The Hong Kong Massacre (PS4) Review

Back in 2017, at Paris Games Week, we were presented with our first look at The Hong Kong Massacre – a top-down twin-stick shooter which focuses on slowing down time so you can pull off some awesome looking combos and manoeuvres. Since then, we didn’t really hear much until the games release date was announced a mere six days before release. With the EU version currently available on PSN and the PC version live on Steam, the American PSN version received a last-minute delay and is set to launch next week.

I’ve seen the game being compared to Max Payne, John Woo, and the Matrix, as you activate a ‘bullet-time’ effect in order to gain an advantage and become a badass. Unfortunately, not everything is as smooth and efficient as I’d hoped for – let’s find out why…

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The story is told in flashbacks.

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The Hong Kong Massacre is a tale of vengeance and murder as you take control of a detective who’s out to find, and kill, the people responsible for his partner’s death. Each successful mission will take you one step closer to your goal and deeper into the home of the criminal underground as you blast your way through anyone who tries to get in your way.

You’ll be working your way through four days of mayhem and destruction, each containing six missions (each being a different time of the day) and a boss battle at the end. If I was to tell you that each mission will last you around 5-60 seconds then you’ll be wondering why you get so little content. However, If I then told you that I’ve played about five or six hours and I’m only 12 missions into the game, you may catch onto the fact that this game is hard; very hard. 

Thankfully, you have a few mechanics to help the game become more accessible to the average gamer; Time slow-down and Upgradable weapons. However, unlike similar games in the genre, The Hong Kong Massacre has a few features which make it stand out – not of all which are positive…

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This is how I open doors IRL as well…

Confusing controls
First things first, the controls. Now, if you’ve played a twin-stick shooter before then you’ll get the gist of the game immediately. You move with the Left Stick, aim with the Right Stick, fire with R2 and you can dodge with R1. However, my first complaint is the default controls and no means to adjust them unless you use the ‘accessibility’ options on the PlayStation itself. You see, Cross picks up weapons and L2 activates slow-motion. This wouldn’t be too bad but it means you can’t roll whilst shooting very easily as that means pressing R1 and R2 together. Also, pressing Cross to pick up a new weapon means you have to take your thumb off the Right aiming Stick, something you don’t want to do in a one-hit kill game like this!

Personally, I remapped picking up weapons to R1 and L3 was my dodge command. It meant I could do everything without taking my thumbs off the two sticks. So, it was a simple fix for me, but I do wish it had an in-game controls editor.

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The second issue I had with the controls was the reticule itself. I personally feel the reticule is too far away from your character, this means the controls are more sensitive and prone to missing a lot. I go into this in more detail HERE. However, once I’d played it for a few hours, I was getting used to the controls and it didn’t bother me as much as it did initially. But, this doesn’t mean we’re out of the forest yet!

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So much going on at any given time!

Bullet-time!
The core gameplay mechanic of The Hong Kong Massacre has to be your ability to slow down time in order to dodge bullets and get in more accurate shots at your foes. The problem with this is, any advantage you get is instantly lost. Basically, you can slow down time to take out the enemies more accurately and faster, but your movement, reload and aiming is also slowed right down. This means that you don’t actually have much of an advantage as you’re just going slower, along with the bad guys.

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This point has been changed on the Steam version of the game, as there is an option to play with the slow-motion but regular speed aiming. But, we’ve yet to get this update on consoles. 

However, activating bullet time instantly makes the atmosphere more intense. If you dive and activate at the right time, you can slide over tables, glide along the floor, knock over paper and documents as you watch them fall to Earth, or simply enable it to watch your foes get blasted to hell in glorious slow-motion. As I mentioned earlier, think Max Payne and John Woo’s Stranglehold but played like Hotline Miami and you’ve basically got The Hong Kong Massacre.

I’d just like to make an honourable mention at this point, 10Tons Ltd brought out a game called Time Recoil just under a year ago on PSN. That game is also a top-down twin-stick shooter in which you can slow down time to chain combos and take out your enemies. Both games are similar but The Hong Kong Massacre is graphically much more detailed and more realistic. But, I recommend checking that game out as well if you enjoy playing this game.

