An appealing characteristic of indie games are the welcome nods to previous generations of game development. With so many attempting to tug at strings of nostalgia, few encapsulate the essence of the 8-bit era as well as, Hotline Miami. A simplistic and addictive gameplay mechanic, shrouded by a voyeuristic presentation, subtly influenced by Rockstar's commentary on pop-culture and violence; Hotline Miami questions our understanding of a world where a player's only substantial interaction, is through brutality. If you're looking for a proper throwback, with adult themes, then you're in luck, because Hotline Miami is a pleasure to play.
Hotline Miami takes place in late 1980s, Florida. Players control a nameless protagonist, on a downward spiral of homicide and schizophrenia. Guided by voicemail messages, players are presented with the ruse of menial tasks, propelling them into a series of assassination missions. Arriving at the requested locations, dozens of armed thugs await your swift vengeance. On-the-fly movement and reactionary weapon choice are required to survive each room in one rhythmic and fluid chain of brutal kills. As strong, pulsating, electronica plays and neon pixels flash amidst the ensuing massacre, you go into a frenzy of quick reaction. When the dust settles, all that' left is a bloody breadcrumb trail and you're given a brief moment of decompression; another layer of the cryptic story, and a voicemail sending you to your next location.
Hotline Miami's most compelling aspect is it's addicting gameplay. Combat feels frantic and satisfying. Players sprint through each room, clearing out enemies in various brutal fashions. A successful run will take all of under a minute and failure instantly restarts you at the beginning of your checkpoint. Even after dying repeatedly, disappointment never discourages enough to make you except surrender. It's a trial and error gameplay that cost gamers many quarters, years ago and a testament to the high replay value.
At it's best, Hotline Miami requires you to let go of your natural instinct of avoiding death. Slowly clearing each room, while a safer option; the real excitement and rewards come from running through each room and chaining together kills. To reach that point, you'll die often. The game offers little room for error, but you never feel cheated. Accessing your surroundings pays off, and not checking down a long hallway can easily result in an instant death. I rarely finished a scenario on my first attempt, but after a few growing pains, I was sprinting through levels, chaining each kill, then quickly exiting like an expert. Experimenting with different ways of quickly bunny hopping between enemies not only nets you the most points, but it's then that you realize how insanely addictive the Hotline Miami can be.
At the beginning of each mission, players choose which mask to wear. Masks conceal your identity as well as granting various bonuses. Each mask has different tactical altering effects, creating new options for each approach to a given mission. “Lethal Doors” was probably my favorite. With this mask active, anyone obstructing a door, I burst through, was instantly killed. The additional layer makes breaching a room even more satisfying, and fundamentally change how you approach each mission. Many other bonuses have equal weight on play styles: walk fast, dogs don't attack, and survive one bullet.
When not on a killing binge, brief scenarios take place, giving the player an inside look into the protagonist's life. Aside from the occasional small-talk between familiar store owners, a routine of picking up pizza, renting VHS movies, and going to bars, constitute a lonely existence. Eventually, violence feels like the only means of true connection with the world of Hotline Miami, and may just serve as a commentary for a society that's both apathetic and desensitized. The true intent of our protagonist is never brought to light, and leaves a bit to be desired, considering the potential of the commentary and how complete the game would have been with the storyline tied up.
During the time of this review, controller support isn't available, without tweaking of system files. I highly recommend doing so, as the game feels great on an Xbox 360 controller. A patch will most likely fix this in the near future, but if you're not willing to copy some files into the game folder, I'd seriously consider holding off on purchasing, until the patch goes live. That being said, the game still controls fairly well with mouse and keyboard, but the gamepad felt more natural.
Is Hotline Miami for everyone? Not necessarily. If you're someone who is easily frustrated, lacks a controller to play on PC, or are turned off by copious amounts of violence, then you might want to pass this one up. Hotline Miami will appeal to players wanting a difficult game that's both deep and simplistic. Combat is rewarding and the overall presentation lends another layer of intensity to Hotline Miami's frantically violent scenarios. If you ever wondered what it would feel like to be placed in the lead role of Nicholas Refn's Drive, Hotline Miami hits the mark. It's a true spiritual successor to the era of 8-bit gaming, with an adult themed twist.
Randy Lo Gudice is 1985FM's Editor-in-Chief. You may follow him via twitter @CursingUser