Hotline Miami Review – Perfection Is Brutal
I can hear his footsteps on the floor as I sit by the door, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. On the other side of this door are my targets: two Russian drug dealers who have been causing too much trouble for their own good. I notice the knob start to turn and that’s when I smash through the door, knocking the scumbag to the ground before slitting hit throat with my knife. His comrade’s eyes widen with fear as he reaches for his gun in slow-motion but it is too late. I smack him in the throat with my baseball bat as he slumps to the floor, gasping for air through his broken windpipe. I thrust my heavy boot through his jaw before I move on to the next room.
Welcome to Hotline Miami.
Set against the backdrop of 1980′s Miami, players fill the shoes of a nameless anti-hero who is buried in the seedy underbelly of the crime ridden city, harbouring an affinity with death that would put Patrick Bateman to shame. Each chapter begins with the same proposition: an unknown caller leaves a message asking you to dispose of some criminal vermin, offers up an address and then simply hangs up. It is never quite clear how you got into this line of work or what your motives are, but the entire scenario feels like a constant struggle between reality and some kind of nightmare.
The killing begins. Once you arrive at your destination your objective is always clear: enter the building, kill everyone inside and somehow make it out alive. It may sound simplistic on paper but Hotline Miami ensures that each stage offers up a new and exciting challenge.
“The player is meant to feel bad about their actions, and despite the 16-bit retro graphics, Hotline Miami managed to get to me in a way other games simply can’t.”
Hotline Miami plays out as a top-down shooter, much in the same vein as Smash TV or the original Grand Theft Auto. Players will need to rely on twitch reflexes as they move throughout each stage at a blistering pace. It will only take one hit to take down your enemies, the flip side of this being it only takes one hit to end your own life. Be prepared to die a lot because the difficulty in Hotline Miami is certainly unforgiving, particularly in the later stages of the game.
It’s all about technique, and your survival will depend on how you tackle a situation. Sure, you could run into a room, all guns blazing hoping to take out your enemies, yet there are several loopholes to this strategy. First of all, are there enemies around you? They will certainly hear the gunshots and rush to aid their comrades which will more often than not end with you copping a shotgun to the face. Do you have enough bullets in your clip to mow down your enemies, taking into account that there is a good chance you are going to miss a few shots? How many of the guys in the next room have melee weapons and how many have guns? Which enemy should you take out first? These are just some of the questions that face you when entering each and every room.
More often than not it makes more sense to move in stealthily, using silent melee weapons to maim your enemies. Hotline Miami has an impressive array of weapons on offer, ranging from samurai swords to glass bottles, to shotguns and assault rifles. Every weapon has strengths and weaknesses, deciding when and how to use each one is half the battle.
The other half is style. Racking up kills in quick succession will not only net you a combo bonus, but doing so with varied weapons and execution methods will also net you some serious points. Each level ends with a breakdown of your actions, recording high scores which go towards unlocking new weapons and rubber masks to wear in each mission.
At the beginning of a level players will be asked to choose an animal mask to wear. Each one possesses a special ability, changing how you play every time. Will you go with Dennis the Wolf who ensures you start each level with a knife? Or perhaps you’re feeling a little stealthy and you will go with Tony the Tiger, who has fast execution skills. Not only is it nice to have some cosmetic changes as you move throughout the campaign, but having these abilities greatly increases the fun factor when playing through the game multiple times.
As you delve deeper and deeper into the twisted nightmare that is Hotline Miami, it becomes apparent that despite the over abundance of blood, guts, terror and death, there is a deeper narrative that acts as a commentary on the video game industry as a whole. While each level has you running through as fast as you can, killing everything in sight, the ending is certainly a far more sombre affair. The blistering soundtrack fades out and you are forced to walk back through the level, a trail of bloody bodies filling the room as you head to your car and return to “normal life”. The player is meant to feel bad about their actions, and despite the 16-bit retro graphics, Hotline Miami managed to get to me in a way other games simply can’t.
The soundtrack feels like a dirty nightclub at two in the morning. Filthy electronic melodies and pulsating bass tracks assault your ears at a frantic rate, which somehow matches the intense speed of the gameplay. It seems I’ve been saying this more and more lately, but without the soundtrack Hotline Miami would simply be missing its soul.
The Final Verdict
Hotline Miami is a lot of things: it is the pounding in your head when you first wake up after a night on tequila, it is the taste of four-day-old pizza that has been left on the counter for far too long, it is the sting of ice-cold wind on your face that awakens you on the walk to the tram stop, and most importantly it is brutal, unadulterated fun. The excessive violence almost becomes a character unto itself, propelling a twisted narrative forward at a frightening pace. Hotline Miami is one of those “once in a lifetime” games that will offer something completely unexpected, stealing away precious hours until you realise you have just spent the last four hours in front of your computer. We don’t hand out perfect scores very often at all, but this is as close to perfection as you can get.
Written by Stephen Heller
Hotline Miami is now available from GOG.com for $8.99.