Nov 12, 2012
It’s dark and dank in the morning as you wake up in a sparse and ominous room. The air is close and the walls sweat in the heat. You walk through the door in front of you and are confronted with three apparitions in rubber animal masks.
So begins a spiral into depravity and insanity that is both highly disturbing and entirely thrilling as it soaks in its own depths of hyper violence and 80’s excess.
Narrative wise Hotline Miami appears at first quite shallow, its gameplay simplistic and mindless. Like a Grand Theft Auto clone minus any of the Grand Auto or Theft.
It becomes quickly apparent though that there’s much more going on here. Hotline Miami has layer upon layer of depth, there to be peeled away constantly during play, layers that reveal its depth and narrative complexity.
You’re a nameless “cleaner” for a mystery third party, waking up to find cryptic messages dictating locations that you need to visit.
Next thing you know is you’re getting out the car, donning a rubber animal mask and slaughtering everyone on sight.
This is where the depth starts to bleed in; you are a killing machine easily dealing out death to all around swiftly and violently. Baseball bats smash in skulls, knives slice open bellies and even objects like crowbars, bricks and bottles are effective weapons of death in your hands.
Death though is not picky and can come to you with just as much swift effectiveness as it can those around you. One mistimed step and you’re lying in a pool of your own entrails. Much like Super Meat Boy, Hotline Miami is a fast and hyper kinetic game as well as a very crewel and challenging one. Recklessness can leave you in a dead end quite quickly and literally. Fire off a shotgun to deal with one guy only to have four more alerted from other rooms and hunting you down with pinpoint accuracy.
The key to Hotline Miami is planning; in this respect the game is far more of an action puzzler than anything else. Each stage must be learned through trial and error before you are able to do well or even progress at all. Tactics must be drawn up for how you’ll deal with all those you come across and in what order. You can also lock onto specific people prior to your assaults in order to better plan your attack.
Masks unlocked during play apply different status effects you prior to beginning your starting assault. ( The Masks of Hotline Miami )
One might prevent dogs from attacking you, another equips you with a knife on starting out or another might allow you to take two bullets instead of one before death. These masks add some depth to the game but ultimately are all balanced out to allow for success with any choice you make.
To get all the way through the Hotline Miami experience you need to know how your going to take out the guys three kills ahead from now while you’re still making your first hit.
Luckily the games controls are tight as you could hope, using classic WASD keyboard for movement and mouse for targeting on all sides. The game also now has support for the xbox 360 pad, in which the duel substitute very well for the mouse and keyboard. I used both during the games 14 stages and while the keyboard is more responsive I had personally more luck and comfort with the controller.
The Hotline experience becomes something that’s rhythmic and endlessly repayable; no matter how often you die you never feel cheated because you know that the tools available are perfectly tuned for the task at hand. You die, you respawn and while nodding your head to the dark and deep beats of the music you get right back in and pace every move you make.
The astounding soundtrack and grimy 1980’s Miami art design go a long way to aid this rhythmic puzzle experience. The whole game drips and oozes a sick style that perfectly encapsulates the world in which you’re soaking.
It’s the games narrative depth that’s the real surprise here. Very quickly it becomes apparent that there’s a much more interesting story going on; a puzzle to be solved; a mystery that’s constantly humming in the background like the dull hum of a strip light in a run down hospital. Are you insane, a hitman, psychopath or just on a bad trip?
Maybe it’s all of the above, maybe something worse.
When you hit the last quarter of the games story though you are faced with some of the most effective and interesting narrative work I’ve seen this year. This is especially striking in a game that could have and indeed does appear like quite a shallow hyper violent experience at first glance.
Ultimately Hotline Miami is like a drug, addictive, stimulating and perception warping. It gets the pulse pounding & mind racing as you carve your way through the underworld and the depths of darkness in the human soul. It’s a thrilling, challenging and deep experience that will keep you involved in its dark and sweaty world to the games end.
For more visit the official website at www.hotlinemiami.com/