Violence and fun, oh my!
These kind of games generally don't interest me at all so why did I desire to see what Hotline Miami was all about? Word of mouth whether it's from the brutal violence, the stellar soundtrack or the addicting arcade-y feel, something about the game at least was calling out for a playthrough if nothing else. But when word spreads that a small indie game that looks like it was made on a shoestring budget is proclaimed "one of the best of the year" in the same breath as FTL, well it's hard to not cave in and give it a go. 4 frustrating-yet-exciting hours later, I've "beaten" Hotline Miami and while I wouldn't go as far to say it was one of my favorite games that came out in 2012, it certainly is one of the better ones.
Who you're playing doesn't really matter and why you're doing things doesn't either but there is a story here. It's 1989 and you control a character referred to by fans as "Jacket", tasked via answering machines to perform certain deeds which in actuality means enter a building and completely, pardon mon Francais but fuck up the place to put it delicately. Using a variety of weapons from melee to guns, you're to kill everyone you see and get the answers of why you're murdering everything. Although let's face it, the story isn't exactly why you're here and it's not the most, shall we say, thought-provoking or nuanced story either. While it certainly gets very out-there and surreal, the real reason to play is the carnage and having a story to play around in keeps things moving but doesn't provide the reason to keep going.
The game plays in a classic top-down perspective where you control Jacket through various rooms and hallways as you attempt to kill pretty much everyone you see. However you and most of the enemies can die in one hit so making a "perfect run" through the level is key. And while checkpoints are done through entering different floors, the retry option is near instantaneous which makes trying for different strategies important to making it through alive and getting a high score. Whether it's through using guns such as powerful wave-clearing shotguns to long range assault rifles or bats and crowbars, getting through the level and not getting spotted can be tricky. Almost too tricky in fact since usually the style of these games is "memorize the pattern, plan ahead and execute" but the AI is either deceptively sneaky or just random but there's times where 4 enemies will clearly hear your shotgun blasts from across the room while other times they just stand there. Or they'll patrol the hallways and leave rooms whereas prior they would never leave. While this can make the game more reactionary than memorization, the frustration when you're playing and the "oh sure, NOW you decide to do this" can make one rage.
Eventually over the course of the game, some other things start coming into play such as windows which you can exploit by showing your face, causing enemies to rush over and then killing them or firing through the windows (even shotguns can have ridiculous range) or you could do execute moves such as kicking their faces into walls or ramming them against the floor. There is some wonkyness with the guns I felt and that many of my shots would just miss completely, even when right next to them so while in those situations a melee weapon would've worked, having a shotgun not kill someone is like "uh...?" Oh and remember the Modern Warfare 2 commando lunge? You could do something similar here with melee though enemies can as well so they'll zap right through your shots and hit you which was quite annoying. Although a lot of this could be helped with the addition of masks which can give you an additional effect such as quieter gunshots, faster executes or more ammo. Most of them are useful but the ones that stop dogs from attacking and being able to see further in the room tended to be picked the most often.
And propelling you through all this is one of the best soundtracks of the year and in fact won many awards for it. While my heart goes to the music of FTL, there's no denying that Hotline Miami's soundtrack is almost godly with some really energetic themes, dubstep and surreal dissonance tracks when the game goes all crazy with the storytelling. Guns are especially satisfying and powerful and the splat noises are just gruesome and satisfying. Usually in game soundtracks, some of the music doesn't work independently and needs the gameplay to help compliment but Hotline Miami's soundtrack is easy worth a download.
For a cheap price and a good amount of replayability if you're into high scores, Hotline Miami is certainly worth looking at. Whether it's the frequently-frustrating-yet-always-rewarding gameplay, the retro old-school visuals to that amazing soundtrack, a purchase of the game is definitely recommended.