It’s Clobbering Time!
Ponder, if you will, a philosophical question: What is the nature of evil? Take for instance, Black Hole Hero, star of the action city simulator Black Hole Hero: Vice Vegas Rope Mafia: He is a cyborg who likes to blow up stuff with black holes. But does that make him evil? And if not, what would? How long can a man fight with monsters until he himself becomes a monster? A distressing line of inquiry, but I only bring it up because once I put on the mask of a certain cyborg hero, my life changed forever.
Dear reader, allow me to pull back the curtain and reveal the world of Black Hole Hero: Vice Vegas Rope Mafia, a place so absurdly meaningless and frighteningly bizarre that it will turn your own universe upside down.
A Bird? A Plane? Flying Armadillo? Nope. Just Black Hole Hero!!!
That means it must have been pretty good right? Let’s worry about that later. The developers behind this title are HGames-Artworks. The Czech studio has dealt with the themes of good and evil before, in games like Ninja Samurai Assassin Hero II, Monster Killing City Shooting III Trigger Strike and Cat Simulator: Kitty Craft. In this installment, they innocently set out to create a game that combined the previously incompatible worlds of black holes, superheroes, vice, Las Vegas, rope and of course the mafia. Instead, they ended up making a game where the player’s very soul is tested on the battlefield of light and darkness.
We’ll start with the description on the game’s Google Play Page. It is confusing. Rather, it is a Lemarchand’s box of Shakespearean intricacy that would make David Lynch shudder. Try to decipher it along with its similarly baffling user reviews, and you’ll realize most of the information about the actual gameplay is either irrelevant or factually untrue. You will not “fight star mafia gangsters” from around the world, for instance. I did manage to gleam one thing: the game does not actually take place in Las Vegas, but somewhere called “Vegas district.” Probably.
Where and what exactly is Vegas district? It is the fictional sixth borough of New York City (again, probably). On the surface, it is a universe that mirrors our own almost exactly. But look closer and you will notice a few minor differences. Most importantly, here the clown cars are equipped with rocket launchers, and there are significantly more ramps and half-pipes on the roofs of buildings for skateboarding. Besides confronting the evil within, skateboarding was a surprisingly large part of my experience with this game.
They Have an Army, We Have Black Hole Hero
Enter Black Hole Hero: a Nietzchean Übermensch roaming this metropolitan wasteland of indeterminate origin where he alone is judge, jury and executioner, armed with robotic iron fists, infrared laser eyes, a green techno grappling hook thingy and the power to summon meteors and black holes. Of his origins, we know little. HGames spares us the clichéd meeting with the depraved, god-complex of a scientist who breathed mechanical life into his human body, thus cursing his soul’s vessel with cyborg superhumanity.
Regardless, he moves when we drag the screen. He sprints, jumps, lasers, black holes, green rope thingy etc. when we tap the analogous button inputs. We inhabit Black Hole Hero’s mind and assume agency for his actions. Whenever he strays from the path of good to commit crimes, like donning a mech suit and shooting rockets at civilian cyclists, we too must bear some responsibility.
Crimes, you say? Yes, don’t be fooled by the word “Hero” in the game’s title. A hero needs people to save, or at least a villain to fight. Unfortunately, Vegas district has none of these things. Not only would they have made the game more interesting, but without them Black Hole Hero must bear the existential anguish of a hero with no one to save. He gazed at the abyss for too long, and the abyss gazed back. There is no place for him in this peaceful utopia which contradicts his warrior existence, so he must fight against it; raze the city, burn it until nothing but ash remains.
The Next Avenger?
In order to summon black holes, his most devastating and trademark attack, Black Hole Hero clenches his fist and throws his head back to let out a barbaric, soundless roar. After watching this several times, I began to feel for the character. Society made this man an outcast, other-ed him to the extent that he is no longer a man, but a monster who must unleash hellfire and carnage on the city, to make it resemble the only recognizable element he sees within himself: chaos.
It was then I understood Black Hole Hero’s true purpose: He is neither hero nor villain, but merely a being who wishes for his own death. He lashes out in calamitous rage at a city he does not understand, drawing the ire of the police and military to start battles he knows he will eventually lose, just so he can taste the sweet release of the void for a few moments, before watching an ad and reincarnating on the battlefield with a freshly restored health bar, in an inescapable cycle of eternal pain.
Also, I forgot to mention: Pressing jump while on the skateboard can sometimes make Black Hole Hero do a little trick. You can skateboard on any terrain, even on grassy hills and stuff. Pretty sweet!
Born in the Darkness… Molded by It…
Once you make some money, you can buy things like weapons, clothes, accessories, vehicles and a house. It is unclear how you make money. In the course of spreading fear, destruction, grappling with the abyss, etc., occasionally I would notice I had earned some cash. None of the things you buy seriously impact the experience of playing the game. While the accessories and clothes might change Black Hole Hero’s external appearance, his internal self will always be wrought with turmoil, pain and hatred.
Is there music? Yes, though I would compare the aural direction of this game to that of the cacophonous headphones of the unaware 14-year-old on a bus seat a few rows away from you with little respect or regard for his own eardrums, the other passengers or the middle-aged public servant sheepishly leaning across the aisle asking him to turn his profanity-laden tunes down.
At its core, Black Hole Hero: Vice Vegas Rope Mafia is a daring genre pastiche—an eclectic collage that blends the overblown Mafioso universe of Grand Theft Auto V with the unhinged moral profligacy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, set against an impressionist backdrop that calls to mind the gritty, realist rendering of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. But HGames-Artworks has made many games in this same format. They are all free to play (sans Cat Simulator: Kitty Craft Pro Edition, a premium steal at 99 cents). But only one game could have taught this reviewer the most important lesson of all: black holes can suck up many things, but they can’t suck up the human heart.
Is it Hardcore?
Sublime, existential agony and moral encounters with the Self get in the way of an otherwise promising skateboard simulator.