There are a lot of similarities between Hotline Miami and my favourite movie of 2011, Drive. Like Drive, Hotline Miami has a celestial electronic-pop feel to its soundtrack, an unsettling level of brutality and a story that goes in an interesting direction. The game itself combines elements of fast-paced arcade style action with elements of stealth, which results in a satisfying experience that can also be very challenging at the same time if you don’t consider all of the consequences to your actions. Coupled with a distorted, neon-infused take on the classic 8-Bit aesthetic, Hotline Miami feels like a complete package that is well worth your attention.
The game beings in a dark seedy room, where there are 3 mysterious characters each wearing animal mask who comment on your past actions, before too long your character awakes in an dirty apartment in Miami in April 1989. An answering machine blinking prominently which has a voice message which states that a babysitter is needed, you are also asked to “discipline” the children while being discreet. Your character immediately proceeds to hop into his DeLorean to this address and murder two floors worth of thugs while wearing a rubber animal mask. The nameless anti-hero decides to find out who he is senselessly killing and who is leaving these messages on his phone. The story is an important part to this game because it gives reason to the extreme level of violence, while also giving you a few questions to think about while playing through the game. Even with the multiple endings, I think that the story could be fleshed out a bit more.
The game is played from a top-down perspective and when you first leave your vehicle you are asked to pick an animal mask -- each of which provide you with different bonuses which range from faster walk speed to starting with a knife at the beginning of the level – unless you pick a particular mask you start the level unarmed. Your sole objective is to murder everyone in the level, the problem being that every enemy can kill you with a single hit with either their gun or melee weapon. Thankfully you have the element of surprise and speed on your side.
Most encounters play out with you busting into a room and killing everyone in sight. Most weapons that you pick up from enemies can kill with a single hit but for those that don’t, you can press the spacebar to jump on top of them and lay waste to their head (and subsequently end their life). The one bad mark against it is how zombie-like the enemies can be; they can be in the vicinity of an absolute bloodbath and sometimes will not even turn around to investigate. It will take you time to get used to the speed and ferocity of the game but, respawns are almost instantaneous and the frustrations that come from the particularly harder chapters in the latter half of the game are worth it for the triumphant feeling you get when you finally overcome that challenge.
Visually the game adopts an 8-bit style with a few distortion effects layered on top as well as this neat use of the backgrounds of the levels. The areas outside of the walls of the level that you are currently on will flash when you have been detected and when your score has increased, a simple effect which I thought was pretty cool. It is also quite a feat that they were able to cram enough detail into the simple look of an 8-Bit game to still make me feel bad when I walk through the room of dead men. There is no spoken word in the game; all conversations are communicated through text.
Apart from the music the only other sounds you will hear are weapon noises and the noise of glass shattering when you break a window. This gives more room for the soundtrack in the game to really show its worth. There are quite a few songs that I enjoy listening to on my own time from this soundtrack but, it’s amazing how well it fits in with the game. The change of pace from the introduction in your apartment to the start of the level is amplified with the tracks the developer has chosen.
Hotline Miami is one of the most stylistically confident games released this year, with a solid combat system and a great sense of style in all aspects. The game should also be commended for putting a reason and some context behind the violence. At its price point ($10) I think it is definitely worth the price admission for those looking for a change from the usual run of AAA, big-budget releases.