makes matters even worse. This would have been copy-pasted design from start to finish if it hadn't been for the option to widen and upgrade your arsenal with an SMG, shotgun, and assault rifle, as well as the enemies who can endure two shots and the changes of scenery.
The amount of repetition is a real shame because we adore the core gameplay in The Hong Kong Massacre. Watching both enemies and environments getting obliterated by our actions is such a visual treat that we're in danger of overindulging, especially in the game's essential slow motion sequences. Good controls make most deaths your own fault and each kill is a real thrill. Those of you who love the spectacle of The Matrix's lobby scene and John Woo movies will probably love this game - at least if you're willing to skip past the incredibly stale story, endure some dumb enemies, and experience samey gameplay from start to finish. The Hong Kong Massacre is gaming's answer to popcorn action movies, and we think it will likely please the same crowd.