Giant Bomb Review

87 Comments

Hotline Miami Review

5
  • PC

Hotline Miami is a nightmare you won't want to forget.

The year is 1989, and the place is Miami, Florida. You are standing outside the entrance to a building. There is a man on the other side of this door. He holds a gun. He is one of many men in this dilapidated building. They all hold guns, or knives, or bats. You do not know these men. You are only at this location at the behest of a mysterious answering machine message. Reasoning for your assignment is obfuscated, and yet your clarity of vision is startling. You know what must be done, and without hesitation, you do it. You kick the door in, knocking the man on the other side to the ground. You then mount him before he can regain his bearings, and begin slamming his skull into the ground. You do this again and again until all that remains of his pixelated skull is a growing red stain on the floor.

No good can come of this. None whatsoever.

And he's just one of many to come.

Over the course of Hotline Miami's few hours of play, you will kill dozens upon dozens of men. And you will do so brutally, mercilessly, and swiftly. Learning why you are doing this is ostensibly the goal of Hotline Miami. All you know at the outset is that you are at the mercy of your own answering machine. Strange messages are left, indicating places to go, and people to kill, but they're as cryptic and muddied as your mind. It's perhaps apparent initially that you are not a well man. If not just because of all the wanton murder, but also because you see things. You talk to people who may or may not actually be who they say they are, or even exist at all. And then there are the guys in those creepy animal masks...

This is a game that requires multiple play-throughs to uncover all its secrets, though even once you do, there are still some things left to the imagination. One thing that is not left to the imagination is the result of your gameplay. Every time you finish a level, you'll leave the place you were littered with corpses, spent shell casings, and buckets of spilled blood.

Of course, while you're playing, you won't have anything even resembling enough time to take in the carnage. Hotline Miami operates at a pace that can only be described as "blistering." The moment you enter a building, you're effectively under duress until every single person is dead. Enemies are crackerjack shots, and instantly aware of you the second you cross their field of view, or make a noise. Given that the game uses a retro-inspired top-down perspective, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to gauge exactly what an enemy's eyeline might be. Fortunately, most anything that looks like an effective hiding spot is, and if it isn't? Well, it's not like you'll have time to think about what you've done, because you'll probably be dead.

You will also die in Hotline Miami. Frequently, quickly, and with aplomb. One hit kills you, and once you're dead, you need only press a button to reset at the beginning of a level section. Levels are broken out by floors. All you need do is clear one floor and get to the next one for a checkpoint to trigger. This is important, because were each level to drag on just a bit longer, the game would give way to irritating repetition. As they are, levels are still fun to play no matter how many times you die. I think in one section, I died upwards of 50 times, yet just kept resetting to play. With gameplay this tight, this frenetic, this exciting, it's hard to want to walk away.

With the right weapons, you can most certainly lay effective waste to the enemies before you without necessarily getting killed. But on your first play, you'll almost never have the most effective weapons at your disposal. This leads to improvisation, be it using doors as stunning agents, picking up weapons off of felled foes, or just using whatever the environment offers you to survive. The decrepit scenery isn't just window dressing. Let's say you see a pot of water boiling on the stove, and want to use it to scald a nearby bad guy. You can do that, and you should. Because it's horrible. And amazing.

Everybody dies. No exceptions.

The violence in Hotline Miami may be pixelated and obscured, but it's no less intense for it. The sheer speed at which you must operate, coupled with the tension of never being completely sure if an enemy will spot you if you creep around the next corner, is utterly gripping. You kill, kill, kill until there's nothing left but bodies, and you must do so with a ruthless efficiency that affords you no moment's pause to ponder the terrible things you've done.

That comes later, via quick cutscenes featuring other characters that may or may not be wrapped up in this whole mess, and exploration of your apartment. The apartment area is essentially just a hub where you collect your next mission, but as the game rolls along, and your character's sanity begins to fray, the aesthetics begin to directly resemble the tatters of your psyche.

That could be said of much of Hotline Miami's look and feel. The 1989 setting is no random choice. Every pixel of the game has been slathered in late-'80s grime. Its dirty, neon-tinted color palette blends brilliantly with the pulsing synth soundtrack, which is a particular highlight. Comparisons many have made to the Nicolas Winding-Refn film Drive are not inaccurate, nor accidental. The developers have cited that movie as a particular inspiration both aesthetically, and in the game's depiction of violence. If you find yourself nodding your head to the background grooves while doing horrible, detestable things, do not panic. This is very much the point.

Enjoying Hotline Miami doesn't make you a worse person, though you may find yourself wrestling with just why the act of deftly delivered murder is so damn much fun. It is because it's a lovingly crafted game, well-designed and deeply addictive. These facts do little to soften the reality of what you're doing, of course. In some ways, Hotline Miami most closely resembles the kind of "violent video game" boogeyman parents groups were so outraged by back in the industry's more formative years. It's a game time-traveled in directly from the fear-center of Tipper Gore's brain, circa 1989. It's pure, unadulterated nihilism with a candy-coated shell. And I'll be damned if it isn't one of the most intoxicating games of this year.

Alex Navarro on Google+
88 Comments
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Posted by Undeadpool

This game really should've had the subtitle (or even just the title) "Shut Up and Kill Someone"

Posted by Lifendz

I wants my Mac version!

Posted by Spiritof

Is this game Ryan Gosling approved?

