Love them or hate them, Quick-time events (QTEs) are a core part of games now. While their appearances in the biggest titles are less frequent than when they succesfully infiltrated the likes of Resident Evil and Shenmue, they remain a great way to keep players on their toes and have players feel the ‘in-the-moment’ action which is happening onscreen. Every so often a game comes along and takes an old idea and freshens it up. Well, for QTE we now have Hamsterdam, an addictive and masterful, cinematic fusion of QTE and tapping.
Muse Games are best known for their long-running Guns of Icarus series – when it comes to co-operative experiences in lofty steampunk zepplins then there’s truly only one place to look. It’s peculiar then that their next developmental step was about a rocket-fast ground-animal who singlehandedly takes on hordes of thuglike rodents. It’s quite far from their previous projects.
Hamsterdam might be vastly different than its predecessors, but it is clear – even from the main menu – that the team have put the same level of care into it as they have their flagship series and its tightly knit community.
Hamsterdam channels the fast-paced brawling of the Golden Era of Martial Arts films. Those scenes when an unproven hero steps away from their tutor and finds themselves grossly outnumbered, yet remains calm and manages to deal with every single enemy one by one. It is every one of those action movie scenes.
Those scenes where the protagonist manages to disarm and disable greater numbers through quick reflexes, amazing timing, and a little bit of combat savvy. It is every one of those. But it isn’t that feeling of action that is most impressive about Hamsterday, it’s the fact that it does it with amazing camera work.
Every moment of Hamsterdam’s QTE-laden combat is played out through player-led animations. Even as the camera pulls back around Pimm, the protagonist, as he belts the face of a weasel into the ground, you can click on items which have been dropped by enemies. Hamsterdam isn’t inputs stitched together by footage, it’s gameplay led by input. Most games which have attempted to channel the hyperactive, Saturday-morning-cartoon vibe have leaned heavily on over-the-top animations which have led to a feeling of input lag – Hamsterdam has no such feeling.
Stitching all of the combat together are a few cute mechanics. You can win most combat in the game by just hammering the screen and swiping to block, however, if you slow down your pace then there’s a ‘perfect’ system where you land a hit based on an indicator. Land enough of these and you’ll do bonus damage, you’ll also fill up a KO button which deals massive damage to enemies.This reward loop feels really good when it works, and also gives off the feeling of a rhythm game.
The main issue with this system is that the enemies actively try and change places with each other, meaning you need to swipe them to counter their plans, but at the same time breaking your combo. As several bonus challenges revolve around these bigger hits, it rapidly becomes impossible to complete all six (three star-rated, three bonus) challenges within one go. Hamsterdam features a long, stretching overworld map which feels incredibly daunting if you feel as though you need to 100% each level to progress.
It isn’t this that’s the bigest issue though – as a matter of fact, the bonus awards (and landing great hits, and delivering KO hits to enemies) are simply an alternative way to get the seeds used to unlock new abilities. No, the real issue comes in the gameplay loop.Hamsterdam is perfect when you play a handful of levels and then turn it off, but if you play for longer sessions then you start to realise you’re just watching the same animations and fighting similar enemies over and over again. Once that repetition steps in it is hard to want to play more.
If you can keep your play sessions short, however, then you’ll be playing Hamsterdam for a long time to come.