That time has come again, time to raid the (growing in length) backlog and review a game that I should have when this blog was but a baby. The game today has just seen its sequel release to universally middling reviews – but this is considered a bona fide classic.
‘Hotline Miami’ launched with little fanfare but quickly made its fans with its tight top-down gameplay and 1980s inspired soundtrack; but what did I think of it?
Is it worth digging out? Or should it be left in the 80s alongside bouffant hair and massive shoulder pads?
Before I begin I will state that I had previously tried to play through this game on my VITA but kept on getting sidetracked by other games/T.V. shows/movies. On Tuesday night however my twitch viewers asked for it and I gave it to them.
This review will consider both versions.
Upon starting the game (VITA) you are greeted with a message instructing you to put on headphones…and my God ! This menu music, is wonderful! I literally sat on the main menu for 5 minutes before picking the “start game” option, that song is just so hypnotic – it is also misleading and doesn’t prepare you for what you will experience. It’s a laid back tune that is as relaxing as it is psychedelic.
The soundtrack continues to be incredible throughout the game, it drives the action and never fails to inject the player with a burst of adrenaline. The music doesn’t merely accompany the onscreen action, it is an integral part of experience. With headphones on, you do forget about the real world and become entranced with the world of ‘Hotline Miami’ – the 80s have never been so enjoyable!
And the world of ‘Hotline Miami’ is very much a confusing one. Your first experience (after the tutorial) is meeting three men, each wearing a mask (a chicken, horse and owl) and they spout confusing dialogue and then you are whisked to a black screen and the sound of a telephone ringing. Apparently you have a job, best get going, don’t want to be late – that would be unprofessional.
Turns out that you’re a hitman and your ‘job’ is to indiscriminately murdering strangers because the man on the phone told you to.
The game is easy to describe, but it under sells the game somewhat – essentially it is an arcade score based twin stick shooter. What is really is in reality is an arcade score based puzzle game. A puzzle game that requires reflexes as strong as your grey matter. You progress through the game by killing everyone without dying yourself.
Not quite, you will die in one hit if you get sloppy. And die you will. You have two choices with ‘Hotline Miami’ quick and brutal, or slow and brutal. There are many variables to consider when planning your hits – how many enemies are there, the weapons they have, guard-dogs, tougher enemies that require many bullets, police, doors rigged to blow and more. The game will allow you to walk around the outside perimeter of a level and check this all out and plan accordingly – choosing the right mask to wear is crucial!
The mask is the most important choice you will make in a mission because they all have individual perks and WILL determine your play style. I personally found Don Juan to suit my play style the best as I am naturally more cautious in my gaming, the door kill was incredibly useful. To get the top grades though you’ll need to use a range of masks, tactics and weapons – replayability is abundant here.
What isn’t in abundance is story. There is one, but it is poorly told. I really couldn’t give a damn what was happening by the end – the story was an unwelcome distraction from the chaos I was unleashing upon gangs of ne’er-do-wells in late-1980s Miami.
There was chaos, bloody, uber-violent chaos! I cannot help but feel that if ‘Hotline Miami’ was rendered in full 3D it would have been banned in several countries! The violence leaves very little to the imagination within seconds of starting I was stabbing, bashing in skulls and watching the protagonist vomiting in an alley! By the end of the game I had slit throats, crushed eyeballs, curb-stomped bad guys amongst others! Ultra-violence not seen since the Paul Veerhoeven movies of the period.
Think original Robocop over the remake.
The game is also incredibly tough in places, every stage requires forethought or perseverance, sometimes both! It’s difficulty stems from its ruthless one hit kill system, and while it often frustrates, it seldom strays into unfair territory…
…but it does go there! The final boss is one such moment, the game will strip you of all your weapons with no reference as to why – you better get used to off-screen enemies shooting you down and perfectly camouflaged dogs running at you! Although it’s few and far between these points will make you mad…but there is always a learnable pattern in which to circumvent the issues. Besides difficulty is a trait prevalent in indie titles these days.
So are overarching themes, in ‘Hotline Miami’ it is exploring the gamers tendency to follow a games orders without question. The masked guys are always asking you leading questions about liking to hurt people, who is giving you these hits and why are you doing them. It’s a good point, I murdered hundreds, if not thousands, of gangsters because an anonymous voice told me to! By the end of the game I wasn’t even getting paid anymore – yet I continued my rampage. I was running the game because it told me to – of course I wanted to see the end, but I was blindly following orders – a dangerous trait in anyone! The message is delivered in a very blunt way (unlike GTA:Vs torture scene) but it was one that I heard loud and clear – why should we blindly follow orders?
Overall then ‘Hotline Miami’ is a very good game, it is beautifully executed, sublimely scored and a hell of a lot of fun! It’s not perfect, but then again no-one or nothing is! I beat this game in one sitting live on stream, that’s a sign of a good game! Click here to watch it!