Muddy Hotline Doom Wick… that’s the best phrase I can come up with to describe Project Downfall, a blandly stylish FPS recently released on Steam. The game features a pair of floating hands that expertly handle weaponry while mowing down lousy folk. Well, not really “mowing,” per se; more like floatily bouncing baddies who weight a Jazzpunk civilian. You progress from stage to stage, bouncing folks around like a kid wreaking havoc in a ball pit. Also like a kid in a ball pit, your character pops pills and pulls off headshots and nutshots (the game points this out, with NUT SHOT!!! flashing on the screen each time it happens). Also, you can dual-wield weapons if you happen to catch them out of the air and go AKIMBO, which the definition of “akimbo” is so far from what it portrays in this game as to defy logic. Why use that word?
The faceless protagonist spends his time between missions reading about violent happenings in the city and talking to his snoozy, one-dimensional girlfriend, who drops bombs like “How can one be so vile and just so evil?”
Indeed, one-dimensional philosopher girlfriend. Indeed.
Hit me with that wisdom.
Oh, and there’s a soundtrack that is passable pseudo-’80s trance, and that’s all that needs to be said about it.
Look, I’m all about flow. When Doom (2016) reached down my throat with heavy metal and clawed at the inside of my eyeballs with furious old-school FPS action, I left exhilarated and wanting more after every play session. I usually don’t enjoy metal or FPS games, but there I was, diving in, over and over. I returned solely because the gameplay was well-crafted. There were care and progression and intense, exciting, varied combat. Battles grew more frenzied over time, and the world built naturally from its well-crafted backdrops and audio logs.
While Project Downfall tries to be less than Doom did, it aspires similarly for that trancelike state of flow. Instead, it falls short in nearly everything it works to do.
An attempt is made at world-building, but it is slapdash, inconsistent, and uninteresting. It’s odd, because the game it so obviously wants to be (Hotline Miami) used similar methods to great effect (the bite-size missions, the acid trip oddness, the iterative, always-changing hub), but it all rings completely hollow here. I can’t fully explain what makes it miss, but it misses every time. As a result, the world feels unfinished and uninteresting.
Did you know “svoloch” is Russian for “bastard”? I do, now.
Did you know that five road rage fatalities is a 300% DECREASE from the previous number? WHAAAAAAT HOW VIOLENT IS THIS WORLD.
That’s what I mean. There is an edgelord-ish quality to the writing that causes it to overreach and dissolve into meaninglessness. When everything is at maximum volume, it all ceases to have an impact.
Also, everyone’s on drugs, and they sell them on the street. On the street! When cops are looking!
Oh and the first person you talk to calls you “laddie.”
And the enemy at the end of the first stage is a furry.
And there’s a nightclub shootout because this is a post-Wick world.
It’s all so perfunctory, and so obvious. Maybe that’s the weakness.
This is a nightclub. There is a shootout there.
The gameplay, as I mentioned, feels insubstantial. You enter an area; you kill muddy pixel enemies, then you return to your apartment for another dose of news reports that tangentially reference your shenanigans while your girlfriend hangs out in bed waiting to say some dreamy minor thing. It’s the same structure and aesthetic of Hotline, shoehorned into an FPS; it just doesn’t work as intended. The shooting is imprecise, with direct headshots sometimes failing to trigger a HEADSHOT exclamation, while body shots with a shotgun will sometimes pop off heads. There are a necessary speed and precision to an FPS of this sort that is lacking here. Hotline’s shooting worked so well because of its pixel-perfect precision. If Project Downfall wants to crib from Dennaton’s triumph so obviously, they should focus on the gameplay over the aesthetic. Salt and Sanctuary showed that a Souls-like could exist in 2-D, partly because it ably translated the exacting combat into a different format. I don’t believe that Project Downfall does the same for Hotline Miami’s transition to 3-D.
Pink and blue: the orange and blue of a new generation.
Look, I understand if this sounds a bit harsh (especially since the game is in Early Access), but if I do something poorly, I want to be told. This is poorly executed and has nothing new to say. No words I haven’t heard or songs that haven’t been sung. It’s like a brass band doing semi-accurate covers of speed metal: you can do it, but something essential is lost in translation, and you’re left with a floundering novelty. Or maybe it’s all a joke that I don’t understand. Hell if I know, but I have zero desire to play further and attempt to figure it out.
Note: The preview is done by Tyler Hancock