It’s no secret that video games have a tendency to be overly violent. Whether it’s ripping out spines in Mortal Kombat, beating up hookers in Grand Theft Auto, or gunning down innocent civilians in Call of Duty, there’s a wide variety of bloody carnage to be seen, resulting in a multitude of critics, both in and out of the industry. But it’s Hotline Miami, a PSN game by Dennation Games, which takes things one step further.
Though often violent in nature, most games try to give meaning to the grotesque in game actions through a usually decent, but often convoluted story that tries to make sense of things. What’s the point to Hotline Miami? The things is, there really isn’t one. In a somewhat parody-like fashion, it takes aim at games that try to hide their violence behind some deeper meaning that gives characters an excuse to commit such heinous acts, as well as the normalcy that occurs in between. It’s all very reminiscent of games like Grand Theft Auto IV, where one second you’re blowing up a police squad and the next you’re on a date or bowling. For example, in Hotline Miami you’ll clear out a whole building full of enemies and then go get some pizza or maybe pick a VHS tape to watch.
Why are you killing people? It doesn’t matter. Who are you killing? It doesn’t matter. It’s not the “who” or the “why” that this game is concerned with, it’s the “what.” And the “what” happens to be senseless murder, all for the sake of having a good time. The game doesn’t shy away from it either, putting it at the forefront even, with characters saying things like “There is no point.” or “This isn’t real.” Initially, the story can come off as confusing at best and incoherent at worst, but if you look deeper, there’s something more to find. It’s all very meta, and the game is clearly aware of itself, admitting that there are no answers, only questions. It’s as if the story is intentionally bad in order to mock other games, and what results is something that is both philosophically stellar and mind-twistingly brilliant. It will have you guessing till the very end only to pull the rug out from under you.
Story aside, gameplay is the undisputed king in Hotline Miami. Bright, neon-flushed colors and a base-fueled, foot-thumping 80’s soundtrack create the perfect mood for some righteously brutal retro-arcade style killing. Using a top-down perspective, players infiltrate buildings, wiping out enemies one floor at a time. Whether you’re gunning down guards with high-powered shotguns, splattering someone with a door, or cutting the throat of some poor fellow trying to use the bathroom, there’s a high variety of ways to dispose of unsuspecting enemies.
From a story perspective, your character wears a mask in order to keep his identity hidden, but masks play a pivotal role in gameplay as well. Each mask has its own special ability, giving players a motive to replay levels and experiment with different masks that enhance each individuals’ personal play styles. Want to rain down on enemies with a storm of bullets? Go with Aubrey. A fan of slamming doors in peoples’ faces? Take Don Juan for spin. There’s a multitude of ways to mix and match the myriad masks and weapons, and you’ll have to use them wisely in order to achieve the highest score possible.
Each level grades your performance based on things such as combo multipliers and weapon usage, as well as timeliness. Whether you just want to beat your friends with an A+ score, or have your sights set on the top of the online leaderboards, strategy is the key to victory. Becoming adept with the controls and learning enemy movements are all part of mastering the game. To be honest, my first playthrough had me a bit down on the game. It wasn’t until my second go around that I realized how important the growing pains experienced in the first playthrough were. Not unlike games such as Demon Souls or Dark Souls, dying is all part of the game. The first playthrough is a learning experience and it’s where you’ll earn the useful weapons and masks, as well as get a sense for the controls. New game plus is where the real game begins. Mastering controls in order to get the best grade is what Hotline Miami is really about, culminating in an addictive and bloody thrill ride that will have you staring down your screen for hours on end.
Though originally a PC game, Hotline Miami’s controls feel right at home on the Duelshock 3. Movements feel fluid and controls are often very responsive, although there were times where it felt like my character’s melee attacks would go straight through my enemy as if I never touched them. The game also had a tendency to freeze up on me during long play sessions. I can recall one occurrence where I had to restart a level three times before the game would prompt me to move on to the next stage, even though I had killed all the enemies on the floor. It’s not anything that breaks the game or ruins the experience, but it is annoying.
Hotline Miami goes out of its way to put emphasis on nonsensical violence for the sake of fun and apologizes for none of it. Despite some of its technical hiccups, it boasts lush visuals and a radical musical score, both of which highly complement the intelligently designed levels and fast paced gameplay. And though you’ll still have an awesome experience just by taking it at face value, Hotline Miami is saying so much more, that is, as long as you’re willing to listen.