Hotline Miami Review
After only a short amount of time with Hotline Miami you’ll come to the realisation that Dennaton Games’ top-down, self-proclaimed ‘f*ck-‘em-up’ is one of the most brutal games of 2012.
You may find it hard to believe that a pixelated indie game could compete with the likes of Resident Evil 6, Hitman Absolution or Assassin’s Creed 3 in the violence stakes, but the developers have squeezed every last possible bit of expression from their limited resolution. The claret spurts, bodies are dismembered and enemies executed in ways wide-ranging enough to make us go queasy just thinking about it, but there’s more to Hotline Miami’s sleazy action than simply GTA-inspired uber-violence which makes the game so compelling.
At first glance, Hotline Miami comes across as a walk-‘em-up which looks and feels like Vice City – if Rockstar had made it with the original GTA engine. The action is zoomed in on our unnamed protagonist who walks around each level’s mazy interiors, while interacting with a limited number of objects and a high number of weapons.
Each stage’s objective is simple: kill each and every thug wondering the building in any way possible. Attacks range from basic punches, to increasingly damaging melee attacks using whatever weapons and objects you find around; there are various guns too, but their limited ammo and loudness make using them something of a risky prospect.
Despite looking like a top down shooter in the vein of Alien Breed however, players will need to apply the sort of cautious strategic thinking more closely associated with Mode 7’s brilliant Frozen Synapse.
A level will generally play out something like this: You walk into the building and identify who you’ll take out first. You slam the first door open, timing it perfectly so that you know the first thug to the ground. He’s only stunned though, so you jump on him and finish the job with few hits. Then it’s off down the corridor to hide just as someone comes around the corner. You take him out with the knife/lead pipe/two-by-four you just acquired, then attempt to rush the two guys in the next room. One of them shoots you dead. So you hit ‘restart’ and you walk into the building…
In many ways, Hotline Miami is the next Super Meat Boy/Trials Evolution or any other title which requires obscene use of the restart button – every one of its tricky 20 levels provides a compulsive reason to continue, and although you will experience hair-tearingly frustrating moments, they’re normally of your own making, whether poor planning, a mistimed action, or trial and error with a new environmental element, such as windows or walls that can be seen/shot through.
Even though this is a bloody, close-quarters realtime action game, strategy counts for a lot, with line of sight and weapon choice proving just as vital as your reflexes. Guns can’t be reloaded, so stockpiling weapons in one room, or hiding around a corner for an onslaught of approaching enemies are other valid tactics. Enemies follow Metal Gear-style paths, but Dennaton throws in the occasional random-seeming decision to ensure no two play-throughs are identical.
Hotline Miami’s tense action is dripping with presentational style of anunusually high concentration, but never so much that it feels more significant than the gameplay substance, as was the case in Retro City Rampage. The music, reminiscent of recent Hollywood throwback Drive, is full of electro-pop and thumping club tunes which creates the perfect atmosphere and is almost worth the price of admission alone. The vague but edgy story and interactive interludes add to the mood, while unlockable weapons, boss fights, various ability-boosting masks and a range of completion grades, encourage creativity and replayability.
Niggles include the sometimes-fiddly controls when playing with keyboard and mouse, especially when moving quickly or in tight corners, but careful planning usually results in a workable scenario. Elsewhere, enemies respond to the sound of your gunshots, but not those fired by other henchmen – a minor discrepancy in order to keep the game playable we guess.