Hotline Miami Review
Calling All Maniacs
The digital marketplace is the perfect environment for crazy games to succeed. Unique, utterly maniacal games such as Hotline Miami thrive here, and excel for how unusual and unexpected they are. For a title designed to make people infuriated, I’ve never been so aesthetically intrigued – or had so much pure enjoyment – from a downloadable title.
The story really sums up the game as a whole; it’s quick, convoluted, and feels like an acid trip. You’ll be scratching your head throughout the majority of dialogue and scripted sequences, and most everything you do revolves around the cryptic orders you receive on a telephone. It’s assumed you are a vigilante (or, at the least, a gun for hire) as you go on massive killing sprees, wiping out entire penthouses of gangsters in one swift attack.
Though it lacks a particular amount of depth, polish, and cohesive storytelling, the narrative really does carry the gameplay in an interesting way. I would find myself grinding through level after level in the hopes that I could find one thing: Answers. Answers to why I was killing mounds of criminals. Answers to who I was getting orders from. Answers to who I was.
It’s hard to dive too deeply in the story without spoiling anything, so I’ll tell you this: Even though the story was surprisingly interesting, the conclusion feels like a cop-out. It’ll leave you more puzzled than ever, and for all the wrong reasons.
Brilliant fast-paced, brutal combat takes up the majority of gameplay in Hotline Miami. Top-down, ridiculous violence will have you bashing and shooting up the enemies with whatever viable weapon you can find, whether it’s a shotgun, golf club, brick, uzi, pool cue, or dozens of other laughably random weapons. It essentially plays like a twin-stick shooter (such as Dead Nation), but with a grittier, ultra-brutal feel. The gameplay has undeniable strengths; namely, the one-hit kill system (for both you AND your enemies), that makes every movement a do-or-die decision and forces you to be precise to survive. One false step can, and inevitably will, get you killed.
With that being said, Hotline Miami isn’t a game that’s meant to be played with caution. In fact, the game explicitly tells you quite the opposite. Going in with reckless abandon will invariably reward you with a higher score, sure. But when I’d throw caution to the wind and just wing it through a level, I’d find myself shrieking with joy like teenage girl. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something magical about watching a perfectly executed battle plan fall to pieces before your eyes, leaving you with no choice but to start flailing your arms around at bad guys like a mindless lunatic on bathsalts.
The outrageous amount of quick, often unavoidable deaths would get old rather quickly if they weren’t well done. Thankfully, Dennaton Games handles this perfectly by letting you respawn back into the action the exact moment you die, meaning you can easily rack up dozens of attempts (or, rather, deaths) in less than a minute. While the core gameplay mechanics focus on violently clearing stages, though, it feels oddly similar to a puzzle game. If you want to cheat death for longer than a few seconds, you’d better be willing to go through some serious trial-and-error to figure out the best way kill off every enemy.
As a game with retro roots, you can expect to see some incarnation of boss fights dispersed so often throughout the levels. While these are never particularly hard, they do require quite a few respawns to understand attack patterns. When compared to the rest of the game this shouldn’t be an issue, but scripted events and dialogue almost always take place before a boss fight. Mashing the X button might make the scene play out faster, but the quick pacing that makes Hotline Miami a joy to play is essentially gone.
Graphics & Sound
Hearkening back to the days of sketchy Miami underground operations and classy 8-bit graphics is a recipe for greatness. Everything about the visuals – the absorbing blends of teal and hot pink, the shockingly detailed stages, the blood-soaked animations, and even the title/loading screens – has personality to it. It’s Vice City meets Retro City Rampage, only prettier.
Although Hotline Miami has got some style graphically, the real charm comes from the scintillating, surreal soundtrack. It takes classic 8-bit era chiptunes and fleshes them out into an absolutely epic score. You’ll be able to chill during downtime with dizzying surfer-esque mix, and battles are so much more satisfying with the pings and synthetic tones that drop as you try to conquer a level. And, no matter how many times I hear the same songs repeating, it never gets old. Hell, I listened to the soundtrack while I wrote this review. It adds a stunning dynamic to the overall feel of the game, and I cannot praise the artists involved enough.
As I said earlier, precision is vital to survival in Hotline Miami, so it’s unfortunate that the controls are about as far from pinpoint accuracy as you can get. The feature that allows you to lock onto an enemy is clunky and, even after several hours of gameplay, I still had trouble aiming in the direction I wanted to. Countless times I would just enter a room and forget about aiming, and instead strafe towards any enemies. In the end, I had plenty of deaths that resulted from poor controls, which is a crippling complaint even for a game that rewards you for getting 1000 deaths.
At the time of this writing, I also experienced a few freezing issues. Grinding for twenty minutes to get a chapter’s high score may be invigorating, but when all that progress is wiped (multiple times) because of a fatal bug, you can expect some four letter words to be screamed at the top of your lungs.
The release on PlayStation Network includes Cross-Buy and Cross-Save support, meaning buying it on PlayStation 3 will give you a Vita copy, and vice-versa. The saves carry over, giving you the perfect opportunity to experience Hotline Miami on the go, and hear the outstanding soundtrack through a pair of headphones. There’s also a horde of PSN trophies to collect, including a platinum.
The laundry list of in-game time-wasters is just as intriguing, giving you access to personal high scores, online leaderboards, unlockable masks and weapons, bonus missions, and a secret ending (shh, you didn’t hear that from me). Most of all, though, you’ll want to come back to Hotline Miami well after story has stayed its course, it’s just that entertaining.
There were a few times where I would get frustrated with Hotline Miami for its bugs or flaws; however, when the game is intentionally frustrating the player, sometimes it elicits the the opposite reaction and becomes nearly impossible to put down. If you’ve been looking for a downloadable title that’s grim, engaging, gorgeous, and challenging, Hotline Miami is the virtual jackpot.