Project Downfall – First-person hotline

They all fall down

Project Downfall brings Hotline Miami down to street level.

Hotline Miami and its sequel were impressively fun and pretty successful psychedelic, fast-paced twin-stick shooters with a bananas plot. But in spite of that, there hasn’t really been anything that really emulates those modern classics. OTXO did a neat black-and-white rogue-like version, and Katana Zero took a lot of the elements and made a side-scrolling slash-’em-up, but nothing really feels quite like it. Project Downfall though, pretty much is Hotline Miami but in first person, with all the positives and negatives that that connotation brings.

Set in near future Poland, you find your amnesiac character involved in drugs and gang warfare, seemingly under the commands of a man in a teddy bear costume and his own brain which talks to him. It’s pretty mad as you might expect, but much like Hotline Miami, the plot is deliberately esoteric, although far less metatextual. Through news reports and magazine articles that you can choose to pay attention to, you can get a feel for the world you’re playing in, but you’re much more likely to understand what’s going on should you make the right choices along the way. Depending on who you do or do not kill in certain missions, you’ll find yourself having flashbacks that flesh out the backstory a bit more, but you’ll end up with a lot of blood on your hands.

Project Downfall Violence
The violence is pretty extreme, even with the most basic weapons.

And bloody hands is right, as this is a violent game. The cartoon aesthetic belies how many severed heads, devastated bodies, and crushed bones you’ll leave in your wake. Linking this back to Hotline Miami once again, each chapter is split up into very short stages in which you need to kill almost everyone in a single run before moving on to the next. You’ll start each stage unarmed, but you’ll quickly find knives, pipes, and a slew of ballistic weapons from pistols to chainguns to do your work. Everything is incredibly deadly, with most enemies dying to a single strike or gunshot, and you not lasting much longer. 

It’s incredibly fast and brutal, and you’ll probably need to replay a lot of stages a few times to reach the end in one piece. The length of them makes this a little less egregious, but the speed in which you can be killed can get a little irritating. Often you’ll find enemies placed just around corners or behind doors who will kill you in an instant. Your first run-through can have a pretty slow pace as you end up trying to learn the enemy placement and triggers before you can make one glorious, blood-soaked run. When you hit a rhythm, Project Downfall is super satisfying. When you don’t have that rhythm, it can get annoying.

To give you the edge over the large number of foes, you can “self-medicate” with a variety of pills you find lying around. These give you a brief period of slow-motion and make your kick devastatingly powerful to the point that you can boot doors, vending machines, and dumpsters across rooms, turning them into projectiles in their own right. This is really fun and can literally turn the tables in a hectic gunfight. Pills come in different varieties too, with some offering other benefits, such as faster melee strikes, or increasing the slow-motion effect for each kill you make. As you progress through the game you’ll find hidden currency that can be exchanged for different starting pills, so if you find one that you like you can start each run with it.

Project Downfall hub
Between stages you return to a small hub area where you can head off to the next mission, or explore a little and find secret stages.

Even with this edge though, some of the stages are difficult, and took me a lot of runs to complete. Even that cathartic final run wasn’t as satisfying in some cases due to being frustrated at how many times I’d been through a stage, getting one-shotted by enemies hidden around corners. Considering you’re meant to play this at a breakneck pace, you’ll often be gradually peaking your way around corners and up stairs as you try to catch out the sneaky enemy placement. It can kill the pace at times. 

Playing this on console gives you a pretty solid aim assist that can make a big difference when you’re in a room packed with enemies, but it locks onto any potential target, including civilians and those you might want to keep alive for plot reasons. The civilians aren’t a big problem unless you’re score chasing as they just give a point penalty, but it can be annoying to inadvertently kill someone you wanted alive. You can switch this option off, but combat suddenly becomes very challenging without it.

Speaking of options, Project Downfall is packed with them. Lots of control over the gameplay, sounds and visuals. The visual options in particular are wonderfully varied in a similar way to The Return of the Obra Dinn. You have heaps of different visual styles, from clean lines to retro blockiness. Scanlines can be chosen too if you want to have that classic CRT look replicated in a number of different ways. The graphics overall are great and stick to that neon 80’s aesthetic you’ll have seen in Hotline Miami. The varied environments are all bright and lively, with even the most dingy area being bathed in blue and purple lighting. I was a fan of the look and would be keen to see what locale I’d be visiting next. 

Project Downfall self medicating
Self medicating is key to surviving more intense encounters, and allows you to boot doors and environmental items into enemies.

Characters are 2D sprites in the 3D world, and all are large and clearly defined. Persons of interest are presented in interesting ways. You’ll see gang leaders in fur coats, men in wolf masks, and possibly Macho Man Randy Savage pop up from time to time, unless you kill them along the way. The weapons enemies are wielding aren’t always clear though, meaning you might be bringing a knife to a gunfight without realising it. The sounds pop as well thanks to some really meaty-sounding weapons and horrifying screams and gurgles as you wipe out rooms of opponents. There’s no voice acting, but I think the design of the game would be harmed by its inclusion. It feels like a choice rather than a lack of resources or desire.

Project Downfall is an excellent movement shooter that brings the action of Hotline Miami to the first-person space. I think I’d suggest playing it with a keyboard and mouse due to the speed of aiming you’ll need, but the console release is still an enjoyable experience. You’ll have to put up with some frustration due to the odd difficulty spike, but powering through those will get you to another satisfying level before long. There are even multiple endings for those of you willing to go back through and consider who lives and who dies.

At the time of writing though, Project Downfall seems to have vanished. This might be due to the change in publisher since the console launch, so I would expect it to return before long. I hope it does as this is a game that deserves some more attention in the somewhat crowded boomer-shooter subgenre.

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