Hotline Miami poses a simple question: “do you like hurting other people?” It’s a question which forms the basis for the entire layout of the game, and one which is just as open-ended as the game’s plot itself. Hotline Miami begins with the nameless protagonist (whom some have taken to calling ‘Jacket’) talking to three unknown individuals wearing animal masks in a dark room. You are then called and informed about numerous scenarios in which people need to be ‘dealt’ with in some form or another, usually through incredibly violent means. After the first mission, our protagonist Jacket vomits uncontrollably in the street due to his heinous actions, but quickly gets over it and goes back to brutally maiming, murdering and generally being a nasty person.
Although this plot may seem considerably vague, it is all you as the player are really given throughout your experience with Hotline Miami. Aside from a few minor cutscenes in which Jacket converses with this menacing, masked group of men, you are left to make your own assumptions about your motives and reasoning. This is purposely done so that the mechanics of the game and gameplay itself can be at the forefront, which is where the real fun is found.
Hotline Miami plays similarly to a top-down shooter, except you die in a single blow and most of the combat is reliant upon brutal melee. One stick controls Jacket whilst the other changes the direction he is facing, and the triggers allow you to pick up weapons and use them unapologetically on your enemies. The rest is left up to you, as you must clear each floor of enemies before continuing to the next, all while trying to avoid any stray bullets or swinging weapons.
Hotline Miami is undoubtedly an incredibly violent game, and also one which sets a consistent tone very well. The thumping techno music which accompanies each level is easily some of the best I’ve heard in a videogame, and the trance-like colours which surround every stage draw you in and never let go. The game has a very 80s feel to it, which is only heightened by the fact Jacket escapes every mission in his DMC Delorean ( a clear reference to the 80s classic Back to the Future). One of the best comparisons that could be made in terms of how the game feels and looks would be 2011’s film Drive, which the creators of Hotline Miami have referenced as an inspiration for their game. Both feature a nameless, inexplicably violent protagonist, and both also have fairly extreme amounts of graphic violence.
As previously mentioned, you die in a single blow when confronted by enemies. Because of this, Hotline Miami can be an incredibly difficult game, but thankfully the flow of combat never slows down. This is due to the game launching you immediately back into the foray mere moments after death, which allows endless experimentation when trying to solve the game’s puzzle-like combat. Can I run into that room in time to take out all the enemies? Should I kick down the door or wait and lure them out? These questions and many more race through your mind while contemplating how to go about a stage, but your plans often turn to frantic improvisation when things go awry. And it’s brilliant.
The game also features an extensive plethora of weapons at your disposal, although they really boil down into three categories. Firstly, there’s general melee weapons, which can vary from a knife all the way up to a kitana. There are also thrown weapons such as bricks which knock an enemy down if you are accurate enough, and lastly there’s guns. Guns are hugely effective at range, but are also very loud and attract enemies from other rooms. This turns certain floors into practices of stealth, as you try to eliminate a room of enemies without alerting any neighbouring ones.
The game only features around 20 stages, but this is in no way a feeble amount. Each mission can be approached completely differently with each playthrough, and playing in certain styles will allow you to earn consistently higher scores. Trying to achieve an A+ on every mission will require you to effectively clear every floor on a single combo, which is no easy feat. This will lead to hours of trying out different techniques, and will guarantee that you get your moneys worth. There is also a multitude of animal masks to find and unlock throughout the game which all alter your game in a certain way. Some may cause more guns to spawn in a level, whilst others will allow you to murder enemies with nothing more than your fists. Experimenting with every mask is the only way to find one which fits your play-style, and is a challenge all in itself.
Hotline Miami was easily one of my favourite games released last year, and now a recent PS4 release allows those yet to experience this heart-pounding game a chance at doing just that. The PS4 release doesn’t really bolster the content, but the practicality of the Dualshock 4 controller definitely makes the game easier to play. Small features such as the light bar transitioning colours like a mood light also prove a nice addition, but playing Hotline Miami on any system won’t change the experience. Basically, if you have already played this game, it’s a great chance to experience it once again. If you haven’t, then I’ll end this review here and allow you to pick up one of the most adrenaline-fuelled games I’ve ever played. Have fun!
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