Why Hotline Miami?

Quite simply: I’m baffled.

I haven’t played Hotline Miami. I’m not going to buy Hotline Miami. I’m not going to pirate the game, either. I have no interest in playing the game because I don’t see what there is about Hotline Miami that isn’t pure adolescent nonsense. Feel free to correct me on any details, but I’m not giving the developers of this game the time or money required to play it. I don’t feel bad about that. I have better things to do (including writing this).

I am quite literally embarrassed by the overwhelmingly positive response to this game. We keep talking about how video games are a young medium and how we’re eager for it to grow up. Then we see what is, as far as I can tell, a wholly immature work named Hotline Miami, and its ultraviolence and gore are greeted with the stereotypically uncritical responses of “Awesome!”.

I’ve read two reviews of the game, watched one trailer, and watched the Giant Bomb Quick Look of it. From this information, all I can gather is that it’s an unstable game about killing people. Oh, and it has music that some people seem to like.

And it might be somewhat anti-feminist judging from this line of the Rock, Paper, Shotgun review: “There’s even a strange vein of sweetness, as a female presence introduced into the player’s apartment in an early mission sees it gradually evolve from dingy cesspit to clean, decorated home.”

Yes. How sweet. A female presence cleaning and decorating a home. This is exactly the kind of representation of women that we want in games, right? No!

Are we ever going to get serious about representations of women? About making games that aren’t just blood-soaked murder simulators? Why is it okay that Hotline Miami's cover art has a scantily clad, unconscious woman who is ostensibly being rescued by the male protagonist? Why does Hotline Miami get a pass for being about nothing but killing other people, when everyone is reportedly sick of first-person shooters that do the same thing? It’s completely offensive to me, and I think we should all be ashamed of it.

Keep in mind that I am mostly criticizing the reaction to the game, which is why I’m so comfortable talking about it without having played it. When the Giant Bomb Quick Look ends with the sentiments “This game is awesome!” and “This game seems really great” based almost entirely on the game’s violence, this is exactly the problem with the discourse surrounding games. Why is killing a bunch of people great? We sound completely mad when we exclaim stuff like that!

I’m not even strictly opposed to killing or violence in games, mind you. I can appreciate it as a means to an end in a game. However, Hotline Miami is apparently nothing but a crass celebration of violence in itself, and I’m not into that at all. None of the coverage I’ve read has convinced me that it’s much more than that, and everyone seems to be transfixed by the amazing bloodstains you leave on the environment (even if blood can apparently spray through walls). I watched people play this game for more than 20 minutes, and I was still left with the impression that it’s simply about how great it is to kill people.

But apparently it’s fun. And if something’s fun, that means we don’t have to think about it. It means we shouldn’t criticize it beyond its ability to be fun or maybe “trippy” in its audio/visual components.

Knock it off, everybody. Stop making so many games that glorify violence and stop praising the developers who do it. And yes, if a game calls you a “winner” for being more violent than not, it’s glorifying violence. It’s not interesting anymore (if it ever was), and I swear it makes us look sociopathic (at best) for continuing to enjoy it. In the Polygon review of the game, Chris Plante praises the game by saying, “Playing Hotline Miami made me feel like an empowered homicidal maniac.”

What a unique, positive feeling for an action game to evoke!

Honestly, take any well-regarded single-player computer game about killing (and there are plenty to choose from), insert its title into the previous quote, and I think you have a perfect encapsulation of the general state of game criticism. It’s terrible, and it’s completely discouraging for me, personally.

Update, October 28th: I played Hotline Miami up through Part One. Don't feel any different, except I didn't think even it was fun as an action-puzzle-stealth kind of game. Really didn't feel like I had a good reason to be doing any of the things I was doing.

Update, October 29th: I've now been educated on the narrative arc of Hotline Miami. I stand by all of my previous arguments with one small qualifier: yes, it seems like the creators of the game tried to comment on this ultraviolence in the game itself. However, I sincerely think it's a case of them trying to have their cake (violence) and eat it (comment on it) too. I don't think the game's structure supports the kind of introspection that everyone is giving it credit for. The vast majority of the Hotline Miami experience seems to be killing people and/or pressing R to try killing these people again. The non-gameplay elements are not inconsequential, but they seem completely overwhelmed by the gameplay elements. My response to the gameplay was one of disgust and, both before and after playing, abstention.

