It’s hard to believe Hotline Miami is over a decade old. The hyperviolent top-down shooter is a classic indie title thanks to its razor-sharp gameplay, unique visual style and awesome soundtrack. Hotline Miami has had its fair share of imitators over the years, like the excellent Katana Zero and more recently the monochrome OTXO. Kusan: City of Wolves, developed by CIRCLEFromDOT, is the latest game to try to scratch the same violent itch.
Set in a near-future Korea following a disastrous bid for reunification, Kusan: City of Wolves follows Jin, an ex-special ops soldier turned freelancer in the cyberpunk city of Kusan. He’s contacted by a government agent named Ayn and tasked with retrieving a psychic test subject and keeping her out of the clutches of terrorists.
The story is engaging, told through comic panels that convey action well. The focus on political intrigue and use of psychic children as a plot device reminded me of anime classic Akira. One small gripe I have is that the English translation is a bit rough in places, but this did not prevent me from understanding the story overall.
A janky translation does not distract from tight, violent gameplay. Jin is equipped with three main weapons: a rocket arm, a knife and later a gun. The rocket arm is a default punch that leaves enemies in a bloody pool on impact. It can also be upgraded for a charge attack that sends enemies flying. The knife automatically aims at the nearest enemy, but needs to be picked up before being used again. The starting pistol has a limited pool of ammo but can be fired precisely and rapidly.
Kusan follows the Hotline Miami formula of going from room to room in close-quarters levels and absolutely demolishing anything and anyone you come across. This is accompanied of course by fast-attacking enemies that kill in one hit, providing a significant challenge. Overall, the core gameplay is solid. Hitting enemies with attacks feels weighty and powerful, especially the charged punch. This is enhanced by an adrenaline-pumping soundtrack and a combo meter that encourages hitting as fast as possible.
One issue I had with combat is that ranged enemies are appropriately deadly, but Jin’s own ranged attacks, namely the pistol, feel weak. The handgun by default requires two shots to kill a basic enemy and is unforgiving in its aiming. Frequently I died because my gunshot missed an enemy by what seemed like millimeters, allowing for a punishing counterattack. The pistol can be upgraded to a shotgun which likely alleviates this issue, but I think the starting pistol could use a soft lock-on or some other mechanic to reduce the number of misses. Headshotting kills enemies in one hit but the game did not explain how to do this consistently, making it a tossup whether an enemy goes down in one or two shots.
Kusan’s pixel art aesthetic is absolutely gorgeous, with background environments being rendered with meticulous detail and characters animated buttery-smooth. I never found the environments too busy to distract from combat, and gameplay elements mostly remain distinct among the visual spectacle. Kusan’s characters are anthropomorphized animals (not masks this time!), which is a bold choice in an otherwise serious cyberpunk game, but it gives the game some extra visual flair and also aids in the identification of characters.
While the demo for Kusan: City of Wolves only contains a handful of levels, including a nail-bitingly difficult boss fight that impressed and frustrated me in equal measure, the game already seems to be shaping up to be a worthy addition to the hyper-violent genre alongside Hotline Miami. With a few balance tweaks and an overhaul of its English translation, Kusan could be the next great bloodbath for gamers to sink their fangs into.
Kusan: City of Wolves is set to release in Q4 of 2023.