Ah, the 80's. What a cocaine filled, violence driven, neon coloured, white suit wearing time that was. Granted, I was four years old when the 80's ended, but if movies have taught me anything, it's that if you weren't savagely beating a man with a pool cue with a light dusting of white powder on your nostrils you just weren't 80's-ing hard enough. Well don't worry, Hotline Miami has you covered in spades.
If I told you Hotline Miami was like Scarface and A Clockwork Orange put together, with more violence and oddity than both of those movies combined, you'd probably find that hard to believe. And yet, here it stands. In Hotline Miami you play as a nameless character who appears to be a contract killer. Your central hub is your apartment and you receive oddly cryptic phone calls telling you to go off some dudes, 80's style.
The story is told in a really interesting way. The game takes place entirely from the low-res, top down view shown above, and many of the most important story elements are just placed into the visual setting for each scene for you to discover on your own. Every time you are in your own apartment things are a little different from the last time you were there to imply different offscreen happenings in the story. It's subtle, and very effective. I found the story itself unbelievably intriguing, if only for the fact that I still have absolutely no idea what's going on.
The gameplay can be described as fast and unforgiving. You need to take out an entire screen of enemies to move on to the next screen and things happen SO quickly. One strike from any enemy weapon will kill you instantly, so strategy is important. You need to survey a room, identify the targets, and take them out before they get a chance to react to your presence.
Every time you die the screen resets and you have to try to take out all the enemies again from the beginning. Each screen just takes about 30-60 seconds of perfection to complete, but achieving that perfection takes persistence. In an example of a typical scenario, you're standing at the door to a room, on the other side of the door are two guys patrolling the perimeter. The room extends beyond that farther than you can see. First time, you burst in the door and take out one guy, but the second guy shoots you. Okay, lesson learned.
The next time you wait for the first guy to pass. You slam the door open and into the second guy. He falls over and you charge at the first guy and BOOM! There was a 3rd guy sitting on a couch across the room and he blows your brains out. Okay, new plan. Take the first guy out with the door, knife the second guy, and run back out of the room. Ready? Go! SLAM, SLASH, BOOM, SH*T!! Too slow. Okay, First guy door, charge at couch shotgun guy, turn back and kill second guy. GO! SLAM, CHARGE SLASH, TURN BAM, F*CK!!! Too slow again, the 2nd guy cracked you in the head with a baseball bat. Okay, First guy door, back out of the room, 2nd guy will follow you to the hall and you'll kill him. Pop your head around the corner and the shotgun guy will shoot at you. When he's reloading charge in and get him. GO! SLAM, TURN RUN, TURN SLASH, PEEK, BOOM!!! CHARGE SLASH!! Got him! One room down, on to the next, where if you fail you'll have to do the WHOLE thing over again.
It sounds unbelievably frustrating, and it totally is, but also really fun. The time delay between attempts is essentially zero, so when you die you can get right back in and go for it again. Each screen of enemies is also small enough that even the most stubborn scenario can be completed in 15 minutes with enough persistence. In that way it's very much like Super Meat Boy, a very stylistically interesting and unbelievably fast-paced game that is alternately mind-boggling frustration and pure bliss. Oh, and blood.
Lots of blood.