Engage another human being on the topic of choice in video games and eventually someone will mention that its about ‘more than how to kill the next bad guy.’
Hotline Miami, on the other hand, is all about how to kill the next bad guy.
How to kill the next bad guy. Be that by shooting him, or punching him, or clubbing him, or smashing a door into him to knock him over then hammering your fists into his head until it’s nothing but sticky wet mess. Or, if needs be, by some elaborate scheme that lures him around a blind corner, so that you can throw a crowbar at him, steal his sawn-off and finish him off before turning the next round on his mate.
This is because the next bad guy must die.
Whether in a club or hotel, back alley or recording studio, no level is complete until every last one of the enemies is a bloody mess spattered over the décor. There are no game changing choices to make, no health bar to manage. Your inventory consists of what’s in your hands and what you take from his. Everyone must die. Even the dogs.
The next bad guy will die.
Because if he doesn’t, he’ll kill you. He’ll charge you with a knife, or a baseball bat, or a hammer. Fail to look ahead and you’ll soon find automatic fire coming your way, one misplaced shot of which will finish you for good. You’re just as fragile as he is, and he’s got far more friends.
So you’ll die. A lot. And then you’ll go again.
Because It’s great. It’s great when you are planning your course of action, picking your route through and weighing the odds. It’s great when the action kicks off, the brief, dizzying flurries of chaos, momentary dust devils of carnage whirling around you. It’s great when a plan comes together, when you calmly gun everyone down and walk casually back to the car feeling pretty hardcore.
It’s even better when it all goes wrong however, when you miss, when you enemy zigs instead of zags, and you find yourself clutching on, right at the precipice between complete control and utter disorder, desperately hacking away at the keyboard and foes that outmatch and outgun you. If, just if, you manage to come out of it alive, if you manage to ride the crest and slaughter all those foes charging you with their manifold weaponry. That is the point you’ll feel like a badass.
More likely you’ll be quickly overwhelmed, die and hit ‘r’ to reload the level and have another stab at it. And that instant reload is important, it’s like playing an FPS without a spawn timer, where mashing the button becomes second nature as soon as you are dead because you want to get straight back in the fight. Part puzzle game, part murder spree simulator, it’s as addictive as it is garish.
It’s also not as hard as the constant dying might make it sound. Of course you are going to die a lot, but dying is only ever a failed experiment, never a set back. Like Edison, you are going to find a thousand ways not to succeed. A thousand ways not to dismember maim and kill everyone in the room in order to find one way that does. Indeed, the game rewards you for recklessness and sometimes cutting loose from your self-prescribed route and going on a rampage is the way to break a deadlock.
And it’s not all predictable either, enemies are predictable but with some elements of chance built in. While their patrol routes may initially be fixed, whether or not they hear or see you can be down to chance. In addition, the enemy you take a baseball bat from this time round may be wielding an automatic rifle next time and require an entirely different approach. This might sound frustrating, but it mostly negates the irritation of repeating the same set actions on each time you reload a level.
The other thing Dennaton Games do to stop Hotline Miami from becoming tedious is to stop the action. That might sound strange but makes sense. Finish a level and the pumping soundtrack fades down to a soothing drone and you walk back to your car, picking your way over the body littered environment on the way. Then, after a brief score screen, you go and perform some menial errand before heading back to your flat for your next bloody task.
This pause in the action does more than just break the game up or simply tell the story, it builds atmosphere and tension, creating a complete game world. It also builds you up for the next foray into the battle and gives the game world a chance to breathe and acts as a good chance to portray a twisted story.
A constant cycle of trial and error is going to frustrate some, and as a result I can’t recommend Hotline Miami to everyone, but if you are looking for something quickly addictive and satisfying do give it a look – therein lies more than may at first be apparent.
Graphics:- 4/5 Pixel graphics are the darling of developers on a budget and may be getting stale, but Hotline Miami’s are dripping with neon detail (and entrails)
Sound:- 4/5 A thumping soundtrack and some clever use of audio adds the insanity of the carnage and brings you crashing down with a bump at the end. The whole thing can be listened to here – though I’d recommend playing the game first.
Longevity:- 3/5 Clever scoring makes levels infinitely replayable and different masks give different bonuses, allowing for more variation of play style. With that said, it’s not the longest game in the world.
Gameplay:– 4.5/5 The controls have been tightened and refined to the Nth degree giving a tight and satisfying experience.
Overall:- 4.5 littered bodies out of 5
Near flawless execution.
Hotline Miami was purchased by me for £6.49 from Steam.
- Sam Crisp (@thealmightymoo)