Finally, let the record show that abstaining from gameplay is not the same as abstaining from completing a book or movie. This will likely be my last word on Hotline Miami. I quite honestly just have too much work to do to let a game I disapprove of consume my free time.

Thanks everybody for reading and/or participating, even if you aggressively disagreed with me.

298 Comments
301 Comments
Edited by DevWil

Quite simply: I’m baffled.

I haven’t played Hotline Miami. I’m not going to buy Hotline Miami. I’m not going to pirate the game, either. I have no interest in playing the game because I don’t see what there is about Hotline Miami that isn’t pure adolescent nonsense. Feel free to correct me on any details, but I’m not giving the developers of this game the time or money required to play it. I don’t feel bad about that. I have better things to do (including writing this).

I am quite literally embarrassed by the overwhelmingly positive response to this game. We keep talking about how video games are a young medium and how we’re eager for it to grow up. Then we see what is, as far as I can tell, a wholly immature work named Hotline Miami, and its ultraviolence and gore are greeted with the stereotypically uncritical responses of “Awesome!”.

I’ve read two reviews of the game, watched one trailer, and watched the Giant Bomb Quick Look of it. From this information, all I can gather is that it’s an unstable game about killing people. Oh, and it has music that some people seem to like.

And it might be somewhat anti-feminist judging from this line of the Rock, Paper, Shotgun review: “There’s even a strange vein of sweetness, as a female presence introduced into the player’s apartment in an early mission sees it gradually evolve from dingy cesspit to clean, decorated home.”

Yes. How sweet. A female presence cleaning and decorating a home. This is exactly the kind of representation of women that we want in games, right? No!

Are we ever going to get serious about representations of women? About making games that aren’t just blood-soaked murder simulators? Why is it okay that Hotline Miami's cover art has a scantily clad, unconscious woman who is ostensibly being rescued by the male protagonist? Why does Hotline Miami get a pass for being about nothing but killing other people, when everyone is reportedly sick of first-person shooters that do the same thing? It’s completely offensive to me, and I think we should all be ashamed of it.

Keep in mind that I am mostly criticizing the reaction to the game, which is why I’m so comfortable talking about it without having played it. When the Giant Bomb Quick Look ends with the sentiments “This game is awesome!” and “This game seems really great” based almost entirely on the game’s violence, this is exactly the problem with the discourse surrounding games. Why is killing a bunch of people great? We sound completely mad when we exclaim stuff like that!

I’m not even strictly opposed to killing or violence in games, mind you. I can appreciate it as a means to an end in a game. However, Hotline Miami is apparently nothing but a crass celebration of violence in itself, and I’m not into that at all. None of the coverage I’ve read has convinced me that it’s much more than that, and everyone seems to be transfixed by the amazing bloodstains you leave on the environment (even if blood can apparently spray through walls). I watched people play this game for more than 20 minutes, and I was still left with the impression that it’s simply about how great it is to kill people.

But apparently it’s fun. And if something’s fun, that means we don’t have to think about it. It means we shouldn’t criticize it beyond its ability to be fun or maybe “trippy” in its audio/visual components.

Knock it off, everybody. Stop making so many games that glorify violence and stop praising the developers who do it. And yes, if a game calls you a “winner” for being more violent than not, it’s glorifying violence. It’s not interesting anymore (if it ever was), and I swear it makes us look sociopathic (at best) for continuing to enjoy it. In the Polygon review of the game, Chris Plante praises the game by saying, “Playing Hotline Miami made me feel like an empowered homicidal maniac.”

What a unique, positive feeling for an action game to evoke!

Honestly, take any well-regarded single-player computer game about killing (and there are plenty to choose from), insert its title into the previous quote, and I think you have a perfect encapsulation of the general state of game criticism. It’s terrible, and it’s completely discouraging for me, personally.

Update, October 28th: I played Hotline Miami up through Part One. Don't feel any different, except I didn't think even it was fun as an action-puzzle-stealth kind of game. Really didn't feel like I had a good reason to be doing any of the things I was doing.

