Indie Review: Hotline Miami
"We have a mess for you to clean up downtown. As always, be discrete".
- Worth The Time?Absolutely, a short and sweet package that won't make you regret the time you spent with it.
- Things LovedSimple yet deep gameplay, extremely challenging, intriguing premise, stunning 2D visuals that capture Miami 1989, a stellar soundtrack, polished gameplay that rewards experimentation.
- Things HatedBoss battles are a bit unbalanced, some minor technical issues.
- RecommendationSitting at $10, Hotline Miami is an absolute steal. Featuring a 3-5 hour campaign and a scoring system that will beg you to re-visit most levels, Hotline Miami is more than worth the small admission fee.
- Name: Hotline Miami
- Genre: Top-Down Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC
- Developer: Devolver Digital
- Publisher: Dennaton
- Price: Approx R90.00 ($10)
- Reviewed On: PC
It’s Miami, 1989. You wake up to the sound of your phone ringing. A voice on the other side tells you of a party that needs cleaning up at a building not far from you. As always, efficiency and discretion are suggested. You head down stairs, hop into a car and head to the address given. Inside are heavily armed guards, waiting to pull that trigger on anyone that gets too close. You pull on an animal mask and get to work. Walking out of the building, a blood bath left in your wake, you head over to the nearby pizza place, pick up a pie and head home. In the morning, it starts all over again.
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Hotline Miami doesn’t always tell you why you’re forced to partake in extreme acts of violence. This top-down stealth title rarely hints as to why your character is summoned to random locations and forced to kill everyone in sight, usually with some brutal executions and efficiency, but it uses this to its advantage. Featuring some robust stealth and twitch-based gameplay with some immaculate level design, Hotline Miami quickly establishes itself as one of the finest indie titles of this year. Although a few frustrating issues hold it back from perfection, Hotline Miami is a hardcore experience that once again shows just how incredible independently developed games can be.
Hotline Miami kicks off with a nameless protagonist in a dark room. You’re immediately introduced to three unknown people wearing animal masks that talk in riddles and suggest to you that you know them somehow. The world soon fades to black and you wake up in your apartment, the red light on your answering machine blinking and waiting for you to pick up. This is essentially how each of Hotline Miami’s nineteen levels start. You receive a message about how a building needs visiting or “cleaning up” which acts as a prelude to your murderous rampage soon to follow. Who are these people that keep calling you? Are you a professional hitman or a subject of a cocaine-filled fever dream? Hotline Miami rarely tries to answer that question, but the further you go into the game the more it becomes apparent that nothing is actually what it seems. The narrative drips of old-school slasher action, and it’s great that the game keeps you thinking about why you’re doing what you’re doing, all to the back drop of gratuitous violence and dismembered limbs.
Hotline Miami may be a top-down 2D shooter, but don’t let that make you think that you won’t occasionally cringe at some of the brutal executions you’re able to pull off. Slitting an enemy’s throat and watching the blood slash all over the floor, jumping on top of a downed enemies and smashing his face in with your fists or crushing skulls against walls are all common occurrences and powerful moments during combat, really emphasising the brutality of your actions. Controlling the nameless protagonist is done with the mouse or keyboard (or a gamepad, with support being released recently), with a tight and simple control scheme complementing the games outlandish difficulty. You and your enemies only take one hit to kick the bucket. Whether that comes in the form of a shotgun shell to the face or a lead pipe across the forehead, Hotline Miami isn’t shy of punishing your every mistake. Thankfully, the control scheme holds up well during the frantic action, allowing you to have faith that all your mouse clicks will lead to quick and swift death to you enemies.
Hotline Miami is easily comparable to Super Meat Boy. You will die, and you will die a lot. Rather than making this a lengthy punishment, death actually forms part of Hotline Miami’s mechanics. The game begs to be played in a reckless and fast manner, frowning on slow and methodical gameplay with numerous deaths that make you efforts feel like they were for nothing. Rather than tip-toeing through each mission, Hotline Miami rewards you for quick movement and killing, but this usually comes at the expense of numerous and bloody deaths while you figure out which routes are best to tackle first. Frequent checkpoints and quick load times ensure that these deaths won’t keep you out of the game long and the sense of accomplishment when finally finishing a mission that has plagued you with death after death is extremely rewarding. Your failures emerge from mistakes and errors on your part, making you successes all the more exhilarating.
There’s also some choices to make as how you intended to tackle each mission. This variety comes in the form of various different animal masks you can equip before beginning a mission, with each mask changing the formula a bit. While one mask might make you move a little bit quicker, another could make attack dogs friendly towards you. You always have to choose which mask to equip before beginning the mission, which is a good and bad thing. While this makes you utilise the mask you chose to the best of your ability, you can often find yourself wishing you had made a different decision half-way through, forcing you to reload the entire level to change your mask. While allowing you to equip different masks mid-mission would most certainly break the experience, a nice quick “reload mission with different mask” type option would be a welcome addition. Regardless, the animal masks ensure that the action doesn’t get stale at any point and it’s interesting to see how your play style adjusts subtly according to your chosen mask. Also, they’re just as creepy as they sound.
Sadly, there are a few instances that serve to frustrate more than reward. These occurrences are most prominent in boss battles, which often force you to retry the same thing over and over again without any insight as how to proceed. Bosses are typically overly aggressive, killing you before you can figure out any sort of pattern in their attacks. Sure, this makes them challenging, but in contrast to the rest of the game these sections feel overly punishing. Often you’ll be forced to endure countless deaths before revealing a noticeable pattern that will help you proceed. Thankfully there aren’t many of these littered around the game, but you’ll most probably dread the next encounter after tearing your hair out over a particular foe. Additionally, the game sometimes falters when it comes to hit detection, which can be extremely frustrating near the end of mission. Having just one enemy left to complete a section, only to have him magically phase through your baseball bat and punish you with a knife to the face is both frustrating and confusing, because you’re not entirely sure if you overestimated the range of your swing or if the game decided to play a practical joke on you. It’s rare for something like this to happen, but when it does you’ll most probably be ready to throw your keyboard through your monitor.
Visually the game calls back to some splendid retro visuals, with all your violence being translated into some awesome pixelated glory. It’s rather incredible just how much detail is squeezed out of a restrictive view and colour pallet, but the Hotline Miami manages to pull of some of the most gruesome and violent scenes I’ve ever seen in gaming regardless. Levels also contain a surprising amount of visual variety, although the same can’t be said for enemies. Levels pulsate in psychedelically coloured backgrounds, again suggesting that you’re partaking in a drug-fuelled rampage rather than methodical killing. However, the best part of Hotline Miami is its soundtrack. Your murderous rampages are set to the backdrop of slow-tempo psychedelic grooves which quickly turn into fast electro tracks as your game starts speeding up, giving the entire experience a sense of mayhem. You can almost feel your actions slowly spiralling out of control as the music warps you into a world of its own, promising not to let go even after you’ve turned off. It’s intoxicatingly amazing and easily one of the best soundtracks you could find in gaming today.
Hotline Miami is a deceptive little package. You could easily look at a few screenshots and quickly dismiss this title as simple retro-recreation, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Hotline Miami is an engrossing, challenging and rewarding little package that aims to shock. It’s a homage to 80’s slasher films and drug culture, not shy to show you a gritty picture with a host of colourful visuals. The soundtrack alone is enough to justify a purchase, but combine that with simple, rich gameplay and in interesting premise and you have one of the best titles this year has to offer. Don’t think twice about diving into Hotline Miami, you won’t be disappointed.