The Hong Kong Massacre takes its cues from 90’s action flicks like The Killer and Hard Boiled and wears them proudly on its sleeve. Players channel their inner John Woo and Max Payne as you slow-motion dive, shoot, dodge, and weave your way through the gritty streets, buildings, and rooftops of Hong Kong in this top-down shooter. Does it live up to the legacy of its inspirations, or is The Hong Kong Massacre (HKM) shooting blanks? Read on for our review.
Violence: This is the main reason for the Mature rating. Players will shoot and kill dozens of enemies each level, all of which explode with multiple liters of blood going everywhere. Enemies go limp and ragdoll when killed, but there is no dismemberment.
Drugs: Cigarettes are smoked and talked about in one cutscene. Illegal drugs are mentioned, but not used. Alcohol is consumed.
Set in 1992, HKM places you in the shoes of an Asian man bent on revenge. HKM frames each of the sections with some plot being passed out in a police interrogation, so as a player you’re given little to no story to go on at the start. But even having played it I’m not sure they told me the main character’s name – if they did I don’t remember. Apparently his police partner was killed by a triad gang, and he decided to go outside the law and take matters into his own hands.
What follows is level after level of intense and deadly shootouts. One bullet is enough to kill all enemies except for bosses, and in later levels a few enemies have body armor; unfortunately, the one-hit kill status also applies to the main character. He will die. And until you figure out the rhythm of using slow-motion and dodges, he will die a lot. Also, while upgrading your guns is helpful, once I unlocked unlimited ammo for the pistols I never looked back (you can only carry one weapon at a time). Upgrades cost 2-10 stars, and players get stars by completing levels and challenges. Each level challenges you to beat it under a certain time, or without missing any shots, or without using slow-motion.
Slow-motion and your dodge are mapped to separate keys in HKM. While this initially threw me off due to how accustomed I am to the control scheme of the Max Payne games, I got used to it eventually. What was harder to understand was what constituted as a window or vantage point from which enemies could see me, thanks to the game’s top-down perspective. After a dozen levels or so I mostly got the hang of it, but several times I died to enemies blowing me away while I paused behind what I thought was solid wall.
Speaking of windows, there is a lot of destructibility in HKM. Windows explode glass everywhere, blood splatters across the floor, papers scatter and float around; in a full firefight the destruction is almost beautiful to behold. Besides slow-motion, your only defensive option is to dodge with the right mouse button. Dodging temporarily renders you immune to any bullets coming your way, but only during its brief animation, and you have to be mindful of how you use it since you can’t immediately re-enter a dodge. I would often start a fight by slow-motion “peeking” into a room to get a quick 1-2 kills, then literally diving in to dispatch whoever was left.
Several issues with the game’s design appeared during my playthrough. First, the enemy AI in HKM is below average. Seeing the fresh corpses of their comrades doesn’t trigger any alerted state in them—the only way they go from calm to alert is by actively witnessing you gun down their gang-mates. Second—and this may not be entirely a bad thing— you can tell what kind of gun each enemy has based on the color of their shirt (white = shotgun, yellow = pistol, red = rifle). I want to give the developers the benefit of the doubt that this was a design choice to aid the player due to the camera’s position, but it gives HKM a dated feel. And finally, while enemies often do not get off the first shot in a firefight, when they do shoot they are extremely accurate. I often died due to a single bullet that was fired from across the room, sometimes even when I had already killed the enemy who pulled the trigger. Enemies who are beyond your screen area are pointed to by red arrows, aiding players with what’s ahead. But every level I felt naked if I didn’t use slow-motion to enter a room for the first time, just in case there was someone waiting off-screen.
In spite of any reservations or nitpicks I have, HKM definitely has that “one more try” factor. Each time I died I mashed the “Restart Level” button and tried to adapt or improve my strategy for the next go. HKM may be light on story or character, and heavy on action, but that just makes it exactly like the films that inspired it. The Hong Kong Massacre is the video game version of a good popcorn action flick, and if you enjoy that kind of movie, you should check out this game as well.
Review code generously provided by VRESKI.
The Bottom Line