While not ideal, I don’t think a large development period holds the same stigma it used to. Particularly when it comes to smaller studios, sometimes it’s just unfeasible to get a project out on time. So, while the prolonged development cycle of The Hong Kong Massacre had dragged on for five years, it would have been ridiculous to write it off. It’s the debut effort from a two-person studio — of course it’s going to take some time to come together. It just would have been nice if what eventually came together had been worth the wait.
The Hong Kong Massacre is, more or less, your standard revenge yarn. Built around a police interrogation framing device, the story follows your unnamed hero as he recounts the past few days. He’s cleaning up the streets himself, and to do this, he is slaughtering the vicious gangs that litter China. For the four days prior to the interrogation, you’re basically taking out a gang a day. Eventually, the past catches up to the present, though, and your quest for revenge will reach its conclusion.
Inspired by classic hard-boiled noirs of John Woo and others, this is a simple story told clumsily. It’s abstract and undefined to the point of confusion. You’re a cop out for revenge, and that’s pretty much all I got from it. Developer VRESKI is, much like Woo himself can be, more interested in getting to the fireworks factory. Whatever is here exists purely to set-up the next action sequence — that could be fine in the hands of the right studio, but it’s not here. Between the pointless banter with a bartender (that calls to mind Hotline Miami), and the boring cutscenes, you’ll eventually realize it’s best to just not pay attention when you don’t have a gun in your hands.
An esoteric story isn’t the only resemblance The Hong Kong Massacre has to Hotline Miami, though. The title utilizes the same top-down camera angle and matches the frenetic pace of Dennaton Games’ hit. In each level, our death-driven cop must clear out a section of gangsters using whatever guns he can get. You can pick from one of four options at the start of each mission, but you are free to grab a disposed foe’s gun if need be. Considering the number of goons you need to kill per level, it doesn’t always seem like a fair fight. Thankfully, you do have a trick or two up your sleeve.
Dodging bullets is no easy feat and considering it only takes a single hit to die, it’s important to always be on the move — which is why the dodge mechanic is as crucial as it is. When you are doing so, whether it be with a slide or a jump, you are temporarily invulnerable. You can then combine that with the ability to slow down time. Neither can be spammed, but knowing when to use both will ultimately determine how far you make it in Hong Kong’s seedy underbelly.
Even with the extra help, The Hong Kong Massacre is mercilessly difficult for most of its short campaign. I wish I could say it was a fun challenge, but it’s mostly just annoying. Enemies have pinpoint accuracy, and can always sense where you are. They’ll always turn around as soon as you enter a room, so there’s no point in even trying to be stealthy. Enemies also have a tendency to instantly shoot at you once you stop dodging. Their bullets seem to travel a greater distance than yours. Half the time, when you die, it’s because you got potshotted by some dude standing way off screen. When you constantly have to be slowing time or rolling on the floor, it turns these regularly cool mechanics into nothing more than a pair of crutches.
Looking past the difficulty, though, the biggest issue with The Hong Kong Massacre is that it ultimately never changes. The moment-to-moment action stays the same, from the opening level to the final one. The same open level designs are reused for every day of the campaign, and there are only so many ways you can mix-up such boilerplate level design without feeling tedious. Each day is capped by a boss battle, but they also follow the same, irritating pattern. You just shoot at each other from across two buildings, and sometimes there are extra guys on your side that need to be killed. It’s not fun the first time you experience it, and it — shockingly — doesn’t get better the last time you do.
The visual design also suffers from the same staleness that permeates the gameplay. The neon lights of Hong Kong and destructible levels definitely give the game a style. Between the dilapidated rooftops and dirty kitchens, the game has a wonderfully grimy feel at times. The slow-mo looks great as well, with the visual of bullets whizzing past really adding to the intensity of the firefights. However, as I alluded to, the levels tend to repeat assets and layouts, which makes them all kind of run together after a point. There’s only a handful of character designs as well, so the same trio of goons you kill on the first day are still there at the end of the story. I’m not saying they need to act completely different, but would it have killed them to get a few different outfits together?
I understand that The Hong Kong Massacre is VRESKI’s first project, but it is desperately in need of more substance. The acrobatic mechanics of the gameplay can’t make up for the fact that it lacks depth. There’s not enough variety spread out over the length of the campaign to prevent it from becoming tired. And while it often does deliver on its visuals, it’s not unique enough to cover for the rest of the project. It’s clear the studio was shooting for the quality of Hard Boiled, but this is more Paycheck than anything else. Maybe Windtalkers.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by VRESKI.
The Hong Kong Massacre is a classic case of style over substance. The beauty of the title's slow-motion bullet ballet is just a fancy cover for its frustrating, un-evolving gameplay.