Hotline Miami first turned heads and churned stomachs in 2012 on PC, quickly establishing itself on the indie scene due to its intensely violent gameplay and purposefully incoherent narrative that drifted in-and-out of nightmarish hallucination to gory reality. A PlayStation 3 port of Hotline Miami has finally arrived and contains everything that made the PC version such a standout last year, plus a nice little cross-platform bonus, trophies, and leaderboards.
The gameplay is almost like the arcade titles of yore: quick, frantic action based on attaining a high score. Players start off outside of a building, and after donning an animal mask, proceed to brutally slay the armed men inside from an isometric perspective. Points are awarded for combo kills and variety, so it's best to mix things up with the various weapons acquired throughout the levels. There's quite a variety of ways to take out enemies from sharp objects like machetes, knives, scissors to firearms like shotguns, assault rifles, pistols and everything in between.
Gameplay is fast and brutal, with little room to form strategy as players are encouraged to move from room-to-room in the shortest amount of time, taking everyone out along the way. It also cuts no slack with a relatively steep difficulty curve. Enemies aren't particularly bright, like when they fail to check up on a buddy that's loudly getting his brains drilled out of his skull in the other room, but they are fast, numerous, and can kill you in one hit. Restarting is immediate and never feels like lost progress, as Hotline Miami merely puts you at the beginning of the current level in the chapter you're on. Get killed on the second floor and that's exactly where you'll pick back up.
Between rounds of bloody mass-murder, players walk the nameless protagonist through the disorienting, rather mundane parts of his life that seem almost ritualistic. Things like going to the bar, the convenience store, out for pizza, having conversations with what seems to be the same man working at all of them, and cryptic Q&A sessions with three masked mystery men. Every day begins the same with the player waking up in their apartment and listening to what may or may-not-be coded messages on their answering machine giving them targets to wipe out at a particular location.
The narrative is dizzying, and feels like a slice of life of someone whose lifeless existence is interspersed with psychotic breaks from reality. Things fall apart near the end of the game, however, when there's an attempt made to give some kind of exposition and reasoning for the events taking place, as well as trying to tie together two separate narratives. It doesn't exactly come together, but for the most part it's an engaging experience that leaves players questioning what happened long after they've beaten the game.
Aesthetic elements also help to differentiate Hotline Miami from the rest of the indie game crowd. The graphics emulate the pixelated 8-bit era of NES gaming, and further reinforcing the '80s atmosphere is a collection of tracks from a variety of artists that range from eclectic, Donnie Darko-esque tunes to danfloor-pumping synth music which makes for what's no doubt going to be considered one of the best gaming soundtracks ever conceived.
But the biggest aesthetic element is no doubt the level of extreme violence and gore within Hotline Miami. Heads are beaten in with pipes, enemies are cut in half with machetes, throats are slit, arms are blown off, and plenty of disembowelment to top it all off. By the end of the chapter, the stage is awash in a sea of dead bodies, organs, and pools of blood. The thumping synthesizer music stops playing, and for a moment the player has no choice but to contemplate the fact that they've just brutally murdered dozens of people for no real reason.
Hotline Miami isn't a long game, but it is big on replayability for higher scores and to unlock a few secrets that players may gloss over on their first play through. A variety of animal masks can be unlocked with a sufficiently high score with each having a unique characteristic such as starting off with a knife, lethal weapon-throwing, being able to survive a bullet, and so forth which requires a different approach to the level. Depending on the mask, it can make the stage much easier or much harder to finish.
There are a few PlayStation 3 additions to speak of, the obvious being the inclusion of trophy and leaderboard support. The two bonus levels from the PC version are included, as is one new mask that turns Hotline's neon and crimson-soaked landscape to monochrome. Cross-play is supported with a bonus PS Vita copy, for those that want to take their mayhem on the go. The biggest difference are the controls. Keyboard and mouse are replaced with a twin shooter setup with the Dualshock 3's analog sticks and a button for locking onto enemies. Is it as accurate as the PC version? Probably not, as it's easy to lock-on when you don't want to, but it works reasonably well and never diminishes the experience.
Hotline Miami survives with transition from PC to PS3 with ease and a few nice extras that sweeten the deal. It contains everything that made the 2012 PC version an instant classic with its violent gameplay and cocain-fueled nightmare of a narrative perfectly intact. Fun and disturbing in equal measure, Hotline Miami is a game that'll make players ask just who is the man behind the mask doing all those bad things to supposedly bad people.