Hotline Miami Review
The recent surge in popularity with indie titles has been a renaissance for new ideas that push the boundaries and limits on what gameplay and narrative can achieve. Titles such as Limbo, Braid, and Super Meat Boy relied on traditional 2-D gameplay to deliver clever new twists on the genre while games like Amnesia: Dark Descent used the latest in technology to give players a truly immersive experience. Games like Minecraft have shown that by stripping away the excess and putting control back into the hands of the gamer, creativity can flourish.
Hotline Miami is another excellent indie title that takes the hyper-violent motifs and ideas from modern gaming and the beat-'em'up and twin-stick shooter gameplay from arcade yesteryear and combines the two with a storytelling style straight out of a David Lynch film. Combine a cool, neon-drenched aesthetic and an electro- and synth-filled soundtrack reminiscent of the movie Drive, and you have a game that is incredibly unique and instantly memorable long after your initial playthrough.
Hotline Miami takes place during the late 1980s in a neon-lit Miami, Fla. You play as an unnamed character referred to as Jacket. Your job is simple: Enter more than 19 different levels, and kill everyone in sight. There is no option to leave a character behind or show them mercy. You cannot move on until everyone is killed by your own hands.
Gameplay is a top-down perspective, controlling the character by either a mouse or controller. The keys or left joystick are used to move; the right stick or mouse is used to switch the character's direction; and the mouse buttons or shoulder buttons are for picking up and wielding weapons.
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The task lies in getting as many kills as possible, as fast as possible, and as stylishly as possible. Repetitive kills earn less points, so in order to obtain a higher score, switching up your murder methods is required.
Each tool and weapon comes with a slightly different effect, and each weapon comes with a consequence in its use. Guns can take out numerous enemies but are loud and draw attention. Melee weapons are quick and silent but lack range. Each level and its items are similar to puzzles, with trial-and-error gameplay leading to the best path to a high score.
Jacket can equip different animal-style masks for a variety of abilities. Some masks give him a starting weapon, such as a knife. Some allow him to take more damage. Each mask is either hidden in the level or collected at the end. Choosing the right mask for the right situation usually doesn’t determine success, but it does give you a slight edge over your foes -- a slight edge you will need in order to survive.
Hotline Miami is a difficult and unforgiving game. Enemies kill you with one hit, are incredibly fast, and often will swarm you from all angles if you’re not careful. Carelessly wandering into a room will get you killed, and not paying attention to your surroundings and the patterns of the enemies will result in being shot from across the stage or in a dog mauling your face. Repeat playthroughs and trial and error are the key to earning higher scores.
The amount of violence in this game adds to the satisfaction. Despite its pixilated look, the fountains of blood lend to each level looking like a Jackson Pollack painting of organs and limbs. Nothing in this game is free from a horrific, splashy death.
The extreme violence and frenetic gameplay lend themselves to the twisting, dark story. The game doesn't try to hide the fact that you are a cold-blooded murderer, reminding you before and after each evil deed. As the story continues to unfold, the game's purpose blurs, and things you thought were a certainty you begin to question. By the time it ends, the story takes a dramatic twist which is open to numerous interpretations. It’s up to the player to ultimately decide Jacket's fate, but the game takes the player to some dark places in the process.
Hotline Miami combines stellar gameplay, a fantastic, dark narrative, and one of the best soundtracks for any game this year. It’s a challenging experience that demands high commitment from the player but also continuously rewards him for his struggles and efforts with a driving plot and unlockables. It’s one of the strongest releases this year and one that will remain in the player's mind long after he has murdered his way to the top.