Nearly seven years ago, Vblank Entertainment shocked the indie gaming world with Retro City Rampage, a retro-inspired open world ultra-violent action adventure game that felt like a smooth and quality reimagining of the early entries to Rockstar Games hit franchise, Grand Theft Auto. Retro City Rampage controlled nicely and delivered the over the top fast-paced bravado that, though present in the new Grand Theft Auto installments, had taken a backseat to exaggerated realism. Fans reacted to Retro City Rampage so positively that Vblank announced a spiritual successor, Shakedown: Hawaii. Shakedown: Hawaii expands on the constant crime and caper of Retro City with becoming a capitalist overlord of the tropical island, which would make for the perfect retreat from real world sanity if it weren’t for the tedium of it all.
Title: Shakedown: Hawaii
Publisher: Vblank Entertainment
Developer: Vblank Entertainment
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita
Reviewed On: PC (Epic Games Store)
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Game Provided By Vblank Entertainment for the Purpose of This Review
Immediately upon entrance to the 16-bit paradise, one notices the beautifully detailed and colorful pixelated world, crafted with obvious affection. The trees are lush and green and move breezily. The water is rich and blue with soft shimmers. The cutscenes, also rendered in the same style, are detailed to the folds of the tank tops and thinning hairs of the morally-questionable protagonist’s head. The music, too, delivers an 80’s MIDI vibe that pairs perfectly with both the graphics and the characters’ unbuttoned flower print shirts. It’s a genuine pleasure to explore the island and visit the variously decorated neighborhoods.
Humor was a priority for the writers of Shakedown: Hawaii, with no line of dialogue being wasted without a joke. The main character, CEO of a local multimarket business, finds himself struggling to adapt to updated business practices in a constantly changing market. As expected, hijinks ensue between him, his annoyingly millennial son, and his yes-man business associates and employees. Many of these jokes fall flat and feel forced to hammer down a message rather than inspire meaningful laughs, but the ones that land do so spectacularly.
Nearly all facets of modern living are assaulted, including health food trends, reality television, predatory car and house loans, poor family dynamics, stealth advertising, and deceptive labeling. Shakedown even tackles modern gaming business practices, including the absurdity of live streaming (a moment that occurred while I was actually live streaming the game myself, much to the chat’s pleasure). The more you dive into the story and missions of the game, the more you will appreciate the constant jabs aimed at the life we’ve all learned to accept.
Gameplay focuses on driving, running, shooting, and interacting with various items and people. The simple controls feel uncomfortable for no more than a minute, and then work surprisingly well. I played on keyboard and found the cars to being unbelievably responsive and the lock-on shooting mechanics to be accurate and helpful. I have no complaints with gameplay controls, but the tedious menu system feels outdated and would be bothersome even in 1993. Scrolling through lists, confirming selections, editing settings and finding the appropriate location in the overworld map all take far too long to accomplish and are unacceptable by modern standards. At one frustrating instance, I employed my Twitch chat to help me remember where one of my businesses was located because using the menu and map system proved a nearly impossible method to find the property and complete my task.
The missions are predictably repeated throughout the game, with the standard routine of drive to location, confront character, and shoot down a structure or swarm of enemies with weapon of choice. This is potential fun for hours, but I found that the actual number of hours required was slightly too many. The story and missions move briskly and you’ll likely frequently skip scenes of dialogue to get to the next story mission, as there are over 100. Occasional minigames break the monotony, including ThighMaster exercises and charging up your passive aggressive smirk, but the same repeated formula could have been better served with any combination of increased difficulty, varied mission objectives, or decreased mission count.
The saving grace is the shakedown side missions, where you find creative methods of convincing shop owners to pony up some monthly cash for your bogus security services, like clogging toilets or invading customers personal space. These too, however, are far too short and frequent, and the sheer number of them means the novelty wears swiftly.
Becoming Hawaii’s biggest real estate mogul and venture capitalist is a fun initial concept that allows you to grow your business and raise profits, but before long you will be drowning in cash that quite literally has no other purpose besides buying more properties to generate more money. The system is manipulated easily and new revenue is generated daily, so you’re never broke for long, and if you are, it won’t matter. The system is core to the story and gameplay, but ultimately fruitless.
Technically, the game runs great on PC. I encountered very few glitches, and those I did bump into resolved quickly and did not significantly alter my gameplay experience. The menus, though poorly designed, work as intended and function appropriately. The settings were easy to navigate and change. I did notice an occasional resolution shift when playing on a 1440p monitor in windowed mode, though this was remedied by playing in (my unpreferred) full screen mode.
I didn’t hate a single minute of my time with Shakedown: Hawaii; in fact, I rather enjoyed almost all of it. The game retails for $19.99, which is a fair price if you are a fan of the genre. Vblank took a pass on the creative storytelling to bring ultimately satisfying and responsive gameplay, and mowing over pedestrians in a hijacked vehicle while shooting an automatic rifle out the window and using a flamethrower to wreak havoc in a trailer park feels (in the most non-psychotic way possible) as fulfilling as you can imagine. I would have preferred the constant hostile acquisition of land and business to lead to something more rewarding, or a deeper economy and relationship to the world that relied on my strategy and financial prowess to succeed. For now, I’ll keep prowling the streets of Hawaii and bulldozing unnumbered hapless digital victims. Shakedown: Hawaii doesn’t always accomplish what it set out to, but what it does well, it does beautifully.