If Hotline Miami came out in the 90s, it would not have needed the PR-stirred hype that the original Grand Theft Auto (you know, the top-down one with all the over-the-top gore) went for in order to gain media attention. This thing is bloody, challenging, bloody, murderous, bloody, and dare I say, original. It’s basically a Super Meat Boy-esque murder simulator set in an alternative 1989 Miami full of animal masks and psychotic episodes. Sounds like my cup of tea, but is it anything like what you’re interested in?
The game starts with a very short tutorial level in an unspecified location. The very first line of dialog comes from a green-eyed hobo who tells you that he’s going to teach you how to kill people. After maiming three individuals with different weapons (hands, baseball bat, shotgun), the tutorial ends. You are then thrown into a surreal discussion with what could be people wearing animal masks or people with animal heads or… I have no idea. At this point, you will know if this game is down your alleyway or not – and the killings hasn’t begun yet. Hotline Miami is unique. It has a unique style in terms of graphics, of soundtrack and of gameplay.
The game is extremely fast-paced. You are usually tasked with clearing out a building full of hostiles so that in the end, you can go either assassinate a target or retrieve a special item, like a briefcase. You enter the building equipped with nothing but a rubber animal mask and leave with an assortment of weapons, and a trail butchered corpses behind.
Since you have no weapons, killing the first enemy is usually a bit challenging. There are all sorts of weapons in the game ranging from samurai swords to uzis, though using guns have a terrible side-effect of alerting every goddamn mook in the vicinity. If you do alert them, you are forced to take down up to six guys charging straight, which is usually a suicide situation, considering how killing one or two is enough of a challenge to begin with. The game makes it a bit easier on you though, checkpointing your progress as you move between floors. Sadly, you cannot return to the lower floor to pick up equipment after you’ve crossed a checkpoint so you’ll have to stick with what you’ve got, be it a knife or an empty shotgun, which a minor design flaw and a real pain to deal with in some situations.
Normally, both you and your enemies go down in one hit, making your mission simultaneously easier and a lot more difficult. Even if you kill the three guys in the bathroom with a swing of the baseball bat, two gunmen might charge in and shoot you in down before you get a chance to react. Living and dying are just a split second apart, so good reflexes and some careful planning are key. This ain’t a game for old men.
This also ain’t incredibly long. It consists of 20 levels (served as chapters) that take a few minutes to complete. Hotline Miami provides a little replayability, though, thanks to a variety of animal masks you can collect as make your way through the game. Each of these has a different effect and bonus (e.g. killer doors, easier time finding weapons, better range or sight, etc.), which can change the gameplay around if you look hard enough for them.
Hotline Miami suffered from some technical problems that are not related to actual gameplay at release. There was a weird error that showed up after installing the game, relating to a C++ plugin that, once closed, immediately started the game and never showed up again. The Steam overlay is currently incompatible, only showing a hilarious option on startup asking if you want to enable Steam in-game, stating that it “it might not work.” The aforementioned C++ error was fixed in a post-release patch, but no word has been given in regards to the overlay issue.
Despite its technical flaws, Hotline Miami excels in its goal: it’s a challenging, lightning-fast paced gore-fest that harks back to the first Grand Theft Auto in both its graphical style and soul. This is an indie game through and through, no holds barred and makes no excuses of it. It’s an unique, gory and neon-filled blast that you shouldn’t miss.