With its ultra-violent, intense action, striking retro graphics, surreal storyline and pounding soundtrack, Hotline Miami is one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I have had in years. Dennaton Games have done a great job of taking you back to the Miami of 1989 – a neon-lit city of violence and glamour. Set on the border between the clean, shiny world of the wealthy and the squalor and filth of those who are less fortunate, Hotline Miami builds up a remarkable atmosphere.
Hotline Miami is played from a 2D, top-down perspective.
Though the story is bizarre and perplexing for a large part of the game, it is still quite engaging. Whether it was intended to or not (probably the former) a surprising number of thought-provoking issues are brought up – some directly, others just hinted at and left for player interpretation.
You play as a contract killer who receives his instructions over the telephone, carrying them out without question. The nature of the deeds that you are called upon for vary, but all of them inevitably end in large amounts of bloodshed.The game is level-based, and each level has a brief intro-stage where you are contacted by your employers. After the completion of your task, you usually stop on the way back home for a drink or to pick up some food, maintaining the illusion of a “normal” life.
The pixelated graphical style works well with the garish, neon lighting and vivid colour schemes, and still manages to convey a surprising level of detail. Attention is paid to little things like the NES in your bedroom, the clothes strewn around your house, and the dirty kitchen counter at the local pizza place. Every building and environment manages to look distinct. If you are a fan of retro graphics, you will find Hotline Miami to be a very pretty game. The lack of any sort of graphics option and the inability to change your resolution can be a bit of a pain though.
The soundtrack goes hand-in-hand with the vibrant visual style and fast-paced gameplay – most tracks are synth-heavy and keep you constantly on your toes. When you inevitably die, the music always seems to be exactly what you need to throw yourself back into the fray. Weapons sound satisfying and distinct, especially during execution moves.
This is what the game is all about. Dressing up as a chicken and cutting people to bits.
Hotline Miami’s defining aspect is its combat. It is hard. Terribly, terribly hard. By default, a single hit from an enemy will kill you. Likewise, the majority of enemies can be dispatched with a single blow, or knocked over if slammed with a door or punched leaving them vulnerable to a number of grisly executions. Pixelated though it is, the violence is still extremely visible and by the end of each level the walls and floors will be red with blood and littered with bodies. Make no mistake; this is a dark game about dark deeds.
Apart from the usual white-suited enemies, there is a healthy mix of boss fights, out-of-body experiences and animal cruelty (note:animal cruelty in real life is not healthy or good in any way). The 20 levels should prove to be quite challenging, but after beating them a couple of times and trying to improve your high-scores, the game begins to feel like it could have done with a bit more content.
Gordon Freeman would be proud.
The game provides you with all the tools you need to dispense death with creative brutality. You are rewarded for taking risks, killing in quick succession and being diverse in your weapon usage. The 35 unlockable weapons are broadly categorized into melee, ranged and thrown, and can be found lying around levels, or if none are handy then they can be pried from the hands of enemies. Melee and thrown weapons are noiseless, and this makes stealth an extremely viable option – strategically picking off enemies while relying on speed and silence can be as rewarding as bursting into a room all guns blazing. There is no question about it, you will die a lot – but the game allows you to immediately restart the stage you were on without missing a beat by hitting the “R” key. Intense combat coupled with the instant-restarts can prove to be addictive, and you will find yourself glued to your computer trying to get through that last level.
It is possible to have a formulaic approach to beating stages, but there are slight variations in enemy behaviour and this makes it more challenging. The game really comes into its own when you don’t approach situations mechanically though – the exhilaration that improvisation in the middle of a frantic fight can bring is truly amazing.When you are in the thick of it, anything can be a weapon – even that empty gun in the corner.
Before each mission, you don an animal mask. Each mask gives you a unique benefit, and a large part of the replay value of the game is derived from this. There are a total of 25 masks that can be unlocked over the course of the game, and some can drastically affect the way the game is played – for example, the mole mask (Oscar) turns the lights out. This greatly reduces enemy detection ranges, but at the same time makes it a lot harder for you to see as well.
There is little in the game that is unnecessary or redundant. Aspects like the point/grading system which I usually disregard in most games are important for unlocking new weapons and masks, and due to this I have actually begun to enjoy beating my own high-scores. There were initially a few minor, as well as game-breaking bugs, but the majority of these have already been addressed through updates. Controller support and key re-binding have also been having some issues, and it would be nice to see these fully functional. Still, these issues pale in comparison to what Hotline Miami achieves – this is a very fun game which manages to combine many individually great elements to make a work of near-perfection; the only thing that I can really complain about is that there isn’t more of it.