December 2, 2012
Hotline Miami is the gaming equivalent to the phrase "S%!t just got real." Exhibiting some influences from high octane crime films such as Drive, Crank, and with a dash of David Lynch, this is a top-down experience that revels in the controversial use of violence for self-gratification. Each stage is laid out as multi-floored locations where shots will be fired, skulls will be smashed, disembowelment just happens, boiling water ends up cooking faces and eyes will be gouged - pretty much everything that would put certain parents' panties in a bunch.
To give you an edge over whatever adversaries you'll encounter, you're given a collection of animal masks to choose from at the start of each stage - each endowing you with unique abilities such as instant killing punches, increased speed, shrouding a stage in darkness, or just having you starting out with a certain weapon. As you progress, more masks can be unlocked either through hi-scores or by finding them stowed away in obscure parts of certain levels.
But while most violent games grant an immediately accessible high, Hotline Miami makes you work for it. This is a game where you're going to die, a lot. All it takes is just one hit and back to the beginning of the level you go. Enemies don't just patrol areas by themselves, they also appear in groups carrying all slew of guns and weapons ranging from blunt to sharp. The minute you're spotted, or your presence is felt, thugs will come at you with such back breaking speed the realization of death only occurs well after your insides have painted the carpet.
Forget having your hand held by a radar system fitted with cones representing enemy sight. Strategizing and planning is key where you'll have to select your order of thugs to dispatch within an area, weighing the pros and cons of alarming foes to your location after discharging a firearm, or just saying "screw it" and go in recklessly. No matter your approach, there's no wrong way of playing the game as you're awarded points for whatever style you choose, even more if you've handled things swiftly.
Although you may have come up with a master plan after dying oh so many times, each time you revive the situation isn't always the same. A readily available Ingram can suddenly be replaced with a baseball bat and despite the game hinting that enemies can be predictable this isn't always true. Sometimes a foe will inexplicably step outside into the hallway and this even occurs off screen. One minute you think you're doing well mowing down cronies in an area and all of a sudden someone comes up behind you and blows you away with a shotgun - consider yourself trolled.
One of the underlying themes of Hotline Miami is trying to keep a lid on one's panic. Once achieved, things aren't often as difficult as originally perceived. Naturally, however, such turmoil can't be resolved immediately as purposely demonstrated by the controls. The usual motions of dual wielding between keyboard and mouse is in effect but you'll find yourself placing more focus on the mouse than usual as moving it dictates the direction you'll be facing. Of course you don't want to be facing the wrong way when trying to fight back against oncoming assailants and when it comes to long range attacks being a pixel off can mess everything up - a scenario that occurs more times than desired no thanks to the mouse sensitivity.
There's enough happening that seems to set you up for frustration but if you're like me often times you can't help but laugh out loud at yourself given the abrupt ways you die. Additionally, the soundtrack helps to maintain an enthusiastic mindset. Along with the retro graphics, and the trippy color splashes of neon pinks and blues, the tracks of Hotline Miami facilitates the consistent mood of being in the naughty '80s. Even now, Paris by M.O.O.N. continues to rock out inside my head.
Undoubtedly, there are moments when you'll find yourself running low on steam but when you finally smoked the last man standing or figured out a boss' weakness and sent him straight to hell with broken bones and flesh the feeling is quite exhilarating, leaving you recharged and ready to go for the next blood soaked challenge. That's the point to Hotline Miami, after conquering seemingly insurmountable odds, there's that pang of wanting to see how much further you can go, a desire that stays with you even after beating the game when you return to previous levels to either try and best your last performance or uncover any secrets overlooked.
Hotline Miami is brutal, crafty, and without any ounce of shame. In a word, it's just fun. Of all the games from the budding niche genre of the '80s revival movement, this is a title that stands out as a true example sporting a boss soundtrack and an enslaving gameplay that is refreshing for old schoolers while delivering a swift kick to the pants of the new generation. Although its story could use a few touch ups, it fits well enough into the title's context. Despite a sequel already being considered, devs will continue patching the game to ensure its longevity and a chance for gamers from all walks to experience the mayhem clean of technical hiccups. There's nowhere else to go but 'up' for Cactus and his team.
This review is based on version 2.0.0