Project Downfall (Nintendo Switch) Review

Chasing the neon rabbit

Project Downfall is heavily indebted to Hotline Miami, even if you argue the first-person perspective makes for more visceral, chaotic, and sometimes unfair battles. It feels like a confusing fever dream – with the bare minimum of straightforward storytelling and vague loading screen hints. Your first run, in particular, feels like a slow-motion train wreck as you stumble forward with little sense of control but still morbidly curious to see how it will end. The story is yours to interpret as you see fit, while surviving each level is down to planning, repetition, reaction speeds, adaptation, and luck. It’s also very good if you’re in the right mindset.

Project Downfall places you in what I assume are the vomit-stained shoes of an unhinged, white-collar office worker, seemingly addicted to focus pills prescribed by the corporation they work for in a dystopian, neon-drenched, retro-sci-fi future. The “Crimson Tide” mega-city was meant to be an East-meets-West utopia of shared positive values, but instead, it ended up with unethical capitalist corporations exploiting the upper city workforce, while violent mobs rampage through the lower levels and target the poor with impunity. Given the self-serving scum that currently occupies leadership positions in nation-states and multinational corporations, the setting is perhaps the most relatable element.

Project Downfall Olga

During some sort of dissociative experience on a violence-filled train ride through mob territory, the protagonist realises they’re quite adept at harnessing their rage and killing; their cerebral cortex emerges as a distinct persona that alternates between egging them on and mocking their flaws; while mysterious messages keep arriving at their apartment providing the location of new mob targets. When you pair the premise with the neon-drenched, distortion-heavy visuals, a thumping soundtrack that ramps up and down in line with the on-screen violence, and the stylised level intros, the Hotline Miami influences are plain to see.

The basic gameplay loop is also incredibly familiar despite the shift in perspective. Starting each level unarmed and with a stack of pills – the consequences of a short-term memory problem apparently – you run, slide, punch, kick, hack, and shoot your way through hordes of goons on the way to the exit. Both the player and most enemies are fragile, so a blow from a heavy weapon, a submachine gun burst, or a shotgun blast at close range can kill you instantly – even on the “casual” difficulty that simply lets you carry more weapons in reserve. Thankfully, most level segments are short and could be cleared in less than a minute – but the intensity remains high as you try to avoid damage, identify priority targets, and never waste a shot. To give yourself an edge, there’s always that selection of pills…

Project Downfall rage kick

Now chugging pills is heavily implied as the wrong way to go, but they often feel like a necessity when the level design provides little cover to kite enemies or advance under fire. There are several variants but they all distort your vision even more; kicks gain the ability to insta-gib enemies or turn objects into lethal projectiles, and time slows so you can dodge shots or line up your own. Without the overhead perspective, Project Downfall never feels as tactical as Hotline Miami or allows for the same degree of planning, but it still rewards quick reflexes and adaptability. You can start fights by turning dumpsters into cannon balls, slide in to kick lethal gunmen to literal pieces, snatch their weapons midair to gun down advancing melee enemies, then toss them at the stragglers to stun them and finish them off with your fists.

It’s an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop and Project Downfall plays best when the level is a wide-linear gauntlet, full of enemies you need to weave between, deftly moving between cover, dropping exposed foes, chugging pills when you need an advantage, and waiting for the thumping soundtrack to fade into reassuring silence once the last enemy drops. Where things begin to feel uneven or outright unfair is when levels are all tight corners or have enemies above and below you. The first-person perspective just doesn’t give you the same level of tactical awareness and it’s easy to be flanked, or take a cheap shot from an enemy hiding around a corner. Short levels and quick restarts mitigate this to a degree, but it can get frustrating the longer you play.

At this point, you might be thinking, “so it’s just a first-person Hotline Miami”, but Project Downfall takes the narrative elements much, much further. It’s not obvious at first, but progression is non-linear to an impressive degree – something Hotline Miami only dabbled with for an alternative ending. There are branching story paths, some obvious but many not, with your initial decisions locked into the current save file even if you restart the level. There’s the evolving hub near the apartment full of potential interactions and entirely optional mission chains. Some locations offer multiple routes or exits, and your actions – such as keeping a low profile or gunning down everyone in sight – all have an impact on how later levels evolve and which of the 12 ending paths you’ll end up on.

Project Downfall gamepad settings

On consoles and using a gamepad – and even with a ton of tweakable settings – Project Downfall is tougher than its PC counterpart, but I’d still recommend it for the more-ish gameplay loop paired with garish PS1-era aesthetics, incredible soundtrack, and a convoluted story. I’m not entirely sold on locking narrative decisions to a single save file when each run can take 4-5 hours – but even two or three casual playthroughs are still well worth the asking price and guaranteed to leave you both entertained and sufficiently disturbed.

Project Downfall was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC and Xbox One/Series S|X.

Project Downfall (Nintendo Switch) Review

Project Downfall (Nintendo Switch) Review
8 10 0 1
8/10
Total Score

The Good

  • A confusing but compelling narrative with branching paths and multiple endings
  • Satisfying slow-motion carnage inspired by Hotline Miami
  • An incredible but disturbing audiovisual experience

The Bad

  • Gamepad controls make this port tougher than its PC counterpart
  • Some quick deaths can feel cheap
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