Growing old isn't easy. This is a fact that the CEO (which is the only title he's given) and protagonist of Vblank Entertainment's anticipated action game Shakedown: Hawaii knows all too well when the game is booted up. His once blooming sales-tactics and business model is now on the brink of death; no-one is renting his VHS tapes anymore, physical sales are down, and issues linked to his faltering knowledge of modern technology linger around every corner. The CEO, however, doesn't sulk for long - instead, he orders his failure of a son (who also happens to be an aspiring gangster) and his right-hand man Al to help him build a business empire that's stronger and more powerful and more successful than anyone could have ever imagined. This is how Shakedown: Hawaii starts. Within the first few moments, it's clear that this Grand Theft Auto parody doesn't take itself seriously and that it tackles satire exceptionally well, while at the same time managing to celebrate the games of the past.
This is how we'd explain the game to someone who's not familiar with the concept. It's complicated and advanced enough to keep the player occupied and challenged even though the gameplay mixes mechanics from Metal Slug and the perspective and setting from the very first GTA. This mix is wonderful and even though there are some small aspects to pick apart and criticise, like the way the in-game economy works, we'd rather not pick things apart too much because we love Shakedown: Hawaii.
Our in-game goal is, like in many other open world GTA-like games, not just to shoot people, kick the asses of hired goons, and steal money; a big part of the game revolves around building your empire and this means that you, as an aspiring gangster boss, have to get some cash to be able to invest it in, among other things, real estate and companies. When thinking this whole thing up, it's clear that Vblank has worked hard to get it right.
There are hundreds of buildings, lots and businesses to buy. Businesses that, in turn, generate a profit, letting the player expand. In the beginning, a lot of the game revolves around so-called "shakedowns" where you as a player scare business and restaurant owners so they pay you to protect them. This can be done in a variety of ways (everything from flushing too much toilet paper down a store owner's toilet and making the pipes explode, to setting clothes ablaze with a flamethrower inside of a denim store) and it all adds to the comedic yet grim tone of the game. As soon as the player has accumulated enough money they'll be able to spend it on a lot of different things and even though buying turquoise Miami Vice suits can be intriguing it's much wiser to spend it all on things that can generate profit.
Towards the end of Shakedown: Hawaii, the economy-system turns somewhat pointless since the player is most likely loaded with enough cash to buy and upgrade everything at that point, but it doesn't matter. Reaching that point is a reward in itself, considering the player has built that fortune for themselves.
The action scenes in Shakedown: Hawaii are fantastic. The weapons (and there are many) are well made and varied, and the destructible environments make it so that no battle is the same. The world is huge and holds cities, forests, jungles, oceans and everything in between and, thanks to the fact that the player gets to steal and manoeuvre vehicles, it's a joy to explore the island.
We love the presentation and the satire in Shakedown: Hawaii. The humour is incredible, the pixel graphics are superb, and the music is truly fantastic. We also really enjoyed the setting, the in-game mechanics and the characters within. Sure, the economy-system could have been expanded upon, but there's something very unique about this particular game. If you enjoyed Vblank Entertainments' last game (Retro City Rampage) or if you loved Grand Theft Auto and GTA2 then this is definitely a game for you. It's stunning, deep, fun, challenging and varied, and all of these things mixed together make Shakedown: Hawaii one of the better games of the year so far.