Hotline Miami Review: It’s For the Masochist
Hotline Miami Violently Throws You Back Into the 80s.
Hotline Miami is a top down action game that takes you into the gritty and surreal underworld of an alternate 1989 Miami. As a masked hit man you are contacted via answering machine and assigned to carry out missions that will ultimately result in the bloody and ultra-violent murder of dozens of armed thugs. There are goings-on behind the scenes that you are unaware of as you take your sweet calculated time carrying out these hits. While this game may take some cues from games such as Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne, it has a difficulty curve that is reminiscent of Super Meat Boy; but Hotline Miami is a fresh new title that really sets itself apart and creates an environmentally appealing action title that keeps you engrossed in all its neon lit 80s glory. Here’s my take on it.
Hotline Miami Isn’t for the Easily Offended
As an unnamed anti-hero, each chapter you awake in your 80s bachelor pad and are greeted by a message on your answering machine, not asking, but subtly telling you to go to an address and murder its inhabitants in whatever way possible. You hop in your sweet De Lorean and make your way through a very 80s inspired transition sequence of palm tree silhouettes and neon colors and arrive at your destination where all hell breaks loose. You enter the target building with nothing but your chosen animal mask and your bare hands; from there you find the nearest thug and beat the living crap out of him! You take their weapon and make your way to your next victim; the trick in Hotline Miami is that one bullet is a death sentence by default, meaning that if your shot you’re toast; this is true for your enemies as well, with the exception of the hulking boss men.
Hotline Miami Rewards Your Destruction with More Ways to do so
Hotline Miami touts 35 different weapons ranging from a simple baseball bat or lead pipe to a silenced Uzi or an automatic shotgun. Unlocking weapons such as these comes at a price, your sanity; unlocks are rewarded based on your overall score. To achieve a higher score you must make your way through each level and eliminate your targets with speed and precision, but there is also, oddly enough, a need for silence and stealth during your assignments. Weapons in Hotline Miami are given two forms: loud and silent, the difference being that using a non-silenced weapon such as an assault rifle will cause all enemies in the vicinity to run to your position, which can be good or bad. A silenced or melee weapon will kill your enemies in a stealthy manner that will not raise any alarms. The passive items in Hotline Miami are the masks, the Chicken mask, “Richard”, is your original mask which rewards no bonuses. Upon completing a chapter with the high score, or discovering them in a level, you can receive up to 25 different masks that can give you bonuses or make things a bit more challenging, such as “Rasmus” the owl mask which reveals secrets in each level. Now let’s focus on the destruction itself.
Dennaton Games has developed a very stylized masterpiece with Hotline Miami; it is in many ways a Quentin Tarantino movie, but with less dialogue and more manslaughter. You generally need not carry a weapon as your hands are themselves lethal. A single punch will normally not end a person’s life, but once they are on the ground the stage is set for a finishing move which differs between your victim’s position and your current weapon. Pressing the spacebar enters the finishing move sequence which may call for several hits but it is a sure kill. The story of Hotline Miami is very mysterious and hazy as your identity is never revealed and your purpose is very vague other than to kill those you are ordered to. Though I never said this game was without a story, it is just a matter of time and patience that you reveal the true nature of your killing.
Hotline Miami Sets the Mood
Befitting of its setting, Hotline Miami is defined by its retro 16-bit style. Reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto for the original Playstation, you are given a top down view of the action and all dialogue is done in the form of talking heads across the top of the screen, very similar to Grand Theft Auto 2. The atmosphere though is done almost in line with GTA: Vice City in that it focuses on the neon lit cocaine fueled 80s in Florida. The difference is that the bright colors and loud music of Hotline Miami do a better job of setting the mood for a fast paced speed run through enemies at breakneck speeds. The music is very catchy, mixing retro wave music with a more current chiptune sound. The soundtrack alone makes the game stand out, but the bright colors and “do-or-die” pace of the game keep you mesmerized.
This game is far from easy, giving me flashbacks of Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. Your mission is to kill, but the lack of a health bar and a single bullet or dog bite will mean your demise. The ability to simply press “R” and restart after being exterminated makes for an addictive punch in the gut, punctuating your every death, which will keep you going no matter how much you’d hate to. Loading screens are for chumps and this game will keep killing you until you stop being a wimp and make everyone suffer. Also, watch out for windows, they’re like walls your enemies can see through. Not cool. The difficulty curve is much more than a hurdle in Hotline Miami, you are going to die a lot, whether you like it or not. There is no difficulty setting and the WASD and mouse controls are a bit of a pain to get comfortable with, but you’ll have plenty of time to get used to that while you’re dying. Strangely the control scheme seems like it would be a perfect pairing with a peripheral like the 3DS. Once you do finally get the hang of it though, you will find yourself workin’ over goons as if it were your job.
The game only takes a few hours to complete, with the unlockables not demanding much more. The levels slowly become more complicated and trippy, and the enemies much more sadistically positioned and armed. Yet, Hotline Miami is still a refreshingly brutal romp through the beautifully seedy neon jungle of 80s Miami. Donning one of your many masks and a variety of weapons, you will find hours of demanding gameplay that will test your skills and your constitution. The lack of difficulty settings and the unfamiliar control scheme will leave you a bit frustrated and the ending requires even more work. But Dennaton has said that they will be releasing controller support and DLC in the near future so expect a more user friendly approach and an extended killing spree. The visuals and action will draw you in and music will keep you enchanted, but will the difficulty push you away?