Hotline Miami is a top down, dual stick fast paced, one hit death action game wrapped in a crime drama. You get phone calls to do things. Thinks like there is a power outrage and you need to fix it. I need a baby sitter. There is a party at this address. When the address is given, that’s all you need to visit a location and murder everyone inside. This is a very bloody game. Painting the floors sort of bloody, but its all done in an 8-bit style.
The controls are complex and very deep. I can’t honestly say its very pick up and play, even after I’ve completed it four different times on PSN and Steam. While there are keyboard controls, right trigger is to lock onto an enemy, left trigger and thumb stick is to look, left stick itself moves, right bumper is to shoot a gun or swing a blunt object. Left bumper is to throw it. The right thumb stick aims, but unless you want to waist precious ammunition, you better lock on and you better lock on quick, there are three men running to your position right now, because you fired a gun and they’ll hear that. Everyone in the building heard it!
Because you can look ahead, you have the ability to form a strategy. Go over there, take out the guy with the pipe, get the pipe, burst into that room, hit one guy with the pipe then throw the pipe at the gunman. Plans go out the window though if someone opens a door. Looking ahead also means you can shoot enemies off screen, just as they can shoot you from off screen as well. If you’re lucky, you can use someone as a human shield, but I haven’t seen it often.
You need to think of tactics like luring the room out and killing them one by one, but sometimes they’re too smart for that. Going in guns blazing might kill everyone or it might get you killed. Its not a game where you have a clear cut strategy. Even location to location, this try versus that try can change what strategy you can use.
You can stealth the entire way, but that means taking out three or five people in a single room. Use melee weapons or press the grapple button to coldly murder your prey. You can fling doors into your foes to knock them down, but that only stuns them. You need to mount them and well sadistically beat their heads into the ground until they don’t live anymore. The doors flail open wildly on a double hinge and it feels very video game in a good way. Very satisfying even if there’s a certain logic missing that goons will walk by a doorway with three dead bodies and not care.
You need to be fast, efficient and effective. Its them or you. You are just as fragile as they are. Sometimes you can get lucky, but 99% of the time you’re dead from a bullet or a melee. In fact sneaking up on the same enemy nine times out of ten might mean they’ll turn around and bash you before you get them.
As you progress through this brutal and unforgiving game, you’ll unlock masks to wear. Before you enter a location, you chose a mask. Each mask gives you a different ability, such as the pig mask means everyone will have more guns. The donkey will have the ability to murder people with doors. There’s something in here for every play style and situation. Start with a knife. Take an extra bullet without dying. Run faster. See further. Its all up to you.
You’ll also unlock new weapons which really keeps the game interesting. By unlock weapons that means your enemies have the chance to carry them. Fire axes, katanas, machine guns, shotguns pistols and so on. There’s a wide variety. Everything from blunt and painful to swift and effective. Guns have ammo, but you don’t refill a gun, you just pick up a new one off the floor.
There’s a sort of randomness to the game. Enemies pace rooms, but they can randomly take a chance to look outside the room and come down the hall. Sometimes their weapons will be different, it seems like different masks make for different weapons too. Its a beautiful array of variety that makes every time you play so fun, interesting and engaging.
You enter each location weaponless, unless a mask has given you one. Nothing like a challenge. An entire building full of goons with guns and you go in unarmed. Each location usually consists of two floors, others have more. After you’ve cleared the location, you need to get back to your car. Its not just “level finished!” This results in things like more goons showing up.
When you die, you immediately restart the floor you’re at. Some might see restarting the floor as a difficult process, but the game is just so fun and fast paced that it keeps you in the action. A game with this many deaths shouldn’t have a long wait time.
Between the carnage, you’ve got a life going on. Its a life different from anything else in gaming or the real world and it gives Hotline Miami its own sort of tone. The fantastic music also helps set a strange sort of vibe. Like you’re always in a dream and you don’t know what’s real. As the game progresses, your normal life of going to a convenience store after a location or going to a record store after a hit will begin to change. The horrible things you’re doing start to sink into your characters mind. He will start to go crazy in one of the grandest and captivating stories that I’ve ever played.
There’s a beauty to the subtlety of the story. Its not in your face, but its there before and after your missions. You’ll see things and go places that make your character feel like a real person. Its also a nice break from being a house painter.
Its not just straight up carnage on your missions. There are other deviations and twists. Things like the cops will show up in after you’re done or a boss wearing a helmet makes things difficult. Even a cop wearing a bulletproof vest keeps things interesting. There’s even a near fatal shuffle through a hospital. It keeps the game interesting and progresses the story. The enemies start to ramp up after the first few missions. It goes from deadly common thugs to dogs that will race after you. The catch with dogs is you can’t fight them off hand to hand like goons.
A lot of minor details went into the game. Thugs will be sitting, or in a bathroom doing their thing. You don’t just knock enemies to the floor, they’ll fall against walls or even begin to crawl away. Random body parts fall off and sometimes roll by. The 8-bit gore really adds to how gruesome this game is. Enemies can see you through glass and you both can shoot through it of course.
The art style really stands out, not just old and retro, but it has its own unique feel. Things like landscape outside the location isn’t an issue, everything is just a hypnotic color radiant. The entire game is beautiful and mesmerizing, just like the 1980s. All of the thugs have blue shirts and white suits, which really makes the blood stand out. The text and menus are very shifty going from one tilt to the other all with a trippy sort of shadowy echo to them. Even when you’re playing the screen will shift and rebalance itself ever so slightly. When I’m engaged in the action, I never really notice it until after.
Hotline Miami can be a painfully difficult game if it wasn’t for how enjoyable and fun it is. Every try feels 90% different and unique. The masks give it replay value and the whole fun factor gives it replay value. I’ve gotta take this call now…