The VHS era has certainly become quite a common trend during the last couple of years. Which, come to think of it, is no surprise when taking into account that many of today’s developers and filmmakers were more than likely born and raised in such an influential time for home entertainment.
Inspired by a grimy dystopian future so frequently portrayed by the world of R-Rated movies of the late ’70s to early ’90s, Trigger Easy’s Huntdown pretty much cradles every action cliché under the sun in a Moses basket full of leather, gunpowder and pixels.
As you would expect when predicting the future through the eyes of the ’80s, the world has descended into chaos splitting a division between crooks, powerful giant enterprises, and relentless mercenaries taking the law into their own hands. You play as one of three badass bounty hunters with names that balance a fine line between B-movie action heroes and XXX adult film stars.
Take Mow Man, for instance, a full-on cyborg programmed with the merciless traits of RoboCop and the table manners of C-3PO. Then there’s John Sawyer, the alloy-jawed Duke “Jack Burton” Nukem type fellow who’s been a man ever since he was a boy. Finally, my personal favourite, Anna Conda. The meanest chick in town with a sting as potent as Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown.
While there’s really not a great deal of difference between how each character handles, the quick wit of one-liners that bring out their personalities will be the deciding factor of who the player will lean towards. As for the gameplay that wraps around the characters, it generally reflects a mix between Contra and Mega Man as you move from left-to-right blasting holes into well-animated henchmen leading up towards a spectacle confrontation with the end of the level ring leader.
While a simple and very vertical run-and-gun affair, the effort that has gone into setting the tone of a retro shootout has been well thought of. The player can hide in doorways or take shelter from gunfire behind props laid around futuristic run-down streets, making the back and forth argument of bullets seen in so many action films feel all the more authentic.
All three controllable characters have the ability to quickly dash around the joint in a similar fashion to something like Katana ZERO, setting up some rather stylish possibilities as a result. There’s a vast amount of toys on offer too, with C4 being one of my favourites, especially when timing the detonator to set off under an aggressive dune buggy to help establish those more expressive moments.
One thing I did particularly like was how I rarely ever packed the same weapon for too long. There were many times where I was blasting craters of flesh out of leather jackets with the shotgun, quickly discarding it in favour for something a bit more automatic, then hitting the driving range with the old faithful crowbar while on the hunt for more lead to spend. The disposable weaponry keeps the kinetic pace moving off on a tangent all the way until an enemy jetpack crash lands right into our headhunters’ personal space.
The opposition is batched up like the gangs of Walter Hills 1979 cult classic The Warriors, with their fancy dressed and themed attire ready to represent their territory led by some form of unhinged turf leader. From an unlawful petrolhead clan that appears as a concoction between the teddy boys of Grease and dangerous warlords of Mad Max to a bunch of ice hockey rejects who look like what the Mighty Ducks could have turned into if Emilio Estevez happened to be an angry juiced up warlord.
Each area has several contracts for our bounty hunters to contend with, who also happen to be bursting with personality to match their 80s stereotypical villainous presence. Thankfully every encounter comes across very differently from one another. For example, there’s a trigger-happy World War 3 veteran reliving the horrors of war while snapping his chain-gun like Bill Duke in Predator, and not forgetting the lunatic accountant attempting to settle matters from the comforts of his desk with his army of remote firearms.
The levels themselves, while beautifully constructed, act as basic playing fields that keep the action very linear without really ever shaking up the formula throughout. While the sense of repetition can easily sink in, it’s more the presentation and style that keeps the gameplay interesting with excellent attention to detail, relevant music and wonderful pixel art both in background, and character design that really helps sell the atmosphere.
Little touches like chasing down goons with briefcases trying to make a quick getaway to speeding vehicles that open up at the windscreen like all good futuristic ’80s concept cars are just a tease of many moments that celebrate the retro detective cyberpunk era. And if that’s not enough, you can always add a Tango to your Cash by teaming up in couch co-op multiplayer like that buddy cop drama you always wanted to be part of.
I think at this point, it’s fair to say that the abundance of synth, neon and androids dreaming of electric sheep is starting to become a little too common amongst the indie scene. With that said, Huntdown is a cool, crass and challenging game that manages to do just enough to stand out above the static of analogue signals. Its strength is in how it never takes itself seriously, while the tried-and-tested gameplay and the clear attention to detail is a prime example of how to carve in quality presentation with a First Blood Survival Knife.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Coffee Stain Publishing