In a game that presents itself as almost a caricature of the time it represents, there are two elements where it needs to focus to succeed with this style of presentation and storytelling.
Some games make your character looking like a badass easy, with witty and clever dialogue (E.g., Nathan Drake) or aggressive acts of grandeur (see Kratos in 2018’s God of War), and they are often the driver of the plot which succeeds because of them. Then you have games that use their aesthetic to mold it’s the main protagonist around, providing a pleasing representation of their particular style (see Tommy Vercetti in GTA: Vice City) as a device for its storytelling. The best games are ones that can ride the tightrope between both its characters and its themes.
Shakedown: Hawaii does one of these spots on. The game is best described as an open world shooter with property “management,” in the sense that more property equals more revenue for your empire. It’s a game that celebrates the 80’s, ripping into modern day traits that most of us have come to expect. Shots (of satire) are taken at many contemporary tropes and topics with an 80’s flair. Video gaming (with VR), overpriced coffee shops, payday loans (in the form of aggressive car leases), health supplements and even storage containers. You can also expect to auditions for the local TV station’s deathmatches, and stealing drug and fruit farms from the Cartel.
For the most part, this style of satire makes for a game that’s funny to move with, and easy to appreciate in its rather simple storytelling style as the references don’t stick out as significant part in the grand scheme of the game, but instead are weaved through the management foundation of the game.
The art backs this up too. Stylised in 16-bit (another nod to the 80’s introduction of 16-bit gaming), Shakedown is not afraid to follow in the footsteps of its obvious influencers, including Scarface for the smug, aggressive mob-style boss and gratuitous violence and a sprinkle of Miami Vice for the authentic, sun-drenched styling in lighting and setting.
And then you have the music for the game, which oozes class with fast-paced electro pop when cruising down the city streets, and industrial electro-rock when you enter a shop or warehouse ready to take down a bunch of hired goons as you press for more territory. The soundtrack overall is excellent and compliments both the art and the story that the game tells very well. There isn’t a huge number of tracks, and they might begin to grate as the game goes on, but what’s there is very solid.
You play the CEO of Feeble Multinational, a company that operates in generally mo traditional business ventures, including video rental, brick and mortar stores, and taxi services. Problem is it’s no longer the 80’s, and local stores are losing out online shopping, “Crüiser” is crushing its taxi service and streaming has strung up its video-rentals to the point that the company is on the verge of bankruptcy.
As the (nameless) CEO, it’s up to you take matters into your own hands as you look to build up your portfolio of money making ventures, including premium car lots and VR game lounges, as well as immediate cash injections by ruining the postal service for online orders.
You can also force a number of shops to accept giving you “protection money”, with tasks requiring completion in order to convince them to do so, which can include the normal methods of intimidation via smashing up shelves or damaging the build, or less conventional methods such as rubbing up to close to customer, cutting off a barber’s beloved hair and even clogging the toilet to the point of bursting a water pipe. It’s silly, but it does work with the humour of the game.
As a package, Shakedown: Hawaii’s style presents itself very well.
However, the other element, the character side is where the game falls. The characters are almost all built on 80’s cliques and that, along with an 80’s style over-the-top plotline in the story mode of the game, makes for an adventure that is one dimensional, and dependant on how you feel about the gameplay.
Games such as Hotline Miami proved that you can nail the 80’s vibe in a video game without relying on cliqued material, but Shakedown: Hawaii embraces it, from its storyboard style presentation in cutscenes (Max Payne it is not) to its supporting cast (the CEO’s son Scooter being a bratty adult who’s “job” is being a “musician” without any sales) but it’s to its detriment as it feels like it tries hard to keep a balance between retro and contemporary.
Admittedly, this can be subjective, and you may still enjoy it, as a similar style implemented here has worked past. SmashTV, for example, used the 80’s game show cliques to great effect for example.
The gameplay mentioned above though is a lot of fun, at least for a while. The story mode is a semi-open world as you can roam the city as you wish, but the game keeps you in the latest mission. The main story works structurally in a fairly similar vein to the original Grand Theft Auto, where you complete tasks set by various characters to progress further in the city. Side missions come in the form of the previously mentioned property purchasing and hostile “protection money” takeovers.
You control your character similarly to Grand Theft Auto too, with a top-down view and directional aim of a healthy selection of weapons, and car driving where you are driving recklessly will increase your overall game score and net you cash, but civilian kills will attract police. It has the tank controls style control for vehicles but thankfully not when on foot. Use of a controller is strongly advised.
Shooting with face buttons is awkward as the game employs an auto-targeting system when you are close enough to a targetable object, though it does prioritise the bad guys. You can also use the right analogue stick to shoot twin-stick style when on foot, but as it automatically fires the weapon you’re using, it’s not the most reliable for accuracy and could have been implemented better.
There is plenty of content here, but how much this will keep you entertained depends on how much you like variety on offer. Story missions are the main meat of the game, and then it includes other side missions and business ventures you can take on, but they all function pretty much the same for the entire game, so if you can live with the progressively repetitive nature, you’ll experience good value for your $20.
The caveat to all of this though is that your enjoyment with Shakedown will depend on how much you enjoy these types of games. While this may sound obvious, if you saw the trailer and thought it looked like a game you would enjoy, chances are you will, with the opposite also being true. If you dug developer Vblank’s previous game Retro City Rampage, you’ll find plenty to like about Shakedown: Hawaii.
It is a niche genre, and it does grind the further in you get. Repetition sets in, and it relies on how much you enjoy going on killing sprees, the silly and cliqued but fun story, and the game’s setting.
That said though, it’s worth checking out if you enjoy retro-style games with a modern hook, and you like to entertain the idea of bringing the island to your mercy because, in Shakedown’s world, crime pays (assuming your knees are not shot).