Indie games have been part of the trend made popular by Hotline Miami where brutal action unfolds to the beat of a pounding soundtrack. It was a high bar that even Dennaton Games couldn’t meet with the sequel, but that hasn’t stopped other developers from creating their own brand of stylish, violent games. Midnight Fight Express is another entry into that genre, and while its tunes kick ass, kicking ass in the game is a disappointing task.
That doesn’t seem to be the case at first since Midnight Fight Express looks great in motion. As was widely publicized, its campaign animations were done by Eric Jacobus, who is best known for his stunt work on 2018’s god of war. The game’s impressively large library of different beatdowns is smooth and wild enough to always provide a visual spectacle and sell the impact of each hit. Since there are so many different animations, they don’t repeat often enough to get old, especially if players mix up their attacks to get higher scores.
However, the animations act as a cover to mask its mechanical shortcomings. Beating thugs can be satisfying early on when not much is happening, but the fight starts to tense up as it escalates in complexity.
Continuing a combo is extremely frustrating as the protagonist is prone to whip punches even as the animation magnetizes him to the nearest goon. Other enemies will just continuously backpedal (leading to even more boosts) and slow down. There is an attack that is meant to bolt to a distant enemy and debuff this, but it only sometimes works as advertised. Having to dodge repeatedly is also a headache as it always repositions the player’s character and sets them up even more to shadowbox as they have to work their way in again. A move should let players attack out of a dodge and continue their combo, but it’s too unwieldy to aim properly. With all these complications, hitting any kind of cadence on a regular basis is nearly impossible.
Flow is so important to a game like this, as being able to jump from target to target is an important part of the fantasy inherent in melee action games. Play as Sifu and Batman: Arkham series are great examples of this as they are mechanically sound and rhythmic enough to get players into that flow state. While it has a thoroughly engrossing electronic soundtrack, Midnight Fight Express lacks the finesse to get players into the zone; a fundamental flaw for a title in this genre.
But there are also a lot of other questionable decisions that further hamper the ability to fully enjoy its fights. Oddly, there is no way to restore health other than turning on its gradual auto-heal. Regaining health passively like this goes against a game like this that mostly tries to push players to be more active. Not having any active alternatives to regenerating strength is a missed opportunity that would deepen the gameplay, especially if it had been tied to its execution system.
Although it’s mostly a melee game, players get access to a special revolver, but it’s hampered by a series of bad decisions. It has a few different ammo types that provide more flexibility, but it, for some endlessly confusing reason, automatically switches between those ammo types after one is fired. This means players must constantly cycle through orbs each time they detonate one to avoid losing track of which orb is currently loaded, a process made even more tedious since the cooldown for each reset when switching between them. And to make matters worse, the pistol shares the same button as the finisher, meaning it’s all too easy to accidentally blow a round when trying to perform a fatality (which also has an inconsistent button prompt).
There’s also a staggering amount of enemies to fail against. Some introduce some kind of new threat to worry about, like shields or immobilizing holds, but so many of them are annoying and demonstrate why so many variations are harmful. Certain grunts counter auto-attack, but they are not that distinctly different from the other normal minions, they are almost identical to them. There are also robots that can only be damaged with electrical attacks, an astonishingly narrow-minded move. Zombies that spawn for a single level can even kill the player in one hit if they get too close, making the game a mediocre shooter limited by its camera angle and cheap spawns.
Shooting is also the source of many of its problems, as armed assailants are too prevalent for a game like this. It’s incredibly common too Midnight Fight Express letting in multiple thugs at the same time and killing the player before it’s even clear what’s happened. Even when telegraphed, it’s pretty jarring and out of place to have to deal with so many ranged threats in a melee-focused experience like this.
Arming and shooting back is one solution, but gunplay also dampened inexplicable oddities. Weapons (including the aforementioned revolver) sometimes become unresponsive as they won’t fire if an enemy is too close to the player, which happens a lot because it’s still predominantly built around close fists. There are also a handful of shoot-only vehicle levels that also have their share of unwieldy controls.
Midnight Fight Express needed more focus to realize its potential. Constantly throwing out different hazards and enemy types at a breakneck pace doesn’t work if the foundation is rocky, and confusing variety for quality is one of its structural problems. From rat-human hybrids to priests with rocket launchers to a Fight Club champion named Kyler Turden, there’s no shortage of villains to battle, but unfortunately the biggest battle players will have is against its control.
Like ComingSoon’s audit policy explains, a score of 5.5 corresponds to “mediocre”. The positive and the negative end up negating each other, making it a wash.