Playing Hotline Miami is just like being under the influence of a brain-bending, slow-inducing narcotic.
At least, that’s the impression I surmise following my time with the game.
With its subdued neon colours, disturbing set among its 8-bit pixel art style, uneasy soundtrack and dark story which slowly unravels, I equate Hotline Miami to being the video game equivalent of an acid trip, only more fun – though remember kids, drugs are bad!
While at first it’s not entirely clear what you’re exactly supposed to do in Hotline Miami, or why you’re accepting not-so-subtle requests on your answering machine to go and beat mobsters to death, it’s safe to assume you’ll instantly be drawn into the experience by either the mind-bending story or the addictive, yet frustrating gameplay.
The game opens in quite a confusing manner, with your player character – a seemingly faceless individual – finding himself in a darken room with three masked strangers, all of whom have some rather creepy things to tell you. From there, you play through a series of levels with the task of slaughtering everyone in sight, and ultimately finding out who is behind the disturbing messages received on your answering machine.
These messages provides context to your actions, instructing you to visit various places through thinly veiled requests. The rather dark and menacing story that slowly forms through your encounter with the off-the-wall characters becomes unhinged about three quarters through, and while you might expect many of the questions raised throughout to be answered, you’ll find nothing but more questions.
Everything culminates with your character coming face to the face with those responsible for the phone messages and, well… let’s just leave it there. Though due to its complex, and somewhat dark nature, Hotline Miami’s story is one that is easy to ignore, but will envelope your soul if you allow it. Though when it comes to gameplay, you’ll be fully drawn into this brutal world.
Hotline Miami plays alot like, and makes me think of, Grand Theft Auto circa 1990 thanks to its top-down perspective and brutal violence. You beat up enemies using either your fists, a melee weapon (such as a sword/baseball bat etc) or firearm.
“Don’t be afraid to die” is a tip the game provides players during almost every loading screen, and a piece of advice that many would do well to take onboard. Prepare to die, a lot, because Hotline Miami is ruthless and unforgiving in its difficulty. While enemies are by and large easy to take out, with but a single bullet usually enough to see them explode in a pixelated pool of blood and guts, they can just as easily bring you to an untimely demise.
Prepare to die, a lot, because Hotline Miami is ruthless and unforgiving in its difficulty.
During any given level you can expect to die upwards of at least a dozen, two dozen times before successfully clearing it. With you and your enemies having an arguably realistic tolerance for flying projectiles, coupled with Hotline Miami’s breakneck pace in that every action makes everything feel like it’s in constant fast-forward, it’s often difficult to avoid dying.
However, a throwback to the days when games required a considerable amount of skill and persistence, figuring out the best possible route through a level will see you to victory a lot easier and, dare I say it it, with a significant amount of frustration. At the end of the day, Hotline Miami is frustrating, it really is, and you’ll be driven to the edge of snapping your Vita or DualShock3 plenty of times. But, learning the pattern of enemies and learning which of the unlocked weapons and masks to use, and when, will surely give you an edge.
Each of the game’s masks are modelled after an animal, and hold a different unique ability that will usually help you in a number of ways. For example, there’s the XXX mask which allows you kill a man with a single punch, or XXX who makes it easier to locate secrets — which there is a decent number to find.
Experimenting with the different masks is encouraged, as you’ll find replaying certain levels with a particular equipped mask will see reaching a new high score. There’s also a handful of hidden, and more useful, masks scattered in the various levels.
Hotline Miami started life as a PC title, and during its transition to PlayStation Vita/3 everything that makes this title a classic has been retained — though the Vita version is easily the superior port.
The 5.5 inch screen is the ideal size for experiencing the pixelated, gruesome world that awaits you, and the control set-up, coupled with intuitive touch-screen inputs that easily allows you to lock-on to enemies rather than tapping a button. And while it’s arguable that you can better enjoy the game’s soundtrack on PlayStation 3, Hotline Miami feels better suited to a handheld.
Hotline Miami is addictive, challenging and dark. The game’s menacing story can either be ignored, or have you entirely sucked in – the choice is yours. What is for certain; you’ll find an immense amount of fun in the breakneck, gory gameplay.
Purists might argue that the PC original is where it’s at, though they’d be gravely mistaken. If there’s only one version of Hotline Miami you’re going to play, make sure it’s on PlayStation Vita.