Update, October 29th: I've now been educated on the narrative arc of Hotline Miami. I stand by all of my previous arguments with one small qualifier: yes, it seems like the creators of the game tried to comment on this ultraviolence in the game itself. However, I sincerely think it's a case of them trying to have their cake (violence) and eat it (comment on it) too. I don't think the game's structure supports the kind of introspection that everyone is giving it credit for. The vast majority of the Hotline Miami experience seems to be killing people and/or pressing R to try killing these people again. The non-gameplay elements are not inconsequential, but they seem completely overwhelmed by the gameplay elements. My response to the gameplay was one of disgust and, both before and after playing, abstention.

Finally, let the record show that abstaining from gameplay is not the same as abstaining from completing a book or movie. This will likely be my last word on Hotline Miami. I quite honestly just have too much work to do to let a game I disapprove of consume my free time.

Thanks everybody for reading and/or participating, even if you aggressively disagreed with me.

Posted by kidman

...really?

Posted by Sackmanjones

Video games are murder simulators

Posted by EuanDewar

Is this a satire of a dumb post

Posted by Bocam

Why so Serious?

Posted by BlatantNinja23

it's simple.... I'm having fun with it.

Posted by WonderboyCoz

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha, thanks man, I really needed that.

yes, chicken masked guy, I do!

Posted by DrDarkStryfe

This is like judging the entire movie industry based soely on the movie Porky's.

Posted by Nadril

Yup, video games are the only medium to have random, nonsensical violence.

Don't be so uptight.

Posted by EarlessShrimp

it seemed they were more proclaiming the 'awesomeness' stemmed from the total surreal nature of the whole thing, with a vague sense of a deeper purpose lurking behind its madness. I mean come on, how can you take a game with that title screen seriously?

Posted by Aetheldod

*grabs popcorn* this oughta be good

Posted by gaminghooligan

this can't be real....

but if you want my answer I bought the game because the Dev is really cool, the game is original and challenging, the soundtrack is dope, and it is also practically Drive the game.

Edited by Animasta

It's a lot deeper than you're making it out to be honestly. I don't like mindless gore, I don't care about the gore in this, this is a puzzle game more than anything else to me. and when you finish a level, and the music changes, you realize that you just murdered all of those people for no real good reason and it makes you feel guilty. This game aint manhunt dude, far from it

also one of the minibosses is a woman so vOv

Posted by Camosid

Every David Lynch movie is a blight upon the medium of film also Cronenburg? What a hack! That's basically what your saying. Attacking a game that attempts to take violence in a serious like very specifically trying to make the violence look disturbing because he wants it to be disturbing is dumb shit. Also you probably aren't serious.

Edited by ArbitraryWater

@DevWil said:

I haven’t played Hotline Miami.

And thus, your ensuing argument is rendered useless.

EDIT: but really:

@kidman said:

...really?

Posted by LikeaSsur

I share the sentiment on being baffled, but not because of all the reasons you listed.

I'm baffled on how a top down shooter became so loved so quickly, while doing absolutely nothing new or unique, save for the soundtrack.

Edited by Live2bRighteous

Maybe my mind was completely desensitized to violence to where my brain couldn't comprehend your post... but honestly, this makes absolutely no sense to me. I could go into one huge rage post, going into detail about how I feel on each thing you said, but nah. It's a video game man. Video games have violence, movies do to. They always have... so why complain about it now?

In some way, it actually sounds like this game personally offended you.

Edited by Aegon

I'm probably gonna go play it in a bit.

@LikeaSsur said:

I share the sentiment on being baffled, but not because of all the reasons you listed.

I'm baffled on how a top down shooter became so loved so quickly, while doing absolutely nothing new or unique, save for the soundtrack.

Meh, even the soundtrack is just alright. Not much special about it. When it comes to the game, I think it's less about the individual "unoriginal" pieces and more about how well they fit together.

Posted by Rockbrain

Someone, quick! Make a game about reading and making positive changes in your neighborhood!

Edited by CrossTheAtlantic

@kidman said:

...really?

I dunno. I get what he's saying. That image he posted, for instance, isn't stirring up the same kind of stuff the new Tomb Raider has, for instance, despite the subtext not being that much different.

