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Game Review: Hotline Miami

Posted November 5, 2012 by Ciarán O'Brien in Action


Ramp Rating


Genre: ,
Release Date: October 23 for PC/Mac, consoles TBA


Difficulty gives one-more-go feel instead of frustration. Clever statement about violence.


Definitely not kid-friendly. Controls can get in the way. Contains some visual bugs.

Novelty animal masks and shotguns for everyone! Ciarán dons a cheap white suit, shades and boat shoes to investigate the latest in psychedelic, bone-snapping, exit-wounding indie violence.

by Ciarán O'Brien
Full Article

The door slams inwards, knocking a shotgun-wielding thug to the ground. I charge in and punch a second mook to the floor, his baseball bat skittering away. Before he can rise I slam his head repeatedly into the ground until it bursts open like a rotten melon. The shotgun mook recovers, but I’ve grabbed the bat and my swing connects, and with a spurt of crimson he falls again, permanently. I snatch his gun just as reinforcements arrive. Alas, nobody told them never to bring a knife to a gunfight…

This stuff happens all the time in Hotline Miami. And holy balls, it happens good and hard. It’s a simple game, really: retro 2D topdown view like the original Grand Theft Auto. WASD to move, mouse to aim, click to use your weapon. Your objective: murder everything. And it’s this simplicity that makes it really goddamn addictive. Since one punch or bullet will kill you, it becomes a ballet of dodging, shooting and tactical butchery. Melee weapons can kill without alerting nearby guards, but are useless against guns. You have to plan your assaults and then commit to them, because hesitation will kill you. This is a very fast game, and punishes the indecisive. Thankfully, levels are small and restarting is a learning experience, not a chore. You can also unlock different animal masks to wear in a level, each conferring perks like silent guns, extra ammo and more.

Somehow, the retro visuals make the violence stand out more.

For a game centred totally on shameless ultra-violence, there’s a good plot. The protagonist wakes up in unfamiliar surroundings, and is questioned by mysterious figures in animal masks. They hint at an explanation for all of this, but only in time. The first time, one of them asks an important question: ‘Do you like hurting people?’. You awake in your apartment, and receive phone messages detailing assassination targets. Off you go, kicking in doors, slicing throats and throwing boiling water on faces. Job done, you drive off in your car and try to live a normal life, renting videos, ordering pizza, things like that. But each time you wake up in your home, you can see something else that shows your life slipping away: one day the dishes are all unwashed; another day the trash is piled up in the kitchen; another there are empty pizza boxes everywhere. News clippings around the house recount brutal massacres that sound rather like the previous level, and always, the answer-phone is waiting to give you another target. And off you go again.

The music is adrenaline-pumping electro during the action, and low droning as soon as the last enemy passes away, giving a dull, hollow feel to the game when you’re not knee-deep in gore. The graphics are clear and defined (especially the blood as it sprays and pools everywhere), but anything outside the game area is a bright clash of vivid colours, like what people who’ve never taken drugs think an acid bender looks like. Both music and visuals create an excellent, surreal mood: between the strange masked interrogations, the psychotic bloodbaths and the sad, pathetic attempts of the protagonist to hold on to normality afterwards, you end up wondering just how much is real.

We’d go into more detail about the story, but it’s actually very clever and deserves to be experienced first hand. Suffice to say that Hotline Miami is cheap, violent fun. But there’s an underlying message there too. The sometimes shocking violence forces you to confront your own reaction to it, and ask yourself : Do you like hurting people?

Hotline Miami is available on Steam and GOG.

About the Author

Ciarán O'Brien

Ciarán has been gaming since the days of the Amiga 500, all the way up to the latest tabletop RPGs and wargames. A friendly, gentle soul who wouldn't harm a fly right up until the point where you touch his whiskey.

  • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

    Jaysus. What would Will Smith say?

    Anyone else find it bemusing that the makers of HL could get a complex and thoughtful plot into such a superficially-retro game when makers of bigger, broader shooters consistently fail to come up with anything half as engaging?

    • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

      I dunno. When you’ve got money and pretty texture maps and phong shaders (whatever the hell they are) to throw at a game, I think it’s very easy to get lazy. Games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment advanced the story almost exclusively through text-based cutscenes like Hotline Miami, and their stories have caused more emotional gut-punches than any amount of admittedly pretty explosions…

      What I loved most about this game is the way it made me feel kinda disgusted at myself for enjoying it. The satisfaction you get from managing to clear a room of thugs in one seamless montage of crushed skulls and spattered vital organs is not, strictly speaking, a concept one SHOULD enjoy. There’s a sort of glorying-in-depravity thing at work there that you don’t even get from GTA’s shag-a-hooker-then-murder-her-to-get-your-money-back thing that caused so much controversy back in the day.

      • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

        Ban this sick filth now!

        But see what I mean: your reaction to the game is one that Gasper Noe would be pleased to elicit from an audience. Having the budget, capability or obligation to produce cutting edge graphics shouldn’t come at the expense of either gameplay or plot, and the rise of the indie game is showing gamers that storyline doesn’t have to be an afterthought.

        The big publishers need to step up to the plate. Hotline Miami looks set to nab a place on more than a few gaming mags/sites’ Best Of 2012 lists.

      • http://www.emesq.com/ Colm

        I feel less conflicted about the violence in this than in e.g. Modern Warfare, because Hotline Miami never acts like it’s noble. More like, “You’re a horrible person. Go nuts.” It’s not apologising for its flights of fancy.

        As regards plot, yeah, it’s pretty amazing how the little unspoken details add up. Especially in the apartment scenes.

  • http://twitter.com/Fearganainim Fearganainim

    I love this game and I urge anyone with a modicum of interest in gaming to play it. Stone cold classic…Cheap too, and if you can’t afford it, the developer has encouraged you to pirate it…Go forth and kill…

  • http://twitter.com/Fearganainim Fearganainim

    I noticed above you have stated it is available for Mac. It isn’t. Not Yet. They’re working on it however.

    • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

      Curse you badly designed official game website and tricksy Wikipedia entry! Cuuuuuuuuurse yooooooou!

      • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

        If they work on it fast enough, we won’t be wrong. Hurry, developers! Hurry!

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