Overview

I had the pleasure to play Hotline Miami for both the Ps3 and Vita and was blown away.  The game itself is a top down twitch shooter that’s dipped in 80′s neon and covered in 8-bit splendor.  It hosts great gameplay as well as pacing, making it ideal as either a quick pickup or something you can spend a few hours on.  You start with a nameless character tasked with clearing out levels of enemies in a blood and gore spectacle reaching Kill Bill levels of awesome.  After completing each level your character simply drives away in his car, which looks suspiciously a lot like a delorean (which means your character very well could be a drug-fueled Marty Mcfly who has simply been called a chicken one too many times).   You get points for all your kills, as well as multipliers for chain kills.  All these points are added up at the end of a level which gives a score based on how well you did, something that will keep a perfectionist busy for hours.

Story

The game begins with a blurry scene of your character in a dark room.  Players walk down a hallway and open a door to a room where they’re greeted by men in animal masks.  The men make some rather vague comments about the protagonist, only for players to wake up in a dingy apartment.  Nothing else is told about the character, name or otherwise (I just kept calling him coked-up Marty).   Players can try and explore around the apartment, but aside from finding an occasional news clipping, there won’t be much to do.  The only clue given is the action button flashing in front of the answering machine, guiding players to check their voice mail. This simple event sets the game in motion.  The voice mails received are disguised as completely innocuous errands such as a baby sitter talking about the children being loud, but they hide a much more sinister objective.

car

I just assumed this whole game was about the people who called him chicken.

Babysitter

I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was a wrong number, but I’ll be damned if I won’t try my hardest!

Once players have their seemingly innocent errand, they walk out to their cars and the fun begins.  They pull up to a building filled with enemies in white suits and systematically proceed to kill them in anyway possible.  It’s not long before players start to piece together parts of the story; they’re a hitman of sorts and the calls are disguised descriptions of targets.  But even that little piece of information is hardly enough in comparison to the bigger picture.  As players progress through the game things will only get more bizarre, and while they may start to gather pieces of information here and there, they will still be at a loss for any motive behind the phone calls.  Without spoiling too much, it isn’t until players beat the game and unlock the additional play through that the game starts to give more clear answer to those questions.  That’s not to say that the game doesn’t provide players with enough details to piece it together themselves, but once they get to that point the game just spells it out for them.  Despite the story raising more questions than answers as it progresses, it does so in a way that it peaks your curiosity to keep playing.

Ok, maybe I should’ve told Linda I’m a terrible baby sitter.

 

Gameplay

Basic gameplay is reminiscent of games like geometry wars, just with more blood.   Left analog stick is used to walk around while right is used to aim.  Left trigger is to pick up and throw weapons and right is to fire or melee.  X is what is used for actions, and that can be anything from checking your answering machine to jumping on a downed enemy and punching their head into goo.  While the controls are straight forward, they can be a little over sensitive and frustrating at the beginning, especially when comes to movement and aiming.  Needless to say, they take some getting used to.  Luckily if you’re playing on the Vita, you can use the touch screen to target and lock on to specific enemies, making ranged attacks a little easier.  The game also does offer a quick tutorial level which gives players the basics.  Despite what feels like an awkward set up for controls, overall it is easy to pick up and not too difficult to master.

Thank you helpful tutorial hobo.

At the start of every mission players are allowed to choose a mask which will give them different perks.  These masks can range anywhere from Rasmus the Owl which will highlight secrets, or Dennis the Wolf who lets players start with a knife, just to name a few. While the default mask they will begin with doesn’t give the player any special ability aside from looking like a rooster (or a chicken, which might explain Marty’s short temper and aggression) , more are quickly unlocked by either finding them hidden throughout the levels or as rewards for getting a high score.  The game also offers a good variation on weapons as well, giving players a wide selection to be found from shotguns and silenced uzis to a samurai sword or frying pan.  These can be unlocked in the same way players would unlock masks, and once done it nets them the ability to find the weapons laying throughout the levels.

This mask lets you explode people with your bare fists. Not unlike an evil bowl of frosted cereal.

