Hotline Miami

9.5 Overall Score

Fast Paced | Brutal Yet Fun | Remarkable Style | Wonderful Soundtrack

Launch Day Problems

Written by on October 24, 2012 in [, , , ]

Games that try to center on violence often times fail miserably. Take the Manhunt series, for instance. The games in the series were, for all intents and purposes, built to simply showcase brutality. The plot was a paper thin excuse to allow for the violent murder of as many people as the game could throw at you. To top it all off, the gameplay didn’t work as well as it needed to. From the outside looking in, Hotline Miami probably appears to be trying to do the same thing. Somehow, though, the game is just as vicious and violent, yet it has an almost undeniable charm that makes the game an absolute blast to play.

Taking place in an alternate version of Miami in 1989, Hotline Miami follows a nameless protagonist. Upon beginning the game, your character receives a cryptic message on his answering machine, telling him to go out and kill a number of people who are presumably a part of the crime underground of Miami. As the story progresses and he receives more phone calls, his psyche begins to break and the line between what is real and what isn’t is slowly blurred. It’s fascinating to watch unfold, especially during some of the later sequences when you genuinely have no idea what is happening to the world around your character.

Most of the nineteen missions have your character travelling through a number of buildings, slowly clearing out each floor, as he kills every single person in sight. The game plays in the style of a top-down, twin-stick shooter. The mouse controls which direction you are aimed in and pressing the left button will attack with whatever weapon you have while the right button will throw your weapon. There is a huge arsenal of weaponry which you’ll find on the bodies of your enemies or strewn throughout the environment. There is a huge emphasis on melee weapons, such as the baseball bat, iron pipe or even a katana. There are also several throwing weapons as well as a wide variety of guns.

Your character is extremely fragile, however. You can’t usually go running into an area, guns blazing, as you will die with one hit from any weapon. In that regard it’s tough on the player, as all of your work in a level can be undone by one wrong move. However levels will usually not take more than a few minutes to complete, so there is a balance there. You don’t lose too much progress if you die. The game makes you learn the patterns of enemies before you go into a situation.

Once you know where your enemies will be and how they will react, the game then encourages you to go all in and try to kill as many enemies as you can in as short of a time as possible. There is a scoring system within the game that grades kills and will offer you a score at the end of a level. It can sometimes be difficult to understand exactly how the scoring is happening as some kills will, for no real reason give you more points than others. The timed combo system, however, encourages players to string together kills as quickly as they can and it rewards you with a higher score for killing more enemies.

Hotline Miami also has heavy elements of a stealth-action hybrid game. You can very easily take your time, luring enemies out by showing yourself for a brief second from around a corner and take them out with a melee weapon. If you’re feeling daring, though, you can fire off a round to lure in a large group of enemies to your location and try to take them out with a single double barreled shotgun blast. Understanding this freedom becomes necessary in later levels when you will encounter larger groups of enemies, many of whom will be armed with the most powerful weapons in the game.

There are also a number of masks that the player will unlock as they progress through the story. These give extra abilities to the player. One might allow for them to start with a specific weapon while another may allow for longer combos. Each mask allows for a slightly different buff to whatever gameplay style you choose.

One thing that can’t be understated is how fast the game moves. The characters are lighting quick and as a result, whenever you clear out a room full of enemies, you feel like you did something really awesome. This speed is critical when you find yourself needing cover before you get shot. If the characters didn’t move as fast or reacted quite as quickly, much of the gameplay experience would be far more bland.

The most notable thing that people will notice is how absolutely brutal the violence in Hotline Miami is. It contrasts the pixel art style heavily. You will often times find that you are tearing people apart, quite literally, with melee weapons. Other times, their faces will be blown off. However, the most violent part of Hotline Miami may be the finishing maneuvers. You can either throw your weapon at enemies or kick a door in while they are on the other side for this to happen. When you do, they will be knocked unconscious but they can get up to kill you if you’re not careful. To stop this, you perform a finishing move that will usually involve straddling their body and bashing their heads in over and over again.

Yet, despite all of this, Hotline Miami avoids the trap that many games like it fall into. While other games feature violence simply because they can, Hotline Miami’s plot heavily relies on the idea of whether or not your character actively enjoys killing people and why. The story builds upon this idea for much of the game and, as a result, the violence doesn’t feel out of place. It contextualizes it and is able to keep it fun to play. That’s a difficult thing to do, but Hotline Miami does it to near perfection.

The stylized tone of Hotline Miami helps it to stand out from the pack of “independent games with pixel art.” The violence and blood from enemies stand in stark contrast to the rest of the pixel art environments of the world. There are a number of filters that the game lays over the world, which allow for a sort of distorted, static look. The backgrounds also have a tendency to warp in weird and interesting ways as you build up a combo on your kills. It’s beautiful to watch in action. The icing on the cake, however, is the fantastic soundtrack. Hotline Miami took heavy influence from the film Drive and the soundtrack feels like it did as well, with a number of electro-style music tracks.

Hotline Miami, however, has a few notable issues. The biggest and most noticeable is that there is no options menu what so ever. If you want to adjust volume settings or try to get the game to play in windowed mode, you are simply out of luck. Additionally, the game specifically was supposed to have controller support but due to an issue with the day one patch which caused the game to be unplayable to some users, it was removed. The developers have promised that they are working on solutions for the issues that the game has had at launch, but if you are interested in playing it right now, these problems are noticeable.

All of that said, Hotline Miami may very well be one of the funniest games of the year. It’s well written, well designed and has some fantastic style to it. It pays homage to a number of different things without over indulging itself. Dennaton Games has set a new bar for games in the indie scene. Almost everything about Hotline Miami works to near perfection and for a fairly new development team, that’s the biggest credit they can be given.

A code for Hotline Miami was provided to The Married Gamers for review.


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Author: Addam Kearney View all posts by

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