Satirical empire-building, Hawaii style

Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and PC
Genre: Action adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Vblank Entertainment
Rating: T, for teen

By Todd Martens // Los Angeles Times

Shakedown: Hawaii is a work of sarcasm inspired by Grand Theft Auto. Knowing this will make it clear to the player that this is a subtlety-free zone. After all, 2019 is not exactly a year that’s celebrating nuance, what with our always-on-edge political discourse, loud superhero films and violent fantasy shows.

So though it has a retro, ’90s-era look, Shakedown: Hawaii is built for these times, with a corporate-skewering plot centered on an aging buffoon trying to make sense of a business world shaken up by digital disruptors.

Yet unlike Grand Theft Auto, which can ruin any fun by being too angry, too cynical and too sexist, Brian Provinciano’s GTA-inspired games — Shakedown: Hawaii is a spiritual successor to Retro City Rampage — are almost gleeful in their hate. We may even cringe alongside Shakedown’s outdated boomer protagonist when he is perplexed as to why every household convenience today must be purchased via a subscription service.

But he wants in, so he invests in virtual reality and sets out to destroy the delivery trucks of the game’s Amazon-inspired company ruining his empire of retail stores. And if kids today are using fewer credit cards, he’ll get rich off others’ debt by running a business based on predatory car loans. Or just by stealing and roughing people up.

Set in a Miami Vice-inspired version of Hawaii, the vintage look and tone reinforces the narrative, one in which most of our characters are stuck in the past. If there’s anything working against the game, it’s that it starts to feel a little too real. That may sound absurd for a game in which carjacking and bullets run amok, but we live in violent times.

Yet Shakedown doesn’t let one waste too much time on the scams of the wealthy. The game is fast. Missions arrive one after another, and all are relatively short. One can also ignore the missions to simply try and buy up the island, or to just drive around and destroy paradise. Or maybe the player is actually improving the Hawaii of the game, which is littered with tacky shops and grotesque mansions. A little too real? Indeed.