The synth beat kicks in as I kick open the door, narrowly missing the thug stood by the toilet, I swing my fist and he flies into the wall, a swift kick to his face and his head explodes into a geyser of red, I pick up his hammer and I’m into the next room, I swing once and a man explodes, but I’m gone before he hits the ground, as I charge on through to the hall I throw the hammer now, knocking a thug over, so I lean down to paint the floor with his brains and pick up his shotgun, bursting into the room next door and letting loose four of my six shots, the room’s decor transformed from garish to grisly in the blink of an eye, the beat still pulses, and I’m yet to exhale, but a sentence only lasts for so long before it needs a full stop.
Welcome to Hotline Miami, a breathlessly paced top-down shooter that combines the retro 80s ultra-violent aesthetic of films like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, with tight-as-you-like mechanics and a bizarre narrative. Hotline Miami puts you in the shoes of a man on a mission without motive. An answerphone delivers cryptic messages and you head to the location cited in your stylish car (wearing your stylish jacket). Upon arrival you choose an animal mask to hide your face and disassociate yourself from the guilt that deserves to follow your coming actions.
Every mission is the same, you burst through the door and proceed to systematically slaughter every inhabitant, using a combination of fisticuffs, melee weapons, guns and thrown weapons. This all happens at high speed, a missed punch or stray bullet will almost invariably spell your death. But death is nothing to be afraid of here, press R and try again. As you play and die and play and die, you gradually learn the level you’re in. You work out which enemies you can take out quickly, you learn their patterns of movement and the predictable nature of the AI and you start to almost unconsciously plan a strategy, revised in increments on every death. It’s reminiscent of Super Meat Boy, piecing together success through countless failures (reminiscent too are the occasional jaw-gnashing moments of frustration). When at last your plan comes together in a moment of precise action and seamless movement it looks and feels great, like choreographed brutal ballet. And when it’s done,the music stops and the landscape is decorated with the remains of these nameless faceless men, you take a moment to see what you’ve wrought. It can be a sobering invitation to regret. It only lasts a moment though.
Perhaps the least successful part of Hotline Miami is the story, there are fragmented pieces of narrative littered in between levels, as our protagonist visits shops and stores and sees the same faces everywhere he goes. Scenes are repeated and grisly sights start to invade these now familiar places, suggesting that the nameless protagonist is starting to unravel as his body count stacks up. The story helps to build a sense of the wrongness of your actions, it hints at mental decline as surely as the visuals hint at substance abuse, but it never amounts to much more than that.
Hotline is a short game, the average player will probably finish it in 2-3 hours, but there’s added replay value in racking up high-scores, unlocking new weapons to appear in the levels and through unlocking different animal masks to wear. The masks also provide a slight gameplay modifier you can use to tailor your play-style, or overcome a specific challenge. For instance you can wear a monkey mask that increases the time you have to string together combos. Or if you struggle with the speedy guard dogs, you can wear a mask that prevents them from attacking you, although heartbreakingly you still have to murder them. You’re graded for performance at the end of each level and the truly elite players will want to unlock an A+ rating on each of them. I’ve managed just one so far (described in the first paragraph) and I felt like a god of slaughter, my elation only tempered by disgust at that notion.
It almost goes without saying if you’ve seen the trailers for Hotline, but this is a damned stylish game from the excellent music to the retro trimmings. Accusations of style over substance evaporate quickly and by 3 am you’ll find your hand twisted into a claw as your timing becomes too sloppy to continue.
Hotline Miami is ultra-violence that makes you feel cool, then makes you feel guilty for feeling cool. But fuck feeling guilty, because I’m wearing a mask and they deserved to die.
Verdict : Red Mist
Platforms Available: PC, Mac
Platform Reviewed: PC