I didn’t know what to expect with Hotline Miami. It was on sale and there was a fair bit of noise about it, so I figure it deserved a chance. Within minutes, my senses were assaulted by the game’s neon colour palette and hyper-violent gameplay. Soon afterwards, I was entranced with its knife-edge action, which is short, sharp, challenging and fun. The experience doesn’t last long with the storyline capping out at a very modest four hours, but it’s an experience that will be recounted for years to come.
My first thought upon starting up Hotline Miami was “This feels a lot like that movie, Drive.” (The movie’s director actually gets a mention in the game’s credits.) Unlike the movie, however, the game features a lot more head-stomping and doesn’t leave a great deal to the imagination. The surreal storyline blurs the lines of reality for the protagonist simply known as “Jacket”. His days consist of answering cryptic messages left on his answering machine, travelling to the addresses specified in the messages, and killing everyone inside while disguised in an animal mask. Interestingly enough, the locations he travels to are filled with Russian gangsters…
The gameplay harks back to the early days of Grand Theft Auto where you ran through the streets in a top down view, laying pedestrians out on the sidewalk as you barrel along the footpath with a flamethrower. Hotline Miami’s scope is not quite as grand, but the action is sublime. Death comes from a single bullet or blow, which goes both ways: a single hit from your weapon will put an end to anyone’s day. Restarting a level after dying is quick and checkpoints are fairly common. The end result is a frantic slaughter, where planning is done in a split second and levels end with pools of blood and bodies piled high. It is a tense process of trial and error, balancing self-preservation with calculated risk to take out as many enemies at once without them even realising that you’re in the room.
Score multipliers are earned from multiple kills, recklessness, exposing yourself to danger and pulling off creative kills. Completing levels and meeting the score quota will reward you with more Masks, which provide additional abilities when worn. Extra weapons are also unlocked as you play through, such as bricks, shuriken and even sub-machine guns.
The game’s graphics are delightfully retro, with plenty of fluorescent tones and silhouettes. The menus and status messages swirl in and out like a bad acid trip, and all the characters are dressed in 80s styles. The soundtrack is also superb: an eclectic mix of electronica, synth and distorted bass that suits the mood perfectly, and is worth purchasing if you see it available.
Hotline Miami is the most lovingly crafted descent into madness I’ve experienced. It’s a well presented, challenging, and an enjoyable little piece of work. Paying $10 will probably be asking a bit much for the four or so hours you’ll get out of it, but as far as distractions go this is one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of playing all year.