Fancy a Drive?
Hotline Miami is a quintessential indie game. It has a unique vaguely retro visual style, it has a memorable soundtrack, it’s shocking, it resonates emotionally, and it’s cheap. This game can proudly stand alongside 2012’s best with Fez and Journey amongst others.
Hotline Miami is essentially a top-down murderfest, but that description doesn’t do it justice. Yes the controls are basic and the objectives are almost always just to murder everyone in a level. It’s also terrifying gruesome, and levels quickly become caked in blood. But the tone is different from the days of Smash TV or even Manhunt.
Every level you are awoken in your apartment with a cryptic phonecall, hinting at a ‘job’ for your character. You walk out of the building, get in your car, and then choose a mask. The masks are all novelty animal ones and each gives you a certain benefit. You then walk into the building and clear it out floor by floor, slicing and shooting as you go. The action is merciless and somewhat soul destroying. Simple clicks are usually enough to dispatch enemies in one go, and the amount of carnage you lay out is staggering, but it’s not fun exactly.
I had a conversation with a student a few weeks ago about Saving Private Ryan. I was trying to explain that while I liked the film, I found it weird to say I enjoyed it, because how can you enjoy something that horrific? There’s been many films that illustrate this idea much better over the last decade, including ‘Drive’. Hotline Miami channels Drive in style and tone. The exteriors of buildings are basked in a harsh neon glow, the setting id distinctly 80s, and the characters make some cruel jokes but seem emotionally hollow. Everything you do is brutal, rather than awesome. As you slice a man in half with a sword you found on the guy you just riddled with bullet holes, it sends a shudder down your spine.
As the story goes on it’s hard to tell if it even meant to be thought provoking, it might just be a simple twisted crime story, echoing films of the era. Or it might be some kind of commentary on violent video games. I’m not sure at all, but I am sure that you should play it. Screenshots originally put me off, but seeing the game in motion is something else entirely. The top-down camera isn’t fixed, it sways in three dimensions slightly giving the effect of depth as well as a slightly disconcerting perspective which I’m sure is intentional. The music is absorbing and mechanical, the controls are pitch perfect. You can easily fire a shotgun into a door, flinging it open and knocking the guy on the other side to the ground, run in, steal his weapon, slice two more guys who are charging at you, then straddle the first guy and finish him off. This happens regularly, on nearly every level, and it never feels repetitive.
Unfortunately, it’s also not easy. You will die a huge amount and again, this is intentional. You are just as fragile as the men you are hunting, and if they get a lucky hit in, you’re dead. So thankfully resetting is as simple as hitting the ‘R’ key and trying again. This turns each level into a long puzzle, working out the best approaches and weapons for different sections. The view is slightly too restrictive, meaning you have to learn enemies’ positions rather than looking for them, and some of the enemies have random pathing which can be frustrating as they nonsensically bunch up in a corner rather than patrolling. But these are minor gripes, and rarely get in the way.
The game is unfortunately quite buggy. I had it crash on me repeatedly (tested under both Windows 7 and 8), and it never kept track of my progress in the way it should. Achievements were also incredibly hit and miss, with me not getting any for the last hour or two of gameplay.
These issues aside (and it is an indie game after all) Hotline Miami is easy to recommend. It only costs £6 and with a scoring system I’ve barely even touched upon, there’s plenty to keep you coming back for long enough to justify the price. I finished the game in a little over three hours, but it was a powerful three hours and well worth the money.