Your job is to go into a building and kill everyone. Everyone!
You kick in the door and it swings open into one of the guards. He falls to the floor and drops his knife. You pick it up as another guard turns the corner. You toss the knife into his head and he drops his baseball bat. The first guard tries to crawl away and you crush his head between the bat and the floor.
This is a review of Hotline Miami.
Hotline Miami is a PC indie game by Dennaton Games. It’s one of those games that’s hard to pigeon hole into any one genre. Its been compared to stealth games, but you can’t sneak up behind guards (they’ll just turn around and murder you), so you have to quickly run up and bludgeon them before they have time to turn around. You have to be fast. The game’s also been compared to Grant Theft Auto, but Hotline Miami doesn’t have the open world sandbox that made Grand Theft Auto nor does it have Rockstar’s trademark humor.
It’s a twitch based action game with strategy. It’s a puzzle game that requires fast reflexes. Each enemy can kill you in one hit, so carefully moving from room to room plotting your next action is essential. Guns make noise so it’s often best to kill with melee. The game is unforgiving; any bullet or melee attack kills you instantly. It reminds me of Super Meat Boy more than anything else. Both games have short levels where it’s very easy to die. Both games expect you to die a lot. Both games require fast reflexes and some thought.
“I swear! They were like that when I got here!”
This is the kind of game where you’ll die repeatedly and part of the experience is learning from your mistakes. Dying means just starting the building floor you were on over. You’ll die frequently, but levels are short and reload times instant so it’s rarely frustrating. If you’re the type that enjoys difficult games with a lot of repetition, you’ll like Hotline Miami as long as the pixelated gore doesn’t bother you. If the likes of Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls make you want to throw you keyboard/controller out the window, Hotline Miami probably won’t be an exception.
This game is intense. Before you go into each room you’re going to stop and come up with a plan. You’re going to play out exactly what’s going to happen in your head. “I’ll kick the door in, throw my crowbar at the guy with the gun, punch out the guy with the knife, pick up the knife, and murder them both before they get up and process what’s happening to them.” Then you kick open the door and get shot to pieces. Time to start over. Clearing each section is so exciting because any one thing can kill you in one hit. The odds truly are stacked against you all the time.
You’ll be seeing the phrase ‘You’re dead!’ a lot. Think of death as a learning experience.
The shear stupidity of the computer guards definitely helps. The AI tends to stay in one place. Some guards don’t move at all, whereas others move in preset patterns The ones that move on their own randomly stroll about, typically staying in one room. Shooting a gun causes a flood of guards to come running toward you. Overall I liked the predictability of the AI because it allows you to plan your moves and adds a very distinct puzzle feel to the whole game. It allows you to plan your attack rather than react to whatever the guards are doing.
Hotline Miami typically does the same thing over and over. You go to a new building and the level ends when everybody dies. But it does this extremely well and the level design is good enough to keep the challenge increasing. Actually, I only ever thought the game stumbled when it tried to break from its own formula. There’s one level where the game actually does try to be a stealth game, and what a spectacular failure it is. I won’t give it away, but the object of this particular level is to escape and you can’t kill anyone. It’s pretty boring, and proof that Hotline Miami is more about reflexes and strategic kills than about stealth.
The game also has boss battles, and they aren’t very good. They remind me of the boss battles in Deus Ex: Human Revolution in that they aren’t fun and don’t at all represent what’s good about the game. But, like Deus Ex, there aren’t many of them and they aren’t particularly difficult.
Never bring a lead pipe to an assault rifle fight.
It may surprise you to hear that Hotline Miami actually has a story. The story is dreamy and vague. It’s the kind of thing where some people will play it and think the plot is brilliant, and some will think it’s just being vague to hide its shallowness. I’m somewhere in between, believing that the game’s story doesn’t take anything away, but it also doesn’t really add anything for me. The game would be just as good as a series of levels with no continuity. You play as a guy who gets mysterious phone calls telling him to go kill people. He does it but doesn’t seem to know why. Things only get weirder. I think it might be playing with the theme of mindless violence in video games, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.
What Hotline Miami does have is style. It takes place in the 80’s and that influence is all over the game. The sound effects and gory animations make each kill exciting. If you have a problem with fiction making murder seem stylish, you’re going to have a big problem with this game. The music is excellent and can be very creepy. The fact that you wear a different animal mask to each mass killing is all the more disturbing (the masks each have different special abilities).
I beat the game in five hours. The game is $9.99, so that seems worth it to me. Again, you’ve probably never played anything quite like this before because it is very unique and fun while it lasts. There’s arguably replay value in returning to previous levels and trying to get a higher score, if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m not). Higher scores unlock new masks that give special abilities and new weapons.
As long as the gore doesn’t bother you I think you should give this a try. There’s not really anything else quite like it and the price is pretty reasonable, even for a short game. Hotline Miami will get people talking because of its shock value. Also because it’s just really good.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Excellent soundtrack that fits the game perfectly; huge variety of weapons from samurai swords to shotguns; rewards planning and patience; there's no game quite like it
Pointless boss battles; story borders on weird for the sake of being weird; a boring stealth level where you don't do anything that makes the game fun; easily frustrated people should not attempt
If you don't mind the gruesome content and retro graphics, Hotline Miami by Dennaton Games is a unique experience that rewards fast thinking and fast fingers.