Game Review: Hotline Miami
OverviewGenre: Action, Shooter
Pros:Difficulty gives one-more-go feel instead of frustration. Clever statement about violence.
Cons: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.
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.
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?