That said, I think there are distinctions that can be made. Film, for instance, can simultaneously have works like Pulp Fiction and Funny Games which both treat violence in completely different ways. It's hard to say without having played Hotline Miami, but entertainment that is so clearly over the top, absurd etc etc often gets more leeway because it revels in its absurdity. It understands it. That this absurdity can exist doesn't necessarily make games an "immature medium." I think the real disconnect arises with games that try to take themselves seriously. Specifically, I remember the crew's reaction to people cheering at the end of the E3 The Last of Us presentation. In the scene shown, a single man is shuffling away from underneath a shotgun, pleading for his life. It's an entirely different representation of violence that is supposed to carry this dramatic weight, but both the demo and the crowd's reaction underscore its failure to do so. I'm not saying this as if to say that The Last of Us is going to be a bad game, but rather, that its those kind of game that highlight where video games are faltering, in my opinion. It's a game where fighting and killing is supposed to be the grizzly, messy experience it is while Hotline Miami is a silly, blood-soaked spree. They're entirely different tones and directions, and I think they should be judged on their own merits.

Though, I need to play the game before I talk anymore about it.

Posted by gaminghooligan

@Animasta said:

and when you finish a level, and the music changes, you realize that you just murdered all of those people for no real good reason and it makes you feel guilty.

it's true. it's one of the few games where I go from the high of finishing a level to feeling like a total piece of shit for what I did.

Posted by Dallas_Raines

I guess the cartoony violence of No More Heroes must also offend you deeply.

Posted by Rainbowkisses

I'm interested since you seem to be against games that glorify violence, what games have you been playing lately and what do you think is a good alternative to killing people in games? Games have always been primarily about killing and while variety is nice I see no reason why these types of games need to go away entirely.

Posted by ImHungry

I get where you're coming from and I agree, but I also think it's near impossible to broach a topic like this without sounding completely soapbox-y.

Also I think the positive reaction to the game is also due to the fact that it isn't billing itself as anything but stupid fun. Other games that get flak for violence and whatnot tend to bill themselves as being more realistic (generalization I know). Haven't really read too many reviews/criticisms but I'd imagine the regular people who champion the movement for games to be higher mediums probably feel the same as you.

Posted by Imsorrymsjackson

Oh man, it's like Jack Thompson never went away.

Posted by GunstarRed

Sold! I'm gonna go buy it now.

Posted by Niche

Maybe you should play the game before telling us what it's all about.

Posted by ervonymous

The combat has a great flow to it, controls are tight, enemy placement in levels is thoughtful, music is amazing, atmosphere's unhinged and the narrative certainly isn't without merit, but you wouldn't know.

Posted by CaLe

If you don't like the game you don't have to play it. No one gives a shit one way or the other.

Posted by Animasta

@ImHungry: hotline miami is a lot more than stupid fun.

Posted by jewunit

I am glad that we live in a time where this game and Journey can be released in the same year and both draw critical acclaim.

Games have made great strides in story, graphics, and multi-player content. Hotline Miami manages to have so very little of those things and can still be so evocative and emotional. The cinematic comparison, as Ryan noted, is with the films of Michael Mann and, a more recent film, Drive. I get a bit of an American Psycho-crossed-with-Jacob's Ladder vibe from it. The violence is terrible and disturbing, but it is ultimately part of the game's atmosphere. The game is meant to be grimy, messy, and disturbing. It's masochore on two levels: the violence and the difficulty.

As for the objectification of women, it's an ongoing problem in games. I agree that the portrayal is gross, but terrible things happen to everyone in this game. The girl tied up in the Quick Look is an example.

I agree that games can be overly violent and sexist, but I find it hard to rail against this one. Hotline Miami has a specific goal in mind and comes from a fellow whose calling card is weird, violent, and unique games. It accomplishes that goal. Games like Journey are single-minded to the other side of the spectrum: methodical and thoughtful gaming. I am confident more games like Journey will appear in the future. Hotline Miami is a permutation on the shooter that is unlikely to be duplicated.

Posted by LikeaSsur

@ArbitraryWater:@CaLe: @Niche: Congratulations. You all demonstrated a perfect example of a kneejerk reaction. To help you out: he's not talking about the game itself, he's talking about the overwhelming positivity this game has garnered in its short life span.

