Translating a film to a completely different medium is a commendable task. 2011's Drive was a fairly well made movie consisting of gruesome violence alongside a dark, brooding, and atmospheric mob narrative. 2012's Hotline Miami utilizes that film as a direct influence for its own atmospheric style; easily the title's greatest asset. The rest of which could be described as relentless and challenging, perhaps taking some instances too far in that regard, but is simultaneously memorable and gratifying.
Hotline Miami presents one of the most abstract narratives I've ever seen. Each character is depicted purposely vague, usually portrayed with a different mask to conceal any identity, and a majority of the story is told through in non-chronological events, typically flashbacks. At the start of each mission, you are given a repeated introduction, almost always consisting of answering the anonymous call for an assassination job. Following every job's conclusion, you are given a brief and notably calm interlude. These scenarios generally consist of simply walking into a store, talking to the same strange-faced person, and then walking out. The game's story generally relies upon lore. Taken at face-value, the story can be near comprehensive with no outside context, leaving interpretation to becomes the necessary connection for the story. I can't say this narrative particularly resonated with me or left a notable impression, but I can attest for the fact that it's simply interesting. Perhaps dwelling more into the subject matter separately will prove it all to be more satisfying, but as it stands, it's simply a method to connect the chapters together. I really admire the game's subtle attention to detail and influences reminiscent of elements from Drive, but this lore was simply meant for other players.
Gameplay in Hotline Miami is situated with a top-down perspective, emphasizing fast movement. Chapters are generally short, as the levels are designed to be finished within a few minutes at most. The total playtime clock begins to add up with your inevitable amount of deaths. Following a death, you are instantly loaded to the last checkpoint, usually the very beginning. In theory, this implementation relieves any worry of stress, as you are immediately able to retry upon your death. However, the game's element of repetition begins to morph into frustration. I found that many of the chapters were more reliant on trial and error than any other method. Multiple times when initially playing through a select level, I would trek through a room only to die from the gun of an off-screen enemy; an attribute that is completely unpredictable and dependent on prior attempts. Granted, death is a part of the "learning" technique you will need to finish this game, each level feels as if it does not adhere well to the given perspective, as there is simply not enough visible. Maybe if the camera was zoomed out a bit, then these issues would possibly be solved.
As it stands, I can say that I am a fan of the actual combat and controls. On the DualShock, literal movement is performed with the left stick, while the right stick is utilized for for aiming. Aiming is used for all weapons which could range from a variety of guns to any sort of melee weapon. In addition to this interesting movement scheme, the game's use of fast action definitely kept me invested through the entirety of the gameplay. All this added together makes up a rather methodical, yet still fast, approach to every level, leaving tons of variety when it comes to personal strategy. With this comes another incorporated feature that is admirable; the choice of masks before each mission. These masks each provide a separate additional perk that will carry over into that respective chapter. A new mask is obtained at the completion of a new chapter, however, I frequently found myself selecting the "door-kills" mask regardless of new options. Choosing your preferred mask along with picking up your weapon choice can be the cause of a very rewarding run if everything falls into place.
Akin to Drive, the grittiness and drug-influenced violence of the late 1980s floods the presentation attributes of Hotline Miami. For instance, the art direction is in the style of the 16-bit era, but the character designs are portrayed rather muddy and generally unattractive. When answering the call at the start of each chapter, there is a notable lack of lighting, once again emphasizing the given tone of the game. Music featured also reiterates this set tone; one of the most fitting original soundtracks I've heard in a game. Most of the songs in the game are dark electronica-based songs with dance beats thrown in for extra measure, effective for the game's extreme moments of violence.
Hotline Miami was a somewhat contrasting experience for me. While I really enjoyed the basic combat mechanics and general level design, narrative aspects flew way over my head and I found specific chapters to be rather frustrating. Keep in mind that this can be a rather difficult game, but even that may vary from player to player. My final playtime was around five or six hours, but a friend of mine somehow managed to finish it in just one. Nevertheless, I am still glad I played through this game to the end, despite its occasional tribulations. There's nothing quite like the fast-paced top-down action that Hotline Miami provides anywhere else on the market. Despite this, I'm not convinced that I'll want to invest time in its recently released sequel anytime soon, as I'm not sure if I'd want to encounter any further frustration. Perhaps one day I'll give it a shot, but for now, I'm just fine with the original's pure mayhem.