Fun AND provocative? Yes, it is possible.
Hotline Miami is an unexpected treat. At first glance it could probably be written off as yet another "retro-inspired" beat-em-up, but when you actually sit down and play it you discover that it's something much more. It's not only insanely fluid and fun to play, but it really manages to make its players think about what they're doing, and about violence in video games in general.
The graphics are worth noting because, at first glance, they might not seem all that special. But when the game is in motion and enemies are coming at you and guns are firing and the game's psychedelic colors are tripping out, it's one of the most visually interesting games around. The excellent visuals are supported by one of the best soundtracks in gaming this year, with psychedelic beats that range from trippy and fun to downright disturbing when they need to be.
Hotline Miami has been compared a lot to Drive, and that's a fair comparison, particularly since the game's developers acknowledge the movie as an inspiration. The film's inspiration comes through in both the game's visuals as well as its gameplay, which thrives on hyper-stylized violence, clever planning, and speedy execution. Running into a room without a plan is never a good idea, so players will have to strategically use elements like melee weapons, guns, and doors that knock enemies over to their advantage.
The game isn't particularly long, but its length works in its favor, and after you've made it through the story you'll want to go back and find all the masks and weapons. For $10, it's an excellent value. It's fun, unique, and thought-provoking all at the same time. And no, it never comes across as pretentious.