Published on October 26th, 2012 |
by Joe Russell
Review – Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami is a game bathed in blood. It’s video games as imagined by the Daily Mail. It’s a pulsing, irrepressible headache of 80s-themed mental illness, distilled into twenty or so levels of unmitigated murder. It’s also one of the most refreshing, engaging gaming experiences I’ve had this year.
Put very simply, Hotline Miami tasks the player with facing down a building full of armed goons, normally starting with just your bare hands. In case that didn’t sound daunting, there’s also the fact that you’re just as vulnerable as one of those goons (more so than some later ones), and if you mistime your attack by a split second, you’ll be glaring angrily at your virtual corpse and reaching for your restart key.
The restart key is vital. Like the notoriously difficult Dark Souls, death isn’t an unintended consequence in Hotline Miami. It’s as much a part of the game as cutting someone in half with a fire axe. In practise, you’ll find yourself dying dozens of times as you slowly form a plan of attack in your head – subconsciously noting down behaviour patterns and timings after each failed attempt and compiling them into the master plan that will eventually see you through.
Get used to this sight, as much for the restart option as the amount of blood
If murdering swathes of guys in a highly ritualised fashion isn’t your sort of thing, unfortunately Hotline Miami isn’t for you. The twenty levels don’t offer anything drastically different from one another, and if Level One doesn’t grab you, it’s unlikely Level Nineteen will either. There are a few moments of variety – an ill-informed stealth section among them – but the game is very much about that central core of repeated psychopathic violence. What’s more, if you’re only interested in playing through the main storyline once, the game will probably last you about five hours. For people more interested in unlocking everything there is to offer – from new weapons to new stat-altering masks – you can expect to double that.
Helping ease you into the right frame of mind, however, is the absolutely stunning soundtrack that runs underneath the action. Sourced from a number of different artists, the tracks are uniformly great 80s-inspired synth, with a number of truly unsettling numbers that mesh perfectly with the extreme violence on-screen. What’s more, the game directory includes the tracks as MP3s, so you can rip them straight into your audio player of choice and have a great soundtrack to your real life murder spree.
Being developed by just two people at the core, it’s not surprising that Hotline Miami is a little rough around the edges. On multiple occasions I was unable to complete a mission because a dog had escaped this mortal coil into the void of space. Once I apparently beat a mission too quickly for a trigger to fire and continue the mission. Additionally, the controls can feel occasionally unresponsive, and in a game centred around split second precise timing, that’s a very bad thing indeed.
Speak for yourself, man
Then there are the slightly odd omissions that the developers seemed to overlook. There are no online leaderboards, which in a modern score-based game seems like a no-brainer. The menu systems can be a chore to navigate, particularly when going back through the levels to improve scores or check for secrets. Relatedly, a restart button on the ‘Chapter Complete’ screen would be a welcome addition. Currently players have to wait for the next chapter to begin, quit out of the game back to the main menu and then go back through the chapters to find the level again.
All that aside, Hotline Miami is still a fantastic achievement. If Steam Workshop is integrated – which the developers are apparently considering – the game will become an essential purchase. As it is, it’s a truly unique take on one of the most covered themes in video games, and a compelling reason to swear violently at your screen, again and again.
Summary: Hotline Miami is fiendishly difficult, disarmingly similar from level to level, and still rough around the edges. It's also a fantastic experience for sight and sound, and if the developers back it up to the extent they have hinted at, it'll be an essential purchase.