By William Shelton
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Systems: PC(Reviewed), PS3, PS4, PS Vita
Metacrtic Score: 85
The easiest way to describe Hotline Miami is that it feels like the kind of thing Quentin Tarantino would have made if he got really high playing “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and decided to leave film making to create games instead. Whether or not you’re going to enjoy the game can pretty easily be deduced from how that premise strikes you. If you like Tarantino-esk hyper violence, retro aesthetics and the garish neon’s of the 1980’s, then this will be right up your alley.
You play as an unnamed assailant who receives cryptic orders from his answering machine to go somewhere and kill everyone there. Just like a Tarantino movie there’s more depth here than is first seen, but most of the big plot revaluations near the end of the game, in the last chapter or the epilogue which follows a different protagonist. But from the outset the game asks you one question that sets the tone for the entire game: “Do you like hurting other people?”. While some may find the games conclusion disingenuous while also asking the player to cave in the heads of hundreds if not thousands of people, but I didn’t. This is a game and story very much about violence and, more specifically, the overabundance of violence in video games. Now, I enjoy violent video games. I enjoy the act of killing, maiming and brutalizing digital people, but even I can’t argue that the industry(and most gamer’s, myself included) would be better served if there was a bit more diversity in gameplay. I feel the developers feel the same way, as once all the killing is done and we learn the reason for the bloodshed, it’s hard not too feel a disturbing connection to the people on the other end of the phone. That similarity was more disturbing to me than all of the kills and pools of blood left in my wake as I progressed through the games nineteen chapters. I don’t know if this theses will hold much weight with a sequel having been released already, which plays almost identically from what I’ve heard. But that’s an issue for another day (and another review). For right now I’ll end my look at the story by simply saying that it isn’t one of my favorite video game stories, but it’s one that’s going to stay with me for a while.
Do you like hurting other people? If so, you’re in luck because that’s all you do in Hotline Miami. The game’s played from a top down perspective with each level looking like the floor plans of each building. Each mission you go to a new location and kill everyone in sight. Checkpoints are achieved once everyone has been slaughtered and you’ve moved on to the next floor. This is a good thing, as you’re going to be retrying more than a few times every level. Death for both you and your enemies comes fast, and your foes are much better shots than you are. Thankfully, upon hitting the “restart” button your placed back at the checkpoint almost instantly. When the game was at it’s most frantic I was hitting the button and getting back into the killing so fast it almost felt that the game instantly sent me back with out needing a button press at all.
While finally getting into a groove and killing off an entire floor did always feel like an accomplishment, death sometimes came due to some annoying issues. The first is the controls, at least in the beginning. You move using “WASD” but look and attack using the mouse. This control scheme took a bit getting use to and I often died because my character wasn’t looking the right way, something I didn’t noticed as they were moving the in the right direction. At first I thought a set up like “The Binding of Isaac” would have worked better, where you attack with the directional buttons, but once I got into the swing of things I found that the mouse defiantly is a benefit with the speed of combat being as fast as it is.
The camera, however, was always a pain. You only ever see a part of each level, which means that you will often find yourself taking a face load of buckshot from somewhere off screen. Even given the ability to extend your view, moves to one side cuts off where you can see on the other side. Which meant that more than a few times I’d be looking to see if someone was coming on my right, only to have some asshole sneak up on my left and and kill me from off screen again.
Game play could also have become an issue, as each level is essentially the same, but there is a nice amount of verity and the game’s not so long as to overstay its welcome. As you enter a level you can choose one of a few unlockable masks that grant perks ranging from being able to kill people when hitting them with doors, extra ammo and even silent gunshots that don’t draw any extra attention. There are 26 masks in all and while I haven’t unlocked all of them, I haven’t found one I thought was totally useless yet. Sure I have my favorites, but I enjoyed my time with each, even if I only used it for one level. In the levels themselves there are only 3 distinct types of enemies, but again, with the games length I never found this to be a real issue. Yes, more verity would have been nice but this is the kind of thing that only bothers me in hind sight. While in game I was never bothered with the enemies I was encountering.
The one time the gameplay was an issue in and of itself was a stealth section near the end of the game. Not only does this kill the pacing as these kinds of sections in action games always do, but due to some of the events in the story, the world keeps spinning which makes going through it even more painfully annoying than it already was.
Special mention has to be paid to the games soundtrack. With how much I hate techno, I thought I’d be turning off the music and replacing it with some of my own, but I never did. Not only did the games soundtrack fit the games mood and setting, but it may be the best use of electronic music I’ve heard since Far Cry 3, on top of just being the best and most tolerable I’ve heard period.
In the end, I really liked Hotline Miami. It was Fast, Brutal and one of the most Disturbing games I’ve played in a long, long time. And if I’m lucky nothing is going to top it in just as long, because I think I need to give my mind a bit of a rest after this. To me, this ranks up there with Bioshock: Infinite, and Speck Ops: The Line; games that show that violence can still be artistic, but still make us question what it says about us that we enjoy violence so damn much.