Genre: People Pulverizing Puzzle
Developer: Devolver Digital
Publisher: Abstraction Games
Release Date: 6/25/2013
Which mask called out the most to me today, I thought as I sat in my car outside of the building which matched the address that was left on my answering machine.
The frog one, I decided, and then I pulled it down over my head, breathing in the plastic scent of it. I got out of the car, walked up to the building and took a breath. I was ready.
I ran into the room, making a beeline to the man standing in the middle of it. Before he could register surprise on his face or call out, I grabbed him by the neck, dug my fingers in, and tore his throat out. Blood sprayed out once, warm and wet, before he fell to the floor. The baseball bat he was holding clattered to the floor next to the man. I picked it up and moved over to a closed door. I could hear someone walking back and forth on the other side. I waited, and then kicked the door open. The door hit the pacing man on the other side and knocked him down. I saw another man further in the room holding a shotgun; I threw the bat at him before he could bring the shotgun up. Luck was with me, it connected hard enough to bring him to his knees. I moved over to the man the door knocked down and put his head in my heads, preparing to snap his neck…
And then a dog I didn’t see further into the room killed me.
I sighed, and pressed X to restart.
That’s kind of what Hotline Miami is like (with a bit of dramatic license taken). It’s hyper-violent, difficult, confusing, and most of all amazing.
Starting a new game put you right into a tutorial of someone who is there to teach you how to kill people. The game is displayed in a 2D 16-bit style, from a top down perspective. There are some confusing story elements, but the gist of it is that you’re playing as a guy who gets innocuous answering machine messages that include street addresses. The character you control then drives to the location from the answering machine messages with the goal of murdering everyone.
There’s more to the story than that, but what any of it means remains a mystery to me. Non-violent scenes are told with giant heads that take up part of the screen and are constantly moving back and forth, cryptic messages told to the character by masks in a room filled with flies, and that might just be a dream sequence. It never really made any sense to me. There are puzzle pieces you can find in levels that when pieced together can reveal some more of the story at the end, but even with that information I still wasn’t sure what was going on.
And that’s okay.
The game takes place in the ‘80s, and there’s something about the over the top violence, pastel colors, and the coked out, confusing story that makes it feel like a piece of exploitive media that could’ve been pulled right out of that era. It’s not something every game or developer can pull off, but the story perfectly matches the tone of the game.
As mentioned, the graphics are simplistic. This is almost for the best considering the level of graphic violence that’s within the game. If it had super realistic graphics, then I’m not sure the game would get past the ESRB. Then again, there’s something about the simplistic graphics along with the immediacy of the violence that forced my mind to flex that atrophied brain muscle we call imagination, and I was mentally seeing the graphic images that were taking place in a way that realistic graphics can not provide. The graphics are fine for what the game is about, and objectives, enemies, and objects are clear and easy to understand. There are some interesting choices made, like how the screen tilts back and forth after completing an area, that add to the experience.
While I don’t want to undersell the rest of the game, I have to say that my favorite thing is the music. The sound effects are great and all, but that music. That music. It’s perfect. I’d recommend just listening to the soundtrack even if you don’t play the game. My wife doesn’t like to watch me play video games, especially violent ones, but she wanted to be around when I played the game just to hear it. It’s great.
How the game plays out is this:
You start out in a dirty house, listen to an answering machine and then you get into a car to drive to the given address. At the location you move from room to room killing everything in sight. Different kills results in different scores, with the goal to get the highest score. Killing is easy, but so is dying. Every single enemy can kill you just as quickly as you can kill them. At the same time, planning tactically and moving slowly will not get you the most amount of points, and isn’t honestly the best approach to most situations. The game is meant to be played like a twitch based game where reaction speed is vital, but it’s also a game where every action needs to be made deliberately. This means if you hit the wrong button, or are just too slow, you die. The penalty for death is just restarting that area of a map over again, and if you fail you can restart immediately. In some ways it reminds me of a violent video game version of Trials, meaning if you fail it’s easy to understand why you failed and can try again without delay. That’s the kind of game the directly appeals to someone like me – I died upwards of 50+ times one one of the later levels and it never felt like the game was unfair or overly frustrating. Once you get into the game you fall into this rhythm of chaining together kills with speed and precision, and there’s a rush to going back and completing a prior level in a quarter of the time it took before. Some games encourage timid play, but this game is all about risk versus reward with the dial turned up to 11 in both areas.
The only thing that’s a pain in the butt is the controls. The game has made the transition from keyboard and mouse to the Dualshock controller mostly intact. Left joystick moves the character and right joystick aims. You can lock onto enemies with the square button, or just push down on the right joystick. L1 throws weapons, R1 is for attacks, X is for executions, and O drops/picks up weapons. It mostly works, though there are intense moment where the right joystick aiming doesn’t feel as precise as a mouse pointer would be. In this game, any hesitation, or failure to line up a shot correctly, equals death. While I take full credit for the majority of the deaths that happened when I played, a small percentage of those deaths were the result of the controls not being up to par. I can specifically think of a level towards the end that was incredibly difficult, and only so because I had a hard time aiming at the enemy I was trying to throw something at.
Small control issues aside, I had a blast playing Hotline Miami. It’s not just a game, it’s an experience. Not only is the game tightly designed, it also has a strong artistic voice that makes it a unique product that stands out amid other games.
Finally, if you own a PS3 and a Vita, the game does support cross play. You buy the game for one and can play it on both, with the option and ability to save a game on the PS3, and then pick up where you left off on the Vita, and vice versa. I do not have a Vita, but this game made me kind of wish I did have one, because it’s a game that you can easily pick up and play for just five minutes which makes it a perfect title for portability. If you haven’t bought the PC version, or if you have and want a portable version of the game, this is a great idea that I wish more games would implement.
Short Attention Span Summary:
It doesn’t matter if you buy it on the PS3, Vita or PC, I highly recommend Hotline Miami. As a game, it’s great, as an experience, it’s one-of-a-kind.