Give me all your money! I mean, only if you want…
In 2013 a somewhat popular game called Grand Theft Auto V released – you may have heard of it. It went on to make a fair few quid, totalling more than 11 million copies sold, and that was only the latest in a long-running, genre-defining, cultural phenomenon of a series. The video game industry has felt wave after wave of its influence over the years: from publishers emulating Rockstar’s business models, to major publishers trying to recreate a ‘lived-in’ world – a phrase synonymous within the open world genre. Its aftershocks are still being felt, rippling through video games of all shapes and sizes. One of the more recent examples? Shakedown: Hawaii.
As many have done it’s completely apt comparing Shakedown: Hawaii to one of gaming’s giants as, for better or worse. VBlank Entertainment Inc. clearly flaunt their desire to take GTA and boil it down into a more chewable, distilled experience. And, to some extent, it works.
With its 16-bit, top-down style, every pixel is VBlank Entertainment Inc.’s attempt to create its own, ‘lived-in’ world. Sure, it’s not thousands of kilometres of 3D-generated textures like GTA, but it mimics the ethos of trying to make a world full of character and people. It’s amazing the amount of world-building and sense of place Shakedown: Hawaii manages to create within such a short period of time and with as few pixels it has. The residents bob up and down in that familiar way players are used to since the renaissance of pixel art games.
The natural downside, however, is as much as it does to hide it, the world quickly becomes a blur of repeated buildings, foliage and even the well-animated pedestrians milling about become too familiar. While the game aims for creating an island with a variety of different districts, it doesn’t pull it off.
However, Shakedown: Hawaii’s tone certainly comes through as it highlights the ridiculous nature of capitalism and its effect on smaller countries and the populace. Playing as an out-of-touch business tycoon, his wannabe gangsta son and, for some reason, a hired mercenary based in South America, you’ll bounce to-and-fro around Hawaii exploiting, threatening and largely being a stereotypical grade-A nasty man towards the island’s residents. The reason, of course, is money, nicely boosted by unchecked capitalism. The inherent problem is, though, parodying capitalism is a tough concept to pull off as most games have done it before, and better, so the jokes fall a bit flat.
Like the cash-obsessed man you primarily play as – who screams at every employee about why his failing business isn’t jumping onto the next money-making fad – you’re concerned about numbers and how much they’re increasing. By roaming into local businesses, driving into people and crates, or buying up property and adding cash-grabbing modifiers, Shakedown: Hawaii’s main drive is to ensure your income is rapidly growing. Basically, anything you do will earn you a wad of cash.
Each one of these actions is generally linked to a minigame or some form of a checklist which will keep you entertained as you get enough money to buy, well, the whole island. Each mission will have you either steal a vehicle, intimidate a local business owner or even shoot up a cartel group in South America, but all last only a few minutes. Shakedown: Hawaii embraces an arcade style of gameplay which is incredibly frantic but doesn’t give you a real chance to soak up the world.
After three or four hours you’ll end up repeating the same sort of missions, which is fine, but it doesn’t exactly send thrills down your spine. This isn’t helped by an aiming system which doesn’t work well with any weapons. Any encounter exceeding a few seconds soon showcases the messy controls which result in you hopping around, turning back to fire only to be knocked down by an enemy’s bullet.
As well as frustrating controls, the game will often have you access the map or business menu to buy the aforementioned modifiers to help your business grow and, well, it can be a bit of a pain. The UI comes across as being disorientating. It’s useable but certainly not welcoming.
In spite of all its flaws there’s something about Shakedown: Hawaii that’s quite addictive – probably the fact as players we love numbers increasing and Shakedown: Hawaii does it in a moreish way. Whether intentional or not, VBlank Entertainment Inc. has nabbed aspects from GTA and although it misses the mark, it’s still impressive how it’s condensed such an experience to fit within such a tiny world.
[Reviewed on PC]