Ever wondered what the Grand Theft Auto series would be like if Rockstar never made the jump to 3D games? Well Retro City Rampage answered that, but now Vblank Entertainment, the developers of RCR are back with Shakedown: Hawaii, filled with all the old-school, top down, criminal messing around you’d expect.
Shakedown puts you in control of the CEO of the fictional Feeble Multinational, a business that specialises in multiple outdated products and services including retail, taxis and video rental, surprisingly though they are on the verge of bankruptcy, because as much as the game would have you believe it’s the 1980’s, online shopping, rideshare apps, and streaming exist, so what’s a formally hands off CEO to do to regain the market shares? A massive company wide overhaul moving the company in line with its closest competitors? Sounds like a lot of work, easier to just take down the other companies via highly illegal activities, this is where the CEO, his unemployed (but claims to be a DJ who just hasn’t had a gig in a decade) son and his mysterious henchman “the Consultant” come in, Shakedown: Hawaii will see these three characters reclaim the island they live and all the money that exists there, because not even the 1% can afford to be anything else.
Shakedown uses retro pixel art and does it wonderfully, the pixels are small enough to allow detail but large enough that you still get that retro feel that comes with pixel art styles, over all I found the city to be a densely populated place filled with people, cars, destructible environments and big floating coins that make a satisfying ding when collected.
Doubling down on the 80’s aesthetics, Shakedown uses a synthwave soundtrack similar in fashion to Hotline Miami, Farcry 3 Blood Dragon, Furi, Party Hard etc. from the moment I started playing till the moment I shut it down the music was the standout feature for me, the sound effects of cars driving, collisions, guns firing, coins being collected etc. are all very good too, Shakedown is one of the best games I’ve played recently soundwise, they also play up the retro side of things by having some character dialogue (normally singular words) that are super distorted like they were back on the classic NES/SNES and Sega consoles.
I made a bit of a mistake here, booting up the game the first time I tried the Free Roam mode, this mode starts you with max ammo on all weapons, max money and no goals, very quickly I grew disinterested because of this, as mentioned earlier the city is densely populated, but with no goals it feels so empty, you can still have fun and pull off some crazy stuff like the GTA games, however I wouldn’t recommend starting here like I did.
The second time I played I tried the regular story mode with the missions, and boy was it a different experience, first up you get a story with some nicely detailed pixel art and a lot of humor, references to real world events and juxtaposing classic retro gaming, 80’s neon chic and GTA styled crime to create a story that I was actually eager to follow, even just to see how ludicrous the next mission would be and have a chuckle at the subtle and not so subtle parody.
Actual gameplay though is very much like the older GTA games (i.e. 1 and 2), you have a top down camera, you can steal cars, you walk or drive around with absolute disregard for property and the lives of others and you try to piss off and then avoid cops.
I played on a controller which has a strange layout compared to most other games, chiefly that the attack button is actually clicking down the right thumbstick, this took a little getting used to, and the driving the first time I played controlled horrendously, luckily when I played the story mode I was given a choice between automatic and manual, automatic being a dream in comparison, automatic driving in the game, you press a direction and the car moves that way same as walking, manual however you have to move up or down to speed up or reverse and then the side directions to steer, which is incredibly counter intuitive when you have to hold left while moving right to face up, so automatic all the way for me.
If you’re looking for a retro throwback to the early days of the GTA crime action games, you could do worse than Shakedown: Hawaii, with top notch graphics and music, a fun and funny storyline and a variety of tasks and collectables, Shakedown is a solid title, it’s not a perfect game, remapping the controller didn’t really work for me, and a more modern day player might not understand the references so they’ll miss a ton of the humor, but again if you’re interested in a top down pixel art GTA, then Shakedown should scratch that itch at least until Vblank Entertainment’s next non GTA game.
Rating: 8/10 – Solid title, if you love the original GTA games then it’s one for you.
Title: Shakedown: Hawaii
Developer: Vblank Entertainment
Publisher: Vblank Entertainment
Release Date: 7 May, 2019