There’s no setting more appropriate for a game like 12 is Better Than 6 than the Wild West. One hit is all it takes for a quick, blood-drenched death in this game, so it’s only fitting to set it in a time when one shot was likely to result in either death or infection and then death. Mix this fast paced combat with a gorgeous visual style and some relatively realistic weapon mechanics and you’ve got 12 is Better Than 6, but whether or not those ingredients work together well is debatable.
Visually, the game looks great. It has a hand drawn art style that is entirely black and white until someone has the nerve to get shot and bleed all over the lovingly created environment. It’s full of little details, such as when you run over a bucket it upturns spilling a pool of water, or rats that can get hit in the crossfire. Unfortunately, there are a few factors that work against the syle, such as a top down view that waves around as you move for no discernible reason. At least in Hotline Miami there was an art style and setting to explain why the camera waves side to side, but there’s no such reason here, it just does it and it could trigger motion sickness if you’re sensitive to that. The bigger issue is that the zoom level of the camera can’t be changed, keeping you permanently just a bit too close to the action.
Again referring to Hotline Miami, the close viewpoint wasn’t an issue as it spent the vast majority of its time indoors and you were unlikely to get shot by enemies you can’t see. 12 is Better Than 6 spends most of its time outdoors, which means you will be getting shot from off screen. You can’t see the shooter and you can’t auto-lock onto the shooter when they’re off screen, so you’ll instead get shot, die, and have to restart the whole level. Once or twice, I killed every enemy I could find in a level and went to chat to an NPC, then wandered towards the exit, only for someone to appear out of god knows where and murder me, sending me back to the beginning of the level.
This is a real shame as the actual gameplay is quite good. Most levels start with a slow and considered pace as you carefully wander through the area, stealth killing enemies with your knife until you are spotted, at which point it becomes a frantic shootout as all nearby enemies converge on your position. You’ll soon find yourself dodging bullets as you try and reload your weapon one bullet at a time.
Ammo is taken from dropped enemy weapons by picking them up and holding Y. Another tap of the button will put that ammo into your gun one by one. This has a strong effect on gameplay, mostly resulting in you running out of rooms mid shootout to grab another gun or find a second of peace to reload. Whilst it can feel a little fiddly at first, it also adds a lot of depth and tension to the combat and complements the short bursts of high risk/reward gameplay rather nicely.
Gameplay is not untouched by its own issues, though. Whilst I enjoy the reloading system, having to drop my gun to pull ammo out of enemy guns is an unnecessary layer of complexity, one that feels fiddly rather than part of the overall challenge. Enemies are also inconsistent in how they react, specifically to nearby gunshots. Sleeping guards sometimes wake up when you shoot nearby, but sometimes they don’t and some guards who are patrolling occasionally don’t bother to react either. When you are being swarmed, the frame rate often drops on Switch, making it very difficult to react as you’re suddenly running low on frames as well as bullets! It doesn’t need to be a lot of enemies either, just three at a time running towards you on a slightly above average-sized map can drop the frame rate, only for you to die and have the same thing happen but, for some reason, the frame rate stays solid.