by Carlos Ottino on Oct. 31, 2012
I stand outside a closed door. I bash it in, knocking out the guard that stood behind it. I pick up his gun and shoot his friend before he can get up from the couch he's sitting on. The doors on either side of me open and more goons pour in -responding to the sound of gunfire- and shoot me dead before I can do anything about it.
I stand outside a closed door. I bash it in, knocking out the guard that stood behind it. I pick up his gun and throw it at the guy that's sitting on the couch. He is knocked out. I Walk up to him and bash his head against the floor. I pick up the gun and take a deep breath. The goon inside the other room aren't on alert yet. I have earned myself a couple to seconds to decide what to do next.
This is Hotline Miami.
Hotline Miami is a fantastic game.
Title: Hotline Miami
Developer: Dennaton Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: October 23, 2012 (PC)
Hotline Miami is a top-down action game set in neon-lit, pixelated, 1989 Miami in which an unnamed man dons various animal masks and grusomely murders a large number of people. He does this because the cryptic messages left overnight on his answering machine somehow tell him to.
This might sound strange, and it is. The story is very vague and weird. Throughout the game you will wonder if the main character is some kind of vigilante, just a violent thug, a murderous psycopath, or even if what you are seeing is happening at all.
Playing the game and clearing a level is a perverted spin on trial and error gameplay. You will replay every level and die countless times until you figure out the strategy that works best. When you figure out the best approach, playing through a level becomes blood-splattered choreography. Regardless, even the most careful planning can be ruined by an instance of hesitation or a simple mis-click. Then, after realizing that your carefully planned strategy isn't quite cutting it, and that you may be overthinking things, you will rush forward impulsivey and decisively, never stopping or catching a breath. The great electronic music will pound in your ears as you mow down row upon row of unsuspecting enemies. You know you are doing well because score prompts snap into existence with each kill but mainly because you are not dead.
Once you have cleared a mission and begin making your way back outside, you will get a glimpse of just how well you did. Three guys sliced to pieces in this room, where you got the jump on them and moved from one to the other as quickly as possible before they could fight back. The pile of bodies by a doorway where you ambushed a big group as they rushed to take you out. These effective visual indicators are better than any score counter or point system.
During any of these missions, you can also equip one of many animal masks. These give you different attributes; silenced shots, faster movement, among many others, and are unlocked through completing missions, achieveing a high score or simply finding them just laying around. Getting them all and then trying them out for a different playstyle adds some good replay value to the experience.
Each mission is preceded and followed by a rather mundane sequence in the protagonist's life. He will have a drink, talk to some people or rent a VHS. Slowly throughout the game, some of the stranger elements from the missions will begin to bleed into these vignettes and make you question your sanity even more. There are also small snippets of information hidden in these sequences. They might be easy to miss for some, but overlooking them detracts in no way from the game. All of this adds up to create a game that manages to be ultra violent, bright, and truly bizarre, even in its simplicity.
Of course, I should mention the minor bugs I encountered, but only because I feel like I should. There were a couple error messages upon booting the game that would not vanish until I restarted my PC, or a gun maybe wouldn't shoot 'right' when standing in a doorway or too close to an enemy. I found the crosshairs a little difficult to see at times which led to me swinging my knife the wrong direction, thus causing me to die. Even if some of these things get you killed, who cares, I knew I was going to die anyway, hit R to restart the level and move on. As a sidenote to this, the game doesn't let you change masks in a mission which is something that I wanted to do sometimes after dying in the interest of trying a different strategy. While it is a bit annoying, I can see how it would kind of break the flow as this is a game that is best played without pausing at all.
This is a game that stimulates your mind, your reflexes and your body. It plays with your head in a very pleasant way and it doesn't so much as hinder your progress with its difficulty as it taunts you to push on and uncover its twisted secrets. It might make you uneasy, but the good kind of uneasy.
(Phenomenal - A fantastic experience that surpasses almost all expectations.)