Do you like hurting people?
You’ve never played anything quite like Hotline Miami. This indie developed neon soaked bloodbath fuses the gaudy excess of 1980s Miami with a surreal and frantic, 8-bit inspired top-down action title creating an experience that sits comfortably somewhere between a cocaine addled fever dream and a Daft Punk concert, offering gamers a delightfully manic trip through the seedy underbelly of a pixelated Miami.
Upon beginning Hotline Miami players take control of a mysterious individual known only as “Jacket”, in reference to the fresh letterman jacket worn by your in game avatar. In the opening sequence, Jacket is confronted in a dimly-lit apartment by three mysterious personae each donning an animal mask. These shadowy figures barrage Jacket with cryptic questions, apparently knowing a great deal more about the things to come than our faceless hero. After this strange encounter, which offers gamers a taste of the surreal experience that is Hotline Miami, you awake in Jacket’s apartment. You’ll be seeing a lot of Jacket’s apartment throughout Hotline Miami. This ramshackle abode acts as the game’s hub world. Every morning Jacket awakens in his apartment and then checks his answering machine. Each message demands Jacket take on a different job at a different locations. These tasks always result in the same thing though- wholesale slaughter.
Before your can begin cracking the skulls of hundreds of lowlifes you’ll encounter in the game’s 18 missions, you first must choose from a variety of different animal masks to don while exacting your bloody brand of justice. Not only are these masks the perfect accessory to go with those rad racing gloves you’re wearing, they also grant you special abilities that prove invaluable during the game’s challenging multi-screen stages. For example, Don Juan the horse mask allows you to open doors with enough force to instantly smash the skull of whoever is on the other side, turning an already efficient stun tactic into a lethal surprise attack. Another extremely userful mask is that of George the giraffe, which allows you to look further, which is invaluable when waltzing into wide-open areas with little cover.
After you’ve chosen your persona of choice you’re dropped into the action. Taking place from an overhead view, players must stalk through a building and clear it room by room. Stealth is invaluable, as it only takes one bullet or bat to the noggin to bring our hero to his knees. Thankfully though, enemies typically play by the same rules. Hotline Miami shines the most with its brilliant balance of brains and brawn. Watching enemy patrols and methodically stalking your targets before rushing in with a hail of gunfire or brutal barrage of swings from a lead pipe is exhilarating. Knowing one misstep can spell instant death creates for adrenaline filled moments of bloody carnage when you get the drop on your foes, and keeps you on your toes when stalking your numerous prey, who are more than capable of pumping your full of lead with their impeccable aim.
The game’s twin-stick controls can take some getting used to, and you’ll likely need to spend some time getting used to the hyper-sensitive aiming before you become a well oiled killing machine. I found the controls on the Playstation Vita version of the game to be slightly improved over the Playstation 3’s. Aiming with the sticks on the Vita feels less loose than on the console version of the game, and the addition of the Vita edition’s touch capabilities is a huge bonus, allowing players to tap enemies to lock on to them is a great way to work around Hotline Miami’s awkward lock on system, and dragging your finger on the screen allows you to comfortably pan the camera around your environment. The Playstation 3 version is far from unplayable, but you’ll suffer more than a few deaths at the hands of the squirrely controls before becoming acclimated with them.
One of the greatest features of Hotline Miami is the game’s incredible soundtrack. This pumping electro ode to 80’s fetishism is simply incredible, offering synth-laden melodies and pumping percussion tracks that create the perfect soundtrack to the game’s onscreen carnage. The driving, Casio flavored tunes fit the 1980’s theme like a slap bracelet, crafting a surreal and ambient soundscape that will remain stuck in your head hours after you turn the game off.
Equally as impressive are the game’s stylish visuals. Coated in Miami’s signature pink and purple hues, this neon-tinged nightmare pops off the screen. While the game’s NES inspired sprite-based graphics may look ancient, the brutal animations for viciously murdering your mafiosi quarry look fantastic, and the gore, spent shell casings, and mangled remains of your victims litter the stages creating chaotic scenes of graphic viscera that belie the game’s simplistic choice of visual style.
Hotline Miami really has to be experienced to be fully appreciated, and at $9.99, it is well worth the price of admission. The game’s 5 chapters can be worked through in a few hours if you’re good, but acing the stages by becoming a truly efficient killer takes practice, and replaying the stages to increase your ranking is challenging and endlessly addicting. Also, while the story isn’t anything amazing, it’s completely over the top and very much worth seeing through to its grisly end. While some occasionally clumsy controls can mar the experience, and the enemy AI teeters between brilliant and blithering, these are only minor scuffs in the grand scheme of things and can be easily overlooked by the game’s sheer addictiveness, earning the game four out of five enchanted animal masks.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Playstation 3, Vita (reviewed), PC ; Publisher: Devolver Digital ; Developer: Dennation Games ; Players: 1; Released: October 23, 2012 ; ESRB: Mature ; MSRP: $9.99
This review is based on a retail copy of Hotline Miami purchased by Hey Poor Player.