Hotline Miami was an incredibly influential game in the indie scene that revitalized the top-down shooter genre. One of the games that obviously took some inspiration from Hotline Miami is the hand-drawn western adventure 12 is Better Than 6. The concept of one-hit kills and fast paced firefights is shared among these games, but 12 is Better Than 6 does have a few things that set it apart from similar games. Unfortunately, many of those differences come in the form of negatives and frustrating issues that permeate the experience. At times the game shines and you can get those intense moments where you are dodging bullets and returning fire, but most of the time 12 is Better Than 6 is a slog.
In this black, white, and red Western you play as Juan, a Mexican who lost his memory. You play through small areas, shooting and sneaking your way through to the exit. You’ll be fed tidbits of story at regular intervals and uncover the truth about Juan. While I did enjoy the Western setting and the accompanying music, the story was a mess. Riddled with typos and confusing plot lines, it quickly became difficult to follow what was going on. That’s not such a big deal because dialogue is skippable and in a game like this, gameplay takes precedent over story. Unfortunately, while there are a few high-octane moments in gameplay, 12 is Better Than 6 is chock full of game ruining issues.
12 is Better Than 6 is a top-down shooter akin to Hotline Miami. One shot is one kill. This results in frantic firefights where you must constantly be moving or risk getting hit by a stray bullet. There are four main weapons: The revolver, shotgun, rifle, and bow. Additionally, you always have a knife for melee combat. Sometimes you will be given some dynamite to blast through large groups of enemies. The idea and concept of 12 is Better Than 6 is solid, all of this on paper sounds great. However, a slew of minor issues and few larger ones kill whatever potential 12 is Better Than 6 had.
The first thing that sets 12 is Better Than 6 apart from its contemporaries is that you cannot furiously fire bullets. After every shot you must cock the hammer of the weapon by right-clicking. I genuinely cannot fathom why this was included. It takes awhile to even get used to this mechanic, let alone get good at it. It is incredibly easy to mess up the rhythm of left-clicking to shoot and then immediately right-clicking to cock the hammer. One slight mistiming and the entire cadence is thrown off, leaving you wondering why your gun isn’t firing. Towards the end of the game I got used to the mechanic for the most part, but it just felt like an unnecessary addition. Its inclusion does not add much.
What enticed me to play 12 is Better Than 6 was its black, white, and red hand-drawn style. Truthfully, it looks great in screenshots and trailers, but it does not translate well into actual gameplay. It can be difficult to distinguish enemies from the background and obstacles as they do not “pop” or stand out. At least a few times I walked straight into an enemy that I just did not see. Additionally, when you start dashing through levels and the screen starts quickly moving, everything just starts to blend into each other. Its hard to distinguish anything when it all looks so similar.
Something else that bugs me about the game is that while is mostly operates similar to Hotline Miami with the idea of one-shot kills, sometimes this rule is randomly broken. Sometimes enemies will inexplicably survive a shot and will kill you before you can cock and fire your next shot. Even worse is the fact the melee combat suffers heavily from this problem. Much of the time a slash from the knife doesn’t kill the enemy, combine this with the knife’s short range makes melee combat high-risk and inconsistent. When an enemy survives a bullet or stab, you don’t even realize what happened before it is too late. I do not know whether this inconsistency was a glitch or an intentional inclusion, but either way it hurts the game.
Another fairly “minor” issue in the game is its AI (artificial intelligence). Sometimes enemies would completely whiff their shots, run in circles, or ignore the player entirely. Other times they would track me through walls and instantly kill me on sight like the damn terminator. Again, this lack of consistency breaks the flow of 12 is Better Than 6. Speaking of inconsistency, this game also regularly suffers from technical issues such as crashes. At least 4 or 5 times the game crashed on me.
While it is evident that 12 is Better Than 6 has a load of these small problems, what really kills the game are the three major design flaws: level design, repetitiveness, and ammo management. The level design of 12 is Better Than 6 would benefit greatly from focusing on smaller and more compact levels. One-shot kill can get aggravating when you are getting shot from offscreen and before you can possibly react. This happens fairly frequently when there are long corridors or wide-open spaces, both of which are abundant in 12 is Better Than 6. This forces players to tackle levels far slower are more cautiously to prevent getting killed by something you can’t see. What made Hotline Miami great was how quickly you could blast through rooms and levels. You ran through like a maniac, befitting of the tone and theme of the game. This same level of speed and risk aren’t possible in 12 is Better Than 6, because you will just get shot from offscreen.
Even as just a quick, four-hour game, 12 is Better Than 6 manages to overstay its welcome. It gets repetitive fast. Levels blend into each other and the small variety of weapons makes everything just feel the same. No levels really stood out. Some of the maps are even repeated and reused as filler. The first few levels of the game are basically the same as the last few levels. There’s no variety in any aspect. The art style, the lack of diverse weaponry, and the boring level design all contribute to this feeling of repetition. If you’ve played thirty minutes of the game, you’ve experienced everything the game has to offer.
The most frustrating issue with 12 is Better Than 6 is by far its archaic ammo management system. You carry around some ammo for each of your four main weapons, but the method of obtaining this ammo an incredibly tedious and mind-numbing experience. If you want to pick up ammo from fallen enemies, you must drop your weapon, pick up their weapon, unload it, and pick up your original weapon. You have to do that for every single enemy that you kill if you want their ammo. In levels where you fight dozens of enemies. Why? In most games, when you walk over a dead body you automatically pick up their bullets. This saves the hassle of painstakingly sifting through every body to scrounge for ammo. This issue puts the nail in coffin of 12 is Better Than 6 for me. I want to be able to quickly rampage through levels, and having to repeatedly stop to tediously unload, swap, and reload weapons slows the game to a crawl. Especially since you will probably die a lot as a result of the one-hit kill nature of the game. You will have to go through this entire process every time you fail a level. How anyone thought that this method of ammo management was superior to traditional methods is beyond me.
I tried really hard to enjoy my time with 12 is Better Than 6. It’s a genre that I enjoy, and I try to support indie developers. Most of the smaller issues are just minor annoyances, but combining them all makes the game feel inconsistent and incomplete. More importantly, the three major problems absolutely ruined the game for me. The level design, repetition, and outdated ammo management system were just too problematic to ignore. For these reasons I give 12 is Better Than 6 a 3/10. It’s a shame that a solid concept had such poor execution.