Yes, yes I know this is late (the game came out in October 2012), but it flew right under my radar and I only just played it this weekend. Despite the delay in me buying the game, I still feel compelled to give my thoughts on it; “Hotline Miami” is one of the most interesting, addictive and downright fun games I’ve played for sometime, and if I had played it when it was released it would have been guaranteed a spot on my best of the year list.
Created by a team consisting of two people, the game is a top-down, retro-graphic, ultra-violent blood bath in which you navigate a series of areas floor by floor murdering everyone you come across. It’s heavily influenced by the Nicholas Winding Refn film “Drive” (which was also awesome) in both its style and soundtrack- a quiet, merciless killer in a distinctive jacket murdering mobsters to an 80s-esque synth score that instantly gets stuck in your head, in a good way. Thankfully, all that killing is complimented by a solid plot- you are a nameless hitman/mass murderer (nicknamed “Jacket” by fans due to his letterman jacket, as seen in the picture above) who receives answering machine messages informing him of his next hit. As the game progresses it becomes increasingly apparent that Jacket is mentally unstable, and questions are raised as to why he’s doing what he’s doing, what’s going to become of it and who the hell is leaving all those answer phone messages. The story is intriguing and well-paced throughout the short run time, and the increasingly viceral hallucinations Jacket has and visits to a trio of criptic, masked figures compliment it nicely. There are a couple of anti-climactic moments, but generally the story is solid, especially when you consider that given the gameplay style, the story could have been pretty much ignored all together.
Speaking of gameplay, it’s definitely the stand-out feature. As previously mentioned it’s from a top-down perspective, and Jacket clears out buildings of their inhabitants a floor at a time using any combination of stealth, gunfights and running around with a melee weapon painting the walls blood red. Before entering a mission you’re given a choice of what animal mask to wear, with each one granting a different perk. One mask makes your fists lethal and your execution moves faster, another prevents dogs from attacking you, and yet another allows you to kill an enemy and disarm him with a tap of the space key. The masks largely come down to preference, but each one has a definite use, and it’s a great inclusion to the game. Both you and the enemies die in one hit, and the enemies often seem to have almost superhuman reflexes in regards to turning and killing you, particularly enemies with guns on the other side of windows. This isn’t much of a problem though as you can instantly re-spawn upon death- restarting at the beginning of that floor with the same weapon you were carrying when you arrived. The instant re-spawns allow you to rapidly adapt and change your on-going plan of action; everything seemed to be going well until you alerted those two guards who rushed in and shot you, so maybe next time go a different way, use a different weapon and the like; some would say it’s best to play the game quickly- charging in and killing all who stand in your way, but I found the tactical method far more practical and satisfying when I cleared a floor. The tactical option is slightly offset by the fact that weapons spawn randomly, but you can be sure of the presence of a certain few. The game is also very brutal and violent- enemies can be sliced up, mashed into bits and blown in half upon death, and that’s not counting the finishing moves; the most prevalent being crouching over a downed goon and repeatedly slamming his head into the floor, or approaching an enemy slumped against a wall and kicking him in the face so hard his brains fly out the back of his head. The violence – along with the atmosphere and soundtrack – really do remind me of the brutal violence in “Drive” (as I write this I’m watching parts of that film); the retro graphics also stop the violence being too explicit, but for those who enjoy a bit of gore, there’s plenty to love. The soundtrack is also excellent- it’s all incredibly catchy synth and fits the game perfectly.
Any negative points? Well, the bosses are all irritating (except for the first one) and it can often be initially tricky to work out exactly what you need to do in between your numerous deaths at said boss’ hands. They don’t take too long to figure out, but they can be annoying. The enemy A.I is also quite unpredictable in a bad way; they alternate between being seemingly deaf and stupid- ignoring their dead friends and gunshots close by – to spotting, turning on the spot and killing you despite you quietly approaching them from a considerable distance away. Again, the instant re-spawns stop this from being too much of a problem, but it can seem a little unfair sometimes. Also worth mentioning is the dreadful forced stealth level; the screen lurches around like a pro-active drunk, the screen keeps going fuzzy and if you continuously move for too long Jacket will stop and clutch his head in pain. This mission is mercifully quite short, but is the worst part of the game by far.
If you’re going to buy it, you’ve probably bought it already, but if not “Hotline Miami” is a fantastic game worth picking up. It’s an addictive, brutal game that rewards enacting a plan, with a good story, an awesome soundtrack and a great atmosphere. It’s one of the most fun games I’ve played for some time, and if you can handle the violence, it’s a challenging, interesting experience well worth checking out. Sadly I got to it too late to place it on my best of 2012 list, but it was definitely one of the best games released last year. Consider this an honorary place.
By James Lambert