I was going to talk about Dread Templar’s full release today, but then Microsoft and Bethesda had to stealth-drop a new action game that looked rad as fuck last night, so I’m covering that instead while it’s still fresh. So here’s a first impression of Hi-Fi Rush based on the first 3 or so main stages.
First of all: How dare Bethesda and Tango Gameworks just drop a hot banger into our laps unprovoked? This is violence.
But seriously, Hi-Fi Rush is fucking rad, go play it. For the long version; Hi-Fi Rush is a rhythm-based character action game developed by Tango Gameworks, the studio behind The Evil Within, its sequel and the more recent Ghostwire: Tokyo. They looked interesting from a distance, but I never found myself compelled to play them. And then the Xbox direct thingy that was on earlier this week showed this off and I rightly went “Yo, THIS IS SICK!”. And they followed it up by doing my favourite release tactic of “oh, and it’s out right now”. Naturally, I downloaded it to check it out and was graced by one of my front runners for game of the year. Between this and Vengeful Guardian Moonrider, I’m going to need video games to slow down a bit, we’re not even out of January yet and things are heating up!
The setup is this: You play as Chai, a wannabe rockstar who signs up with Vanderlay Technologies’s Project Armstrong for a new prosthetic arm. Shit almost immediately hits the fan when his MP3 player gets fused to his heart and has to fight off Vanderlay’s security forces who are trying to recall him for being a “defect”. Along the way, he meets up with Peppermint, a resistance leader who recruits him to help uncover a dark secret related to Project Armstrong. It's incredibly silly, but it’s fully aware of its’ silliness and leans into it. Wisecracking robot workers and security robots talk like Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the main baddies is basically a mashup of every single pro wrestling stereotype you can think of and another whose primary personality trait is that he JoJo Poses at you incessantly. It all gives off the energy of a Studio Trigger show directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi in the best way.
The main thing that stuck out to me at a first glance is the way Hi-Fi Rush looks. The animations, lighting, and cel-shading all look fucking amazing. These combined with the bright colour palette and the game’s art style all come together to make a game that looks like a combination of both a comic book come to life and a PS2-ass-PS2 game in the best way. Everything about it oozes style and personality and feels like something out of an alternate universe where the majority of video games were developed with the mindset of “we’re going to focus on more interesting aesthetics as opposed to chasing the realism dragon”. And while I’m not opposed to the use of photorealism in games, it doesn't need to be the default and the only style in town.
There’s also the way the game incorporates music into all facets of it. Because Chai’s MP3 player is grafted to his heart, everything in Hi-Fi Rush is in beat to the music. Chai’s animations are the most obvious, but the combat, platforming, even the enemies and the environment all move to the beat of the music as it plays in the background. It reminds me of the ways that Mick Gordon weaved the music into varying states in his work on both Killer Instinct seasons 1 and 2 and the more recent Dooms 2016 and Eternal, but taken to its logical extreme. This is best exemplified in the main attraction of the game: the combat.
Combat in Hi-Fi Rush is a mix of both rhythm game and character action game, You control Chai in both arena combat and platforming traversal. And as was mentioned earlier, everything is done to the beat of the music, gameplay included. You got your standard light and heavy attacks. But this also includes special attacks, dodges, enemy attacks and so much more. The main way you get your score up is by attacking to the beat of the music and even if you are slightly off-beat, the combat still feels great, which is where Hi-Fi Rush shines for me. I’m not exactly the most rhythmically gifted person on the planet, but the ease with which I was racking up A and S ranks in combat was astonishing. There’s even a rhythm timer that can help with the timing of the beat to keep things in check if you’re into that sort of thing. There are also the skills and upgrades, where you can take scrap that you gain from playing to buy things and all of the attacks you get drastically change the way you play. And this is on top of the passive Chip upgrades that can be mixed and matched for more efficient robot bashing.
Aloof the stuff I’ve mentioned comes together to make an audiovisual/gameplay experience both look really fucking cool and feel great to play. The standout moments for me so far are the boss fights: the first one, in particular, has great use of a very specific Nine Inch Nails song that I’ve not heard since high school and it sold me on the entire experience. It’s the second-best use of Nine Inch Nails since that time a friend of mine convinced me to play through Half-Life 2 with the music turned down and having Nine Inch Nails Year Zero Album in its place that syncs up perfectly in the same way The Wizard of Oz does with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon supposedly does.
Even though I’m only a few hours in, Hi-fi Rush is easily one of my favourite video games of the year. And if this and Vengeful Guardian Moonrider are the tone-setters, then we’re in for a fucking banging 2023.