Posted by HarlechQuinn

I haven’t read your Op. I’m not going to read your entire OP...

I am quite literally embarrassed by the overwhelmingly negative tone of your post...

I’ve read two lines of the your post, read a few more lines...

...Just kidding, of course I read your entire post, and I won't fight you over it because opinions and stuff (and I am too old for this kind of stuff), but it always appear strange for me when rants start with the words "I haven't watched/read etc".

Edited by CaLe

@LikeaSsur said:

@ArbitraryWater:@CaLe: @Niche: Congratulations. You all demonstrated a perfect example of a kneejerk reaction. To help you out: he's not talking about the game itself, he's talking about the overwhelming positivity this game has garnered in its short life span.

I got that. I still stand by what I said.

Not taking a liking to a game is one thing, but getting this worked up about how other people have taken a liking to a game is, in my opinion, stupid. What a waste of energy.

Edited by Sargus

Assuming this post is serious on not a very well-written troll post:

Hotline Miami is violent and brutal and "adult," yes. But that doesn't mean it can't also be great. It's great in the same way Pulp Fiction, Scarface or Kill Bill are great. Yeah, if you look at just bits and pieces of those movies you see a lot of seemingly over-the-top violence, but there's a lot more to it under the surface. It's not a good game or movie because of those things.

That's not to say that there aren't plenty of people out there who do glorify the violence. There are. But usually the widespread critical acclaim you see is from people who are looking a lot harder than that. There's a monumental difference in a Duke Nukem Forever, which was gross for gross-ness sake and had few redeeming qualities (and, in turn, did NOT receive critical praise), and Hotline Miami.

Posted by kerse
@LikeaSsur

I share the sentiment on being baffled, but not because of all the reasons you listed.

I'm baffled on how a top down shooter became so loved so quickly, while doing absolutely nothing new or unique, save for the soundtrack.

This, and I wouldn't even put the soundtrack at the top for this year, its great but not the best.
Posted by JasonR86

@DevWil:

If you dislike it so much why pay it so much attention with such a long-winded post that directs everyone's attention even further on the product? Wouldn't it hurt the game more to ignore it?

Posted by Fattony12000

So I went ahead and made this, which is to be the new thumbnail for a video I'm encoding.

This game is not glorifying murder in the slightest. The blood and gore looks good on the screen, as it does in a well shot film that depicts violence. But it's just a thing in service of the core mechanics. As it happens, it ties very well into an artistic vision of a surreal, cocaine-fuelled, late 80s Miami gangland, pink neon-laced, gullwing door visual styling. If you wanted to dig deeper into what the creators of this game might be trying to tell you about the sort of people who run in these dirty circles, and do these dirty things, I don't think you'd come up with many points representing a favourable take on it.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@LikeaSsur: No, he's saying how embarrassed he is that so many people are being positive about this juvenile murder simulation, which goes along with some of the self-righteous vegetarian posts he's done in the past. As for why it's obtained the buzz it has, it's pretty simple: It's a good game that presents well.

Edited by CornBREDX

The polygon review indicates the game devolves to a point where the won ton violence ends up having a point- and it takes a little while to get there. 
 
I do agree that the reaction to this game is astoundingly weird, like everyone is on a drug and seeing a different game then I am (I don't have a problem with violent games- I'm a fan of Manhunt, but something about this game seems incredibly disturbing to me, teetering on horrifying in a way) but at the same time I haven't played it so I don't know what the hype is about and no one can explain it it seems without spoiling it. 
 
So, I will have a better answer after I've seen it for myself.  
It does have great music, though.

Posted by Example1013

I'd just like to say I fully support the developers' position here. Murder is in fact awesome, this is a scientifically proven fact, and women do belong in the kitchen, also proven by science. I'd like to thank the OP for such an enlightening review. Had I not read this, I probably wouldn't even be buying the game.

Posted by Animasta

@Example1013: hahaha that's mad edgy bro

Posted by ShaggE

Funny you should pick the one game that DOESN'T glorify its violence to rant about. You could have gone with so many others...

Snark aside, because it really isn't apparent without playing it, the reason it gets the buzz that it does is that it's a solid game with excellent surrealist storytelling. It's also a huge guilt trip and a horror game in disguise. I'd go as far as to say it's a commentary on the developer's power over the player. Sure, it's also attracting people because of the gore, but so did Saving Private Ryan.

Posted by MildMolasses

@Rockbrain said:

Someone, quick! Make a game about reading and making positive changes in your neighborhood!

Brilliant! Finally the proper Fatu tribute we've all needed to get the healing started.

Posted by heatDrive88

@DevWil said:

I haven’t played Hotline Miami. I’m not going to buy Hotline Miami. I’m not going to pirate the game, either. I have no interest in playing the game because I don’t see what there is about Hotline Miami that isn’t pure adolescent nonsense. Feel free to correct me on any details, but I’m not giving the developers of this game the time or money required to play it. I don’t feel bad about that. I have better things to do (including writing this).

I am quite literally embarrassed by the overwhelmingly positive response to this game.

I did everyone a favor coming into this thread, and highlighted the only things you need to read out of that entire ridiculously stupid post, in order to decide why you should stop reading anything further here at all.

Posted by Bollard

@LikeaSsur said:

I share the sentiment on being baffled, but not because of all the reasons you listed.

I'm baffled on how a top down shooter became so loved so quickly, while doing absolutely nothing new or unique, save for the soundtrack.

Which incidentally is shit.

Edited by bushpusherr

I've finished the game.

The combat is fun and full of diverse ways to approach situations, with a lot of strategy involved depending on enemy placement / numbers / and their weapons. The music is fucking awesome, if you don't like it that's fine, but it fits the tone of the game so well and is very well made. The violence doesn't "hold back the medium" or any such nonsense. Saying so makes you sound like a pretentious snob, as if all video games had to be sophisticated and thought provoking, or whatever you have in mind. Different games are made for different audiences, just as movies are made for different audiences. People aren't psychopathic or sociopaths for liking violence in games, because we realize that it isn't fucking real. Same reason that slasher flicks aren't for crazy people either.

Also, the "anti-feminist" jab is just totally stupid. A lot of guys live like slobs. Sometimes, when women are introduced to their lives, they won't stand for that shit, and the place gets cleaned up. The game isn't suggesting that the girl is a fucking maid, that it's her "job" to clean up, or even that she herself even did the cleaning (OR even begin to suggest that this is how ALL women are expected to behave). If that's anti-feminist, then I guess tidy girlfriends are the bane of the feminist movement. And as far as the cover art goes, the game is trying to invoke a 1980's Miami gang film style, so it is exactly what we should expect. If you think it's sexist, then go back in time and unmake Scarface and all the other movies like it because that's exactly the kind of atmosphere that this game is emulating.

Posted by Niche

@LikeaSsur said:

@ArbitraryWater:@CaLe: @Niche: Congratulations. You all demonstrated a perfect example of a kneejerk reaction. To help you out: he's not talking about the game itself, he's talking about the overwhelming positivity this game has garnered in its short life span.

Yes, and that positive reaction comes from people who have played the game. If he played the game, maybe he would understand the reaction or at least criticise it more effectively.

Posted by supamon

Lol at anti feminist murder glorifying simulator. I can't tell if this is serious or some high level trolling. So what about Madworld, Manhunt, God of War or any shooting/action game?

Posted by AngriGhandi

Fun fact: nothing involving a pig mask is supposed to be appealing.

I would argue this one picture actually does a perfect job of demonstrating why Hotline Miami is more than simple exploitation, and why it is receiving so much praise.

The idealized, nostalgic images of 80s "awesomeness" (dudes in white suits carrying katanas, pink neon city, a sexy blonde in need of rescue) are totally undercut by a vein of bizarre, off-putting creepiness (you and the damsel are drenched in blood, her arm is covered in track marks, you are wearing a fucking pig mask like some kind of nightmare serial killer).

The whole point of the game is to draw you in and repel you from its aesthetic at the same time. That's the theme.

You might even call it a deliberate artistic choice!

So, when you consider that a game with such a pointed and challenging aesthetic is also, by all reports, really engaging, difficult, and fun to play, the wave of critical appreciation doesn't seem very surprising.

At all.