Posted by FuzzYLemoN

Game of the Year, as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by KiddoMac

I just have to say this: Alex, your reviews are awesome. Some reviews try so hard to be eloquent by stuffing lots of complicated phrases in there that are only distracting from the facts. your reviews -- i find -- just bring the point across so effortlessly and elegantly. just had to let you know.

would read again!!

Posted by coaxmetal

A well deserved 5 stars. Game came out of left field and blew me away, had no idea what it was going to be and purchased it on a whim.

Posted by Xymox

Well deserving of a 5/5.

"You kill, kill, kill until there's nothing left but bodies."

- Giant Bomb

Posted by TournamentOfHate

Alex pumping out the reviews! Good work man.

Posted by SadisticWOlf

I love, love, love, love this game. But man giving this five stars with the number of technical issues is being awfully kind.   It is, granted, value priced which maybe justifies the rating, but I'm half way through the game and am flat out unable to continue due to technical issues. That's a huge bummer however you slice it.

Posted by Tordah

I should really play this game.

Posted by kalmis

Great review for a great game.

Posted by dropabombonit

Worth the money for the soundtrack alone

Posted by Incapability

Excellent review, I couldn't agree more. That game is simply brilliant, through and through. Very satisfied to have preordered it, knowing very little about it, at best.

Posted by Vextroid
Posted by dr_mantas

I agree with the review.

Posted by Christoffer

Nicely written review as always, Alex.

The game looks good but I'm not sure about my patience for these kinds of games. The "enervating but fun" -genre haven't really worked on me.

But I will probably end up bying it either way.

Online
Posted by VarkhanMB

@Christoffer said:

Nicely written review as always, Alex.

The game looks good but I'm not sure about my patience for these kinds of games. The "enervating but fun" -genre haven't really worked on me.

But I will probably end up bying it either way.

I felt the same way about Super Meat Boy when it came out and ended up buying it anyway. Meat Boy and Hotline Miami are two of the most rewarding experiences I've played, if only for the fact that if you succeed it's all because of you.

I bought Hotline Miami strictly for the soundtrack after having seen the Quick Look and my intent was to never play it. I gave it a try one day and even though I can only play in short 15-minute bursts, it's a great fuckin' game!

Posted by LikeaSsur

"Why is there so much violence in video games nowadays?"

"This game is totally violent and totally awesome. 5/5."

Posted by Death_Burnout

This game is art, and I really do mean that.

Posted by probablytuna

@Nettacki said:

@msavo said:

I'm praying the Vita version being talked about comes through.

Same here.

I as well.

Posted by KlUMZeE

Great review, Alex. I'm gonna have to check this out.

Posted by geirr

Hotline Miami and FTL, what a year.

Posted by DickSocrates

@SadisticWOlf: But those issues are being sorted out and it's from an indie dev which comprises just 2 guys. Have to cut them a little slack. Going on about techincal issues that don't affect most people could really damage sales and that would be unfair in this scenario. With the resources they had, making a bug free game would have been a miracle.

It worked fine for them on the machines they had access to, there's not really any other way than releasing it to find out how it will work on other machines. Perhaps a public beta would have helped, but I don't know what reasoning goes into decisions to do that kind of thing. In any case, they are patching it frequently.

Posted by Gordo789

@geirr said:

Hotline Miami and FTL, what a year.

yeah, really the two best games of 2012 for me.

Posted by betterinsodapop

Constantly driven half mad by brutal repetition and inevitable failure, occasionally satisfied by a well executed foe and cleared room, all the while serenaded with the eroded synth chillness...

"If you find yourself nodding your head to the background grooves while doing horrible, detestable things, do not panic. This is very much the point." Great job by Alex. This precisely describes my experience.

Posted by FalcomAdol

So what makes this good, instead of another shitty Postal game?

Posted by HalfDane1975

I dig this game.

Posted by WrathOfBanja

Patrick should have done this review.

Posted by BitterAlmond

@Gordo789 said:

@geirr said:

Hotline Miami and FTL, what a year.

yeah, really the two best games of 2012 for me.

Ayup. It's a real Indie game year.

Posted by Cirdain

Game of the Year. I haven't even played it.

Posted by hakunin

@FalcomAdol said:

So what makes this good, instead of another shitty Postal game?

Well, maybe you could start by reading the review?

Posted by MetalMoog

Damn this game is good. I haven't felt this thrilled by video game violence since Manhunt. It gives me the same thrill of excitement caving in heads as that game did! I love the 8-bit retro art style and the pumpin soundtrack too. I can't relate to the comments about feeling dirty, remorseful or guilty while playing this though. I feel completely exhilarated and thoroughly amped up playing this game. Enjoying every second of wallowing in it's excess. I'm thoroughly desensitized to video game violence I guess, none of it makes me feel guilt or remorse of any sort.

Am I supposed to feel guilty or remorseful for being a cold blooded killer? Nah, it's a video game and it's excesses serve to fulfill my bloodlust!

Posted by jasondesante

hi alex

Posted by seek83

Looks ace. Pretty tempting at 7 bucks. Hmmm

Posted by YOU_DIED

good review. I picked this up after reading this, and I'm having a fuckload of fun. I honestly wasn't expecting to have to do any planning before initiating the meat grinding slaughter, maybe that's Call of Duty mental programming. You should do more reviews, I enjoy reading your writing.

Posted by dillonj9889

Legitimately glad Alex is on payroll now.

Posted by chilipeppersman

@dillonj9889: seriously. This review is fantastic, just finished the game today and came here again to read this. Fucked up game, great review here.