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Jan 28, 2019

The Hong Kong Massacre Review

Lights Off
3 Okay
Retails for: $19.99
We Recommend: $11.99
  • Developer: VRESKI
  • Publisher: VRESKI
  • Genre: Action, Indie
  • Released: Jan 21, 2019
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Reviewed: Windows

The Hong Kong Massacre comes from two-man development house, VRESKI. Taking on Hong Kong cinema classics in videogame form offers an amalgamation of Max Payne meets Hotline Miami set in Sleeping Dogs with the stylings of a John Woo movie with the gore of “John Wick”. That’s a bit of a mouthful to describe, but should paint the picture. Though, know that The Hong Kong Massacre is more style than substance, which is what holds this one back from a proper execution. The Hong Kong Massacre is a really fun game that has its fair share of frustrations that comes along with it.

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While there isn’t much in the way of a story, the game takes place in the summer of 1992 and you find yourself on the wrong side of an interrogation, being questioned about a string of murders you committed. Your character begins recounting the events of the past few days, to then learn you are a cop seeking vengeance on the Triad for his dead partner. This isn’t far off in what you’d find in coming out of Hong Kong back in the 90s. Complete with a VHS and CRT style filters, cutscenes are pre-rendered and often times lingering, lasting shots of artistic appeal. These are backed by moody music by Professor Kliq, with in-engine cutscenes bridging you into the gameplay.

The game’s timeline covers five days which are broken up into chapters, with six levels each. This makes for a total of 30 levels not including the five boss fights that cap-end each day. There’s a general sameness when these environments start to repeat, furthering the feeling it could have been less. Even the boss fights, which are cool the first time, are stylistically repeated with each encounter, and you learn how to cheese them for an easy win, diminishing the end to these chapters. At around 5 hours of gameplay, it starts to feel a bit long in the tooth. It could have been a whole chapter shorter, and felt just right.

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Once you’re in control of your character, it’s not long before you learn that you’re extremely fragile here, as both you and enemies are one-hit kills. You are dead if you stand still for more than a second. And even if you are moving, some enemies have you dead to rights before you have a chance to react. This is most definitely a game about trial and error, and your patience to deal with that until you get it right. The game lacks a hotkey to immediately restart a level as you desire. After a recent patch, you can now restart a bit faster, but not as quick as it should be. There’s a heavy challenge in playing The Hong Kong Massacre, complete with a mid-game difficulty spike that then thankfully comes down to feel fair.

When you’ve depleted all of the bullets or rounds from your gun, you can pick up an enemy’s gun and use that. An odd omission though, is that you don’t have a melee or a throwing system that can buy you time. So essentially there’s no recovery or recourse when you’re out of bullets, and not near another gun. It ratchets the difficulty up in this way, but not for the right reasons.

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The Hong Kong Massacre is about shooting, but it has two mechanics which propel it: an invulnerable dive/roll/slide, and the ability to slowdown time. Movement itself is smooth, a bit awkward at times, but the animations blend seamlessly from one to the next. There’s a funkiness of walking or jumping between buildings of what would otherwise. The controls are simple, and work nicely with mechanics.

Enemies are almost always off-screen that will kill you. It rarely feels fair or that you have the upper-hand once you enter a room. This makes the game feel “off” during your time with it. This is compounded by the fact that the mouse doesn’t go to edge of screen, which makes the crosshair limited and hard to line up your shots. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason for this limitation, either. Being killed sight unseen, and not be able to aim your shots more accurately are a detriment to what is otherwise some wildly fluid and frantic gun combat.

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The Hong Kong Massacre has somewhat of a progression system for the limited weapon selection. You’ll find you can choose between dual pistols, shotgun, SMG, and assault rifle. You’ll start with pistols until you can unlock all of the weapons. And for each weapon there are four unlocks. They are just about the same for each weapon. There exists optional, secondary challenges to each level: completing a level without using slowdown, only killing enemies with your bullets, and finishing the level under the par time. So here’s the two issues with these: the side objectives are too difficult, and always the same. The lack of variety in these objectives feel half-baked. It would have been better to offer specific challenges about the levels themselves, like sliding across 10 desks, or jump 5 gaps, or maybe get 5 kills in a row without changing weapons. Any of those would be better than the challenges that exist.

When in combat, the slowdown meter is generous in how much time it gives you, and how fast it refills — which is meant to be used and abused. I was able to complete every without using slowdown, however. Mostly to prove that it can be done, but I did myself a disservice. In using slowdown, it adds to panache of your combat encounters. Without slowing down time, it becomes much more frustrating and laborious. So the game is at odds with itself by having a challenge where you don’t use slowdown, despite it being pushed as a main feature.

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The Hong Kong Massacre has a general level of bugginess and lack of polish. There are times the game asks you to leap between buildings, sometimes you’ll roll or slide, or not at all – which leads to an immediate death. Sometimes I got stuck on objects and couldn’t move unless I restarted the level. Often times the physics bug out on doors or people, resulting in hilarious and ultimately distracting visuals that again, lead to death. This was nothing major, but all of the little things started to add up.

Remember when I said that everything was a one-hit kill? Well, in the last chapter the game introduces a new enemy type that requires two hits for a kill. This guard wears a bulletproof vest. Everything else up until this point was one hit kill, but the game never tells you about this new enemy. You do learn by experiencing this, but this is a bad way to go about it.

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The Hong Kong Massacre is just short of something great here. But many things that works against it, and things that it lacks. And VRESKI clearly have some work to do to get the game in better shape. When it works, the game really starts to flow like a stream of blood carrying spent shell casings. This feels especially good when you finally clear a level you’ve been stuck on, as it feels truly sublime, like you’re unstoppable. And that’s when The Hong Kong Massacre is at its, and your best.

A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes