A review by Jake Storey
I want to start this review by stating that I would like to believe myself to be, first and foremost in this world, a storyteller. I firmly believe that even since ancient times, a storyteller is the cornerstone of our society. Mankind tells his past with stories, his present with stories, and his future with stories. And I believe it’s all for the best seat by the fire. Figuratively, of course. So, since this review is a request from someone who enjoys my storytelling abilities, expect a certain grandeur that I believe is proper.
When I first heard of Hotline Miami, thoughts of old 80’s cop movies and shows filled my head along with A Flock Of Seagull’s ‘I Ran (So Far Away)’. Images of women in neon spandex workout gear and men in casual suits driving strange vehicles hopped up on coke and pop rocks are all I know of the 80’s.
And so I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that all of that was pretty much true. So, to actually discuss the game. Hotline Miami is an independent title, made by Dennaton Games. It’s currently on Steam for around $10 right now, and is well worth the price of admission. The gameplay is actually simple enough. It plays like a top down beat-em-up, like a combination of NES Metal Gear Solid and River City Ransom. Left Mouse to use items, Right Mouse to pick up/throw items, WASD to move. Space to finish downed enemies. Simple. Clean.
Beautiful. The controls are really tight, and very responsive. Locking is usually advised for bursting into a room and killing three guys at once, since every combat breaks out much in the way of scarface. Automatic guns, baseball bats, and bloodshed all within a matter of seconds. You COULD be boring and just gun everyone down and exploit the semi-shitty AI, or you could be awesome and throw a golf club in one guy’s face, run over to him, pick up his knife and stab him with it, burst into the hallway and throw your knife into a second guy’s face, pick up HIS gun, start shooting a bunch of guys, then kick in the door to another room, knock ANOTHER guy on his ass, then throw the empty gun away and use your bare hands to bash his skull into the floor. And you aren’t even finished with that level yet.
One may wonder why I didn’t discuss the story first. Usually with these types of things someone explains the story in a half assed way and you don’t know what the game is really about but you get a good gist. Not the case here. The story, if it can even be called that, is a string of events tied loosely together with mysterious messages left on the answering machine in your apartment. Is it one of those ‘story is left up to the player’ games, or is there a DEEP inner meaning to all of the shit going on? Is it the main character’s actual actions or are they symbolic? HOTLINE MIAMI DOESN’T GIVE A FUCK YOU KNOW WHAT IT GIVES YOU?
“Rubber animal masks that give you powers and sometimes talk to you.”, which is a pretty good way to sum it up.
Now, that’s not to say that the game is a complete clusterfuck of LOL RANDUMB XD chaos, this is chaos done right. It’s like you’re watching it through a coke-induced haze, which was all the rage back in the day. Drugs aren’t even featured predominantly in the game, it’s part of the backdrop, a seedy world of violence you and your chicken mask carve through.
I found myself enthralled with the backgrounds and wanting more out of the story. I scoured every level with all the fun new masks I was awarded with for killing guys in creative (or not so creative) ways, wondering what new animal with a funny name like Don Juan or Rasmus would show up next. And the minor detail of bodies not magically disappearing was nice too, so when I was finished with the level and walked back to my sweet ass Delorian with the digital phone built in (New Wave!) I could see the carnage like a scrapbook of violence.
Now, the game is no cakewalk. SEVERAL times I had to keep replaying a level because a stray dog I missed came out of nowhere and killed me, or I walked too far out and stepped into some burly russian dude’s FOV, but I kept trying and trying until I was a fluid motion, trying new ways and new paths. If you’re into that whole 100% completion thing or replaying a game in a different way, you’ll get some mileage out of this one.
The sound was crisp and detailed. I liked it. The music was wild and varied. I loved it. I keep going back to how much this felt like an 80’s drug haze. I’d like to think I was right. Right before a big gunfight or level it gets all tense, and the in between parts where you go through the protagonist’s head are wild and slow.
Hell, that pretty much shows the pace of the game. It jerks you back and forth between quiet and loud, bloody and peaceful, strange and normal.
Excellent packaging, a refreshing breaking of the mold, good music and sound, a story that you have to dig for, a decent price tag, and more. These are a few reasons Hotline Miami was enjoyable. I’m not going to praise it as a legendary game by any stretch, but I will say that if you have some cash to spare, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Fucking 8/10.
Under the circumstance I would have wrote this review in a much different way, going on about my experiences with it and probably taking it a lot more (or less I give two shits either way) seriously. But just like the game, there’s a secret here you have to dig for. Like the secret ending to the game you get from finding all the secret puzzle pieces.