 Another fun aspect of Hotline Miami is how it manages to blend twitch gameplay and strategy.  While the player’s ultimate goal will usually consist of killing everything that moves, how they go about it can change drastically.  Melee weapons are silent and allow the player to stealthily take out enemies, but this strategy leaves them open to gunfire.  Guns on the other hand let users take enemies out at range, but are loud and will alert almost everyone in the level.  The game also gives players the ability to temporarily knock out enemies by either throwing any weapon they have equipped  or slamming doors open when enemies are in range.  With each weapon having their pros and cons, players will find themselves constantly changing strategies to adapt to the situation.  Sometimes you might find yourself running into a casino and simply clubbing everyone into puddles with the first melee object you can grab.  Other times you’ll find yourself watching patrol routes and timing door slams to take out a few guards while tossing your weapon to knock out ranged targets.  There are times you can even just barge right in and mow everything down in a glorious hail of 80’s gun fire.

guns

See? Gloriously 80′s

Most of the enemies as well as the player character can only survive one hit, so you’ll quickly learn to play it safe and make every hit count.  But even when the player makes mistakes and is taken out, the game provides them with a generous checkpoint system.  Players will start at the beginning of whatever floor they died on, and the time between death and restarting at  the checkpoint is almost instant which keeps the gameplay at a good pace.  As players progress through the levels and become more adept, the difficulty adjusts to provide bigger challenges.  They will begin encountering more enemies in a room, or a higher concentration of enemies with guns.  A lot of them will also have to be taken out in different ways.  Dogs for example, can only be taken out by either melee or guns and are immune to door slams and throwing weapons.  Other enemies such as thugs can only be taken out with gunfire.  While the game offers only a few variation of these enemies, it does a good job of rotating them throughout the level to keep players adjusting their strategy.  The gameplay is also frantic enough that it will keep players focused more on their score and staying alive than on what they’re actually killing.

friend

There’s no enemies on this level, just groceries. Can you strategize to find the right ones?

My only complaint would be the inclusion of boss fights.  While most of the game plays as a macabre RTS/twitch shooter where you want to line up your kills and proceed through the level as quickly as possible, the game will randomly throw in a few boss battles with no real explanation on how to get through them.  That at times can lead to a very frenzied and frustrating game of trial and error where you simply throw your body at whatever boss in the hopes that something will work.  One such example is when you meet up with another would be hitman.  A cut-scene starts and immediately after you’re besieged by an anonymous biker without so much as even being given a chance to prepare.  You have no weapons when entering the room and after a few minutes of getting your face bashed in with a cleaver, you’ll finally notice an arrow pointing at a bag of golf clubs.  But even after being able to grab the weapon, I found myself still probably dying a few more times until I realized that I couldn’t just fight him in the same manner I would other mobs.  It took me a bit figure out what exactly his attacks were and how to counter them.  If it wasn’t for the amazing audio, my vita would probably be shattered on the floor right now.  Which brings me to my next point.

Audio

If I could rate the game on one thing and one thing only, it would be the soundtrack.  This alone makes the game worth playing.  Much like listening to the entirety of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in sync with the Wizard of Oz, the soundtrack in Hotline Miami is something that needs to be experienced.  It adds a surreal sense of normalcy to an otherwise macabre setting. In other words, it makes all that killing OK.  The soundtrack is so perfectly synced with the game that sometimes you’ll question whether you’re playing a game with a killer soundtrack or whether that soundtrack has just been playing a killer game with you.  Yea, think about that for a minute.  Mind blown right?  That’s the kind of feeling I’m talking about.  But in all seriousness the soundtrack to Hotline Miami is one of, if not the most enjoyable part of the experience.

No, really. Just listen to the music, it makes this ok.

 

Visuals

8-bit graphics are something that has never lost its charm for some reason.  No matter the medium, when you look at something in 8-bit it brings back memories of childhood and innocence.  That being said, it’s weird to say that 8-bit would fit a game like Hotline Miami so well, but it does.  Despite the amount of blood and gore present in the game, it somehow manages to come across as chipper.  Even during scenes when I bashed someone’s head in and I noticed the developers took the time to render pink brain matter seeping out onto the wall and carpeting all I could think was “hey, it’s 8-bit brains!”  Looking at this, I can’t help but think how different it would be if the game had chosen to follow a different art style.  It treads a thin line between quirky and disturbing, and were it not for the 8-bit charm reigning it in, the atmosphere of the game could have very well gone in a different and probably less desirable direction.

blood

Most chipper looking brain matter I’ve ever seen

 

Overall, almost every part of this game fits well together and creates an extremely enjoyable, albeit bizarre, experience.  The visuals and audio tracks compliment the story and gameplay perfectly, and the pacing of the game is done well enough that you’ll find yourself replaying this game long after you’ve beaten it.  If games like Retro City Rampage ever caught your eye, Hotline Miami is more than worth it.  Even for those of you who have never heard of either title, the soundtrack coupled with the fast and easy gameplay make it a great addition to your library.  It is now available on the PSN for both Ps3 and Vita for only $9.99.

About The Author

Enrique C
Staff Writer

There's no problem that can't be fixed with fire. Doesn't matter what game. If that doesn't work, use more.