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Mission: 49.51 seconds – Deaths: 8 – Total time 4 mins. Not good enough!

Three stars!?!
Oh no! We have another instance of the ‘three-star progression system’ in place within The Hong Kong Massacre – this is a mechanic I’m not a fan of as some of you may well know. I hate it when a game holds your progression to ransom unless you obtain enough stars to unlock certain levels. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. Every mission, bar the bosses, comes with three challenges to complete:
1. Beat the level in under X amount of seconds
2. Beat the level without using your slow-motion ability
3. Beat the level with 100% accuracy.

The challenges are stackable, so you could play a mission and not use slow-mo and then come back later and beat it under the set time and you’ll have both stars obtained. However, in order to progress to the next mission all you need to do it kill every living soul within that particular mission. That’s right, you can technically progress through every level with zero stars as long as you make it through without dying. But, you don’t want to do that because the stars you earn can be used to unlock the four weapons and all their upgrades.

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I liked it that the game does this as it means you can go through the game at your own pace and then re-visit earlier missions later on, once you’ve upgraded your weapons. Also, you can pick up guns off the dead bodies which you’re going to leave cluttering up the bloody hallways. So, if you’ve upgraded your weapons to have more bullets or power then the ones you pick up will also be upgraded. This adds a sort of rogue-like element to it – I believe 10Tons referred to this as ‘Rogue-hate’, in their JYDGE game, as it’s got rogue-like elements but you’re able to respawn instantly and carry on from where you were upon your inevitable death.

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I saw this screen far too often!

Frustration is over 9000!
The Hong Kong Massacre isn’t for the impatient among us. I screamed and swore at, threatened to slap, and gave very dirty looks to my TV on numerous occasions whilst playing due to it’s rather brutal and unforgiving nature. To say the game is hard is an understatement. Personally, I feel The Hong Kong Massacre is unfair and unbalanced in a few ways so that the CPU gains an advantage over you based on a few inconsistent factors.

First of all, the AI is stupid yet very alert. There are times when I’ve literally blown the door off its hinge with a shotgun, yet if the CPU isn’t looking (but are stood right next to it) then they won’t even notice. But, the majority of the time, if you enter the enemies viewing cone (which we don’t see), they are more alert than a meerkat on lookout duty! The reason why I feel this is a little flawed is that I’ve had enemies become alert when I’m behind a wall – true, the walls are literally paper thin as you can blast through them – but they shouldn’t have seen me if I wasn’t in their line of sight. 

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The enemies do put up a good fight though as they all come equipt with random weapons and they’ll gang up on you with other enemies if they are patrolling nearby. You will end up dying a lot though – in my short 30 min video I’ve put up below I ended up dying over 50 times, and that was mainly replaying missions I’ve already completed and I knew what to do! Thankfully, respawning takes around 2-3 seconds, so you’re not sat around for ages waiting to get back into the game. 

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The mechanics are really good – It’s just remembering to efficiently use the controls.

Technical
I touched on this HERE. Basically, the game looks very nice on a 1080p TV but it does have some flaws. First of all, not a flaw, but some info you may want to know. The base PS4 is 720p and the PS4 Pro is 1080p – as confirmed by the developer. There is also a lot of screen tearing, but it’s mainly visible when spinning on the spot (the developers said they are looking into trying to resolve or reduce this). The cutscenes are also of quite low quality compared to the main game, with the screen tearing coming back to show its ugly face in these as well. 

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However, as a trade-off for the tearing and lower than expected resolutions, we have a lot of particles and items flying around the screen at the same time. If you slide on a table, expect to see all the papers fly in the air and slowly fall back down, shooting explosives will create a massive explosion, blasting a door or wall will fire debris across the map, and a lot of the mission is usually destructive. This all occurs without any obvious signs of slowdown on both the PS4 and the Pro. Personally, I’m not sure on the framerate but I’ve uploaded a 720/60 video below – ignore the quality due to compression, but the performance is 1:1 as it is on the console. 

I have to say though, I love the aesthetics of the game as well as the soundtrack. The music really gets you in the mood for slaughtering every sonovabitch in each mission and the sound effects for the weapons are very meaty and satisfying. From the rooftops of Hong Kong to the inside of a criminal-ran factory, everything looks well-detailed and sounds spot on for the atmosphere. 

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Boom!

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Personal Opinion
The Hong Kong Massacre is a tricky game to sum up my thoughts about. On one hand, we have the technical issues (such as the screen tearing and lower than expected resolutions), but on the other we have very addictive gameplay, a really cool aesthetic, satisfying gun combat, and lots of physics-based objects. Also, I’ve not been this frustrated playing a game since playing Trials a few years ago (You know, when you’re stuck on one track for about an hour just because of a jump you can’t make).

The addition of using the three-star mechanic in order to pay for weapon upgrades is a great choice as it doesn’t limit progression but it does reward those who take the time to get better at the game. Now, I’m well aware that a lot of you will be better than I am, I saw this with JYDGE as I found it hard yet people were platinuming it almost as soon as it went on sale, but I still feel the game is artificially hard and will certainly challenge the best gamers out there. This is especially evident on the PS4 version where the reticule feels stiff and hard to pull off precise shots. Take the PC for example, you have a point-and-click approach for the reticule with full-reign of the screen with our mouse as you frantically click the required point you wish to serve a heavy load of lead too!

As such, I would say the PC version is most likely going to be the easiest, especially when they’ve already got a patch with enables full-speed in slo-mo so that you get an advantage over the enemy. However, I hope we also see the patches and improvements over on the console as well, as underneath these few flaws, design choices and technical issues, there’s a bloody brilliant game which could easily be my favourite indie shooter of the last 12 months.

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On a side note, just in case you don’t know, VRESKI is the developer and basically consists of two developers from Sweden – The Hong Kong Massacre is their first game! So, I expect things will become more optimised and updated over time as the developers grow and are able to implement updates. As it stands today though (and a few days before the American release), the game is perfectly acceptable as long as you don’t mind a bit of screen tear. The actual gameplay takes centre-stage though, with its meticulous gunplay and reliance on a good memory and fast reflexes.

Gameplay – 30 mins

Official Trailer:

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Final Conclusion:
The Hong Kong Massacre is a very bloody and strategic shooter with very satisfying and addictive gunplay action. I personally found the game to be very hard at first but over time, after I played it for about eight hours, I still found it to be very hard! However, the combat is very addictive and you can respawn within seconds, so I found myself trying over and over again with a determination I usually don’t have for games which are hard for the sake of it. 

I believe the AI has been given unfair advantages in some places, with X-Ray vision and the ears of a bat. However, once you know where everyone is and you plan out your breach in your head before-hand, you can create some rather impressive <60 seconds in-and-out action scenes as you frantically kill anything that moves before that single stray bullet takes you out.

If you like Hotline Miami, any 10Tons game, or Hong Kong films in general, check out The Hong Kong Massacre today on either the PS4 or Steam.

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

The Hong Kong Massacre

£13.99
8

Final Score

8.0/10

The Good:

  • - Really cool combat mechanics with the ability to slow down time
  • - Very fast respawn rate (basically essential in this game)
  • - The three star process is only to upgrade your weapons and not progress blocking
  • - The music and visuals are really cool. It really gets you in the mood for taking down the scum you meet
  • - -There's nothing quite like having a perfect run and seeing debris flying all over in slow motion as you become a god and slaughter everyone

The Bad:

  • - Screen tearing
  • - The reticule is too far away and no customisable controls
  • - The AI seems to have unfair advantages as they have x-ray vision and super-sonic hearing
  • - The challenges in each mission is the same, just slightly different criteria
  • - Very hard (may put some people off)
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