This game doesn't aim for much, but it achieves what it set out to achieve with spectacular results. Hotline Miami is fast, brutal and cheap (the good kind of cheap - wallet cheap)
Hotline Miami doesn't have a particularly coherent storyline and the game isn't centered around it, but it does have one and it is fairly compelling, even if it is fairly minimalistic.
You are an unnamed man (identified by the trademark B jacket he wears) living in 1989 Miami Florida. You wake up, you go to your phone, you receive a cryptic message on your answering machine which sounds innocuous but often has undertones of menace. The Message always leaves an Address. The Man-with-the-Jacket will promptly go to that address, puts on a rubber animal mask, and then brutally murder every single person at that address.
Most of the game is spent killing people, but there is a story to be told. Cryptic clues are left. Your character frequently hallucinates and its implies that he does not like what he is doing. The phone calls get more mysterious, other players arrive on the scene and the man with the jacket finds something he dreads losing. It's not a bad story, but it won't win any prizes either.
This is the focus of Hotline Miami - you are a man, an ordinary man, being sent to clear out buildings filled with dangerous, deadly Russian Gangsters. Some of them are armed with Guns. Some of them are armed with Clubs and Knives. Some of them aren't armed at all. But all are dangerous.
All the enemies in this game will try to kill you the split second they see you and they are all very dangerous. Your character, an ordinary man, can take ONE and ONE hit only before dying. Enemies react extremely fast - you have perhaps half a second to a second maximum before they will kill you. They are tough, they are hyper accurate shooters, and there are many of them.
There's only two things going for you - one, the A.I is virtually braindead. As long as they don't see you or hear you, they will continue to do their set routine, whether this be walking around in circles or staring at a wall. They can even see the dead bodies of their comrades but they will only react or deviate from their set routine if they see you or hear a gunshot. This makes the enemies predictable. And the second thing you have going for you is that they die (mostly) in one hit.
Hotline Miami, therefore, is all about planning, reaction times and speed. Generally, you will have time to plan an approach, and as long as you use melee weapons or silenced weapons, you will only have to (generally) deal with one room of enemies at a time. Your character can, 99% of the time, kill any enemy with one hit and can move like the devil covered in butter in a pool of astroglide. He can throw objects and weapons to stun enemies and pick up and use weapons with super quick precision. Your character is a master assassin, just one made of wet-tissue paper.
You will die again and again and again and again in this game. But you will succeed if you plan properly and have good reaction times.
There are 15 or so levels in Hotline Miami, most of them are broken up into floors of building. Most levels require you to clear a floor entirely before moving onto the next floor. You only receive checkpoints between floors, so if you die, it's right back to the start of the floor. Good thing that level reload speeds are incredibly quick.
While most levels are about killing everyone in it, there are exceptions. Some levels don't require killing anyone at all. Some have bossfights, which is my one complaint about hotline miami. The Bossfights are ridiculously tough and unfair and are dependent on a trick you must uncover on your own. Luckily there aren't that many of them.
The Animal Masks are also an important part of the game. Your first mask is merely a rubber chicken head, nothing more. But later masks, unlocked via completing levels, finding in the game world or getting a high score, confer bonuses to the player - Rasmus the Owl will allow the player to see hidden secrets more clearly. Ted the Dog makes it so that Patrol dogs won't attack you. Aubrey the Pig causes more guns to spawn in the level. There are many masks - not all of them are very useful, but many are and all alter the way you play the game somewhat, lending replayability to the game.
Pixel artwork, but with a good sense of style. The Colours are garish and oversaturated and give a great late 80s vibe. While somewhat simplistic, the graphics also manage to convey the graphic violence with almost cartoonish glee.
Hotline Miami has been widely praised for its soundtrack - and a good thing too. This game sounds really good, and that's coming from a fan of classical music who usually hates anything even remotely dubstep-ish or electronic. It just fits the mood of the game so perfectly. I almost imagine that the game was designed around the music. It's that good.