I find myself regaining consciousness in the dark as a heavily distorted guitar accompanies some kind of drink and drug fuelled hangover. It takes me a moment to acknowledge my surroundings before I find the door leading me into the next room. Here I meet them for the first time. Three intimidating figures who disguise their identities by wearing the heads of animals. I don’t know them, but they seem to know of me. The environment is stinking and dank. It’s infested with flies buzzing around the neon lit corners of the room. I still have no idea where I am, or what I’m doing here, but this doesn’t stop the three masked individuals’ onslaught of cryptic sentences assaulting my senses. A few confusing moments later and I find myself back in my own Miami apartment. The date is April 3rd, 1989. I’m about to take on my life as an ultra violent psychopath.
Hotline Miami is a fast, brutal top down, twin stick (mouse/keyboard on PC/Mac) beat’em up/shooter that oozes a retro pixel art style from every pore, and relentlessly assaults your eardrums with an incredibly good, pumping electronic soundtrack. I need to reiterate how stylish this game is. Dark baselines accompany pounding kick drums while synthesisers pulse and dance you into a trance. Neon colours soak your screen as they blend their way through a psychedelic rainbow of vibrance. The top-down view of the levels gently sway about with drunk effect and animations of the sprites feature enough splatter house gore to make even Machete Cortez wince. I can’t remember another game so vividly displaying intestines spilling from burst open stomachs, or stray limbs hurtling across rooms accompanied by an animated fountain of blood. On occasions, the mortally wounded Russian enemies will desperately crawl for safety only to find their predator (you) pounce upon them, thumb their eyes from their skulls and smash their heads open on the floor.
And believe me, you ARE a predator.
The precursor to each level will start with a phone call asking you to complete a favour, or a job (Spoiler: visit a location and kill everybody in it). You arrive at the destination, select which animal mask will conceal your identity (each mask offers a unique perk) and begin your violent rampage within. The pounding techno soundtrack kicks in as you burst through the door brutally lunging at everybody in sight. The action is fast. Really, REALLY fast. This Miami is a hostile kill, or be killed environment. Both you and your enemies have at your disposal a range of melee and firearm weapons, and both of you will die a savage death after one gory attack. This leads to a game of retries as you attack and die over, and over again. The restart is an instantaneous button press away that always invites you into trying again immediately. The Hotline Miami mechanics are incredibly tight with an AI that will shoot, or run straight at you the moment they spot you, or hear your gunfire. It’s a style of gameplay that demands you learn it fast. The game invites you to rely on strategies and techniques that would seem cheap in other games, but only offer you another moments survival here. To your advantage each time you restart the level all enemies return to the exact same pre-set positions allowing you to learn the most effective route through the deadly crowds. Sometimes you’re in control, attacking like a wild animal, removing limbs, decapitating enemies and filling bodies with buckshot. Sometimes you’re fighting for survival, desperate, scared and often being very f***ing lucky to survive. But you never feel cheated. Every time you die, it was your own fault and you WILL tap the retry button as this psychedelic, vicious addiction takes hold of you.
All of this frantic ultra violence is tied together with a tale of intrigue, horror, mystery and confusion that will keep you pushing through the chapters of the game. There are twists and turns, secrets and encounters that will surprise, anger and even horrify. But these must be discovered for yourself as I refuse to ruin any of them. The dark tale kept me guessing right up until the end, leaving me fascinated and promptly restarting the game to uncover more of the fiendish tale.
This is a game that I have fallen in love with. I refuse to put a numeric score on a game, but know that I can’t think of anything at all about Hotline Miami that I dislike. This is a wonderful and brutal game that does everything I could possibly want it to do. Then, there’s the soundtrack that’s so, SO good it’s been on my player most days since I first heard it’s hypnotic beats. Now my commutes to, and from work each morning remind me of that time I was a violent psychopath in 1980’s Miami. That brings a sinister smile to my face.
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