There is an unwritten rule that whenever some indie game makes it big, dozens of copycats are soon to follow. It happened with Minecraft, Terraria, Fez, and so on. For most indie devs, it’s a no-brainer to jump on a popular train of some big indie release and try to cash in by making your version of it. Some were good and some were……actually who am I kidding, most turn out to be mediocre. Yet, every once in a while, once game manages to squeeze in that draws a lot of inspiration from one acclaimed indie title while managing to build an identity of its own. I’m not going to draw a whole lot of connections between Hotline Miami series and Project Downfall, but the latter is my sincere recommendation if you’re looking for something fresh from that bag of toys.
For a tense, anxiety-inducing “trial and error” shooter, Project Downfall sure starts with a grim story. “The world we have known is coming to an end. The European Union is in disarray, with a new superpower emerging on the horizon: The Novorussian Federation, which already welcomed new members such as Lithuania, Ukraine, and Poland” Oooh, a Slavic take on world domination – I like it. The story is unfolded in Crimson Tide, one of the first megacities of future Europe. You’re a no-name middle-class citizen, living in a nice (a bit too nice for a middle-class guy but ok) apartment with your girlfriend Olga. By day, you’re a good corporate puppy, punching in your daily 8-hour-of-work card and living the best life as an upstanding citizen of Crimson Tide. And by night, you feel like you need to give the city back, so the best way to do that is to wash away the streets of Crimson Tide of various scum and villainy. And washing away is done with your fists and a huge arsenal of weapons because why not.
As I hinted above, the gameplay will crank up your anxiety (and rage) up to 11 pretty early in the game. Project Downfall is an aesthetic reflex shooter where most of the enemies die in one hit, but so do you. There are no ways to replenish your health so planning is a big part of how you’re going to clear each room. Often you’ll be thrown into a room with a small army of enemies, some with guns, some without and that’s where the mind games start. Rambo’s approach here almost always gets you killed in a matter of seconds. You have to take note of where obstacles are (to shield yourself from enemy bullets), remember who has guns and bats, and pay attention to your pill number. Oh yeah, the pills. The trademark feature of Project Downfall. You’ll find yourself outnumbered (and outgunned) in every encounter so these nifty pills are a great way to give your enemies a run for their money. You have a total of 3 at the start of each level and every time you consume one, you enter a focus mode. Time slows down to a crawl and you can easily dispatch a dozen enemies with kicks and bullets before they even realize what’s happening.
Pills and slow-mo are not the only selling point of this game, because the visual identity of Project Downfall is something that surely stands out. The visuals are a delicious meal of bloom and chromatic aberration coupled with the usual cyberpunk aesthetic. I believe this is one of the rare games utilizing bloom properly and not overusing it to the point of giving you blindness. And what would the cyberpunk aesthetic be without some kickass synthwave soundtrack? Well, you’re in luck cause this game has plenty of that. Some catchy synthwave tunes go rather well with the old-school DOOM run ‘n’ gun tactic.
With all that said, Project Downfall is currently in early access which means there’s still plenty of work to be done. From what I’ve seen, the developer is pretty involved with the community, whether being engaged with players in the community hub or in published Steam reviews. Some things that we should look forward to are brutality finishers, environmental attacks, more levels, weapons, and an expanded story with multiple endings in the works. Despite Project Downfall being far from done, it does offer you a good and promising glimpse of what the finished product will be. And it certainly is something to look forward to. As I’m writing this, the game is currently on a 40% discount so you might consider grabbing yourself a copy if nothing can scratch that old-school DOOM and Hotline Miami itch. Or if you just feel like shooting and punching some virtual thugs. That’s